With no Zdenek Stybar on show in his home country, the rainbow jersey in the elite men's category will be getting a new owner at the Tábor World Championships. For months it seemed like Kevin Pauwels (Sunweb-Napoleon Games) - who twice won the Tábor World Cup round in the past - would be the big favourite to take his first world title, with veteran Sven Nys (Crelan-AA Drink) showing poor form, teammate Klaas Vantornout struggling with respiratory problems and Niels Albert taking early retirement.
That was until there were some new kids on the block. Young wolves Wout Van Aert (Vastgoedservice-Golden Palace) and Mathieu van der Poel (BKCP-Powerplus) have given the big boys more beatings than they would have liked, or expected. Recently both boys decided they would not race worlds in the men’s under 23 category but with the elite men.
Pauwels went on to win the World Cup but he now faces two big rivals whom he has failed to beat in recent times. At the national championships, Van der Poel brimmed with confidence in the Netherlands while both Pauwels as Van Aert lost some of theirs in Belgium. It was Vantornout who surprisingly picked up a second Belgian title.
Powerhouse Van Aert quickly picked up the Belgian art of keeping the pressure off, saying he didn’t head to Tábor to win but to learn. After the demonstration from Van der Poel at last weekend’s World Cup round in Hoogerheide all his rivals heralded his efforts, though it seemed they were just spinning their legs.
Nys says he is only aiming for the podium, while Vantornout is still struggling with the same respiratory problems that delivered him the Belgian title. Van der Poel is different, he is glad to be top favourite at the World Championships. The newly crowned Dutch champion just hopes that his super day didn’t come a week too soon.
Much will depend on the course. If it’s muddy, it’ll favour the usual suspects including Francis Mourey (FDJ). If it’s dry and fast, it’ll favour Pauwels but also pitbull Lars van der Haar (Giant-Alpecin). If it’s icy it favours ozone-plagued Tom Meeusen (Telenet-Fidea) and if it’s frozen and snow-covered, anything can happen, even a home win from Martin Bina (Kwadro-Stannah).
Vos under fire in Tábor
After spending six long years in the rainbow jersey of cyclo-cross world champion Marianne Vos (Rabo Liv Women Cycling Team) her dominance might come to an end on Saturday afternoon.
A left leg hamstring injury has been hindering Vos for months but a extremely muddy course at the Dutch National Championships worsened the injury. Vos skipped a local race last Saturday and then performed below par on Sunday at the World Cup in Hoogerheide, finishing 12th.
For the first time in ages Vos’ rivals can dream of capturing the rainbow jersey at the World Championships in chilly Tábor, Czech Republic.
There are a lot of women who will be dreaming of winning the gold medal and receiving the rainbow jersey that comes along with it. In previous years the biggest races were dominated by Vos and Katie Compton (Trek Factory Team). Not this season. Compton won the first World Cup round in Valkenburg but the last few months the 36-year-old US-champion has been struggling with breathing problems caused by allergies.
Vos made her cyclo-cross debut at the World Cup in Namur but quickly found out 37-year-old Katerina Nash (Luna Pro Team) wasn’t taking things easy during her comeback. Czech champion Nash – who lives in Truckee, CA - made the World Championships in her home country her main goal this season. The home crowd can dream of gold on Saturday.
Other contenders for gold surely include Italian champion Eva Lechner (Colnago-SudTirol). The-29 year-old MTB-specialist won the final World Cup round last Sunday and she’ll want to improve on her silver medal at last year’s Worlds in Hoogerheide.
Sanne Cant (Enertherm-BKCP) made another step forward this season. Though still only 24 years of age she had a massive season. She won the Belgian and European Championships, the World Cup and she tops the UCI rankings by a huge margin. Due to illness she performed below par last month but this season she can win everything.
Road World champion Pauline Ferrand-Prévot (Rabo Liv Women Cycling Team) did not win against the best this season but was always podium worthy.
That’s five favourites for gold. The list of outsiders is long. British riders Helen Wyman (Kona Factory Team) and Nikki Harris (Young Telenet-Fidea) faded after a long season. Lucie Chainel-Lefèvre (EC Stéphanois) is always a fast starter but usually fades. Ellen Van Loy (Young Telenet-Fidea) is runner-up in the World Cup due to consistent top-five results. The 21-year-old talent Sabrina Stultiens (Team Liv-Plantur) from the Netherlands can surprise if the Tábor course turns out to be a fast one.
Belgium likely to dominate youth categories
The first races of the day on Saturday and Sunday at the Tábor 2015 UCI Cyclo-cross World championships are likely to be dominated by Belgium. On Saturday morning there’s only one favourite, being Eli Iserbyt (Young Telenet-Fidea). The 17 year-old won all but of the 20 races he took part in. He’s the European and Belgian champion and winner of the UCI World Cup. The one rider who managed to beat him this season is Swiss champion Johan Jacobs (Lares-Doltcini). He won the World Cup round in Namur ahead of Iserbyt. Jacobs skipped the World Cup final in Hoogerheide.
There are a lot of contenders for a podium result, including Pan-American and US-champion Gage Hecht, who finished third in Hoogerheide. That third place highlights his strong season which includes two more fifth places at the World Cup. The last medal at worlds for USA in the Junior Men category came in 2007 from Danny Summerhill in Hooglede-Gits, Belgium.
The race in the Men Under 23 category at 11am long seemed to become the best race on Sunday with the presence of cyclo-cross stars Wout Van Aert (Vastgoedservice-Golden Palace) and Mathieu van der Poel (BKCP-Powerplus). After the national championships on January 11, the duo decided to race the Elite Men category. That provides a golden opportunity for Belgian riders Michael Vanthourenhout (BKCP-Powerplus) and Laurens Sweeck (Corendon-Kwadro).
Vanthourenhout won the World Cup but Sweeck seems to be the top favourite. In a tumultuous week Sweeck was left out of the Belgian selection because of his connection with ozon-therapy doctor Mertens. That decision was over-ruled by the BAS on Thursday night. The outsiders are French riders Fabien Doubey and Clément Venturini and also Laurens Sweeck’s twin brother Diether Sweeck. The home crowd will have to hope for miracles to capture medals in the youth categories.