The UCI Patrick Cyclo-cross World Cup makes its way to Plzen, Czech Republic on Sunday, October 24 as both Elite men and women contest the second round of competition, one week after their respective openers in Aigle, Switzerland.
World Cup leader Zdenek Stybar (Telenet-Fidea) returns to home soil and will certainly not be lacking any motivation to fire up the partisan crowd. Nobody has yet defeated the reigning world champion and defending World Cup champion thus far this season as the 24-year-old most recently extended his win streak to six straight with a solo victory in Switzerland last Sunday to kick off his World Cup campaign with a bang.
Plzen hosted its first-ever 'cross World Cup last year in which Stybar led early but ultimately finished third behind winner Niels Albert (BKCP-Powerplus) and runner-up Sven Nys (Landbouwkrediet). One year later, however, Stybar is stronger and brimming with confidence in his rainbow-striped world champion's kit, having repeatedly beaten his Belgian rivals already this season.
Nearly every rider in the World Cup's top-20 will continue their battle for World Cup supremacy in the Czech Republic, including former world champion and last season's World Cup runner-up Niels Albert. While Albert's form was a question mark entering last weekend's World Cup opener in Aigle due to an early season knee injury, his close second place finish to Stybar showed that the 24-year-old Belgian is well on his way to regaining the form which kept him atop the World Cup standings for the first seven rounds of racing last season.
A repeat victory in Plzen would wrest the leader's jersey off Stybar's shoulders and return it to the only other rider who led the competition last season. Albert won the first three World Cup rounds last year and held the leader's jersey through to the penultimate round, but a broken rib suffered in the Belgian national 'cross championships hampered his late season form as Stybar ultimately prevailed in a tight battle for the final World Cup jersey.
As one would expect, Belgian riders are heavily represented in the current World Cup standings, occupying seven of the top 10 positions. Stybar's trade teammate Kevin Pauwels (Telenet-Fidea), Klaas Vantornout (Sunweb-Revor) and Dieter Vanthourenhout (BKCP-Powerplus) occupy third through fifth in the World Cup after their strong showing in Switzerland and any would be capable of a victory on Sunday. Three additional Belgians, Sven Vanthourenhout (Sunweb-Revor), Sven Nys (Landbouwkrediet) and Bart Wellens (Telenet-Fidea) hold seventh, ninth and 10th respectively and will be looking to bolster their World Cup rankings in Plzen.
Other riders who may figure prominently in Plzen include France's Francis Mourey (FDJ), currently sixth in the World Cup and a consistent top-10 finisher, Dutchman Gerben de Knegt (Rabobank-Giant Off-Road Team) and his Belgian trade teammate Bart Aernouts (Rabobank-Giant Off-Road Team).
After a strong presence last weekend in Aigle, the United States will be represented solely by Belgian-based Jonathan Page (Planet Bike), who finished 19th in Switzerland to lead all American finishers.
Plzen's World Cup debut last season was contested only be the Elite men, but this season the Elite women, too, will compete in the Czech round. The World Cup leader Katie Compton (Planet Bike), however, will not contest the second round after her solo victory the previous weekend. In Compton's absence, Dutchwoman Daphny van den Brand (ZZPR.nl-Destil), second on the World Cup standings, will battle to take over the leader's jersey in Plzen. Van den Brand was the final woman to stay with Compton last weekend, before ultimately finishing alone in second place 30 seconds back.
The reigning Dutch champion should face stiff competition from Czech Katerina Nash (Luna Pro Team), currently third on the World Cup standings, who finished eight seconds behind Van den Brand for third place in Aigle. The reigning Czech 'cross champion has won before on the World Cup circuit, claiming last season's Roubaix, France round, and will surely be motivated to pick up her second career World Cup victory on home soil.
The Netherlands' Sanne van Paassen (BrainWash), who was outsprinted for third by Nash in Aigle, holds fourth on the World Cup standings and has three victories under her belt thus far this season. The 21-year-old is on good form and could break through in Plzen for his first career World Cup victory.
Germany's Hanka Kupfernagel finished fifth in Aigle and the four-time 'cross world champion and 2008-2009 World Cup champion is a perennial contender for a podium finish.
Others to watch in Plzen include British champion Helen Wyman (Kona), France's Christel Ferrier-Bruneau (Vienne Futuroscope), Belgian champion Sanne Cant (BKCP-Powerplus) and French champion Caroline Mani ((Vienne Futuroscope).
The US will be represented by Amy Dombroski (Luna Pro Team), Sue Butler (Hudz-Subaru) and Belgian-based Christine Vardaros (Baboco-Revor Cycling Team).