Almost two years after hosting the 2010 cyclo-cross world championships, the Czech town of Tabor is organizing the second UCI World Cup round of the 2011-2012 season. Riders will find conditions to be quite different from their last visit, when snow and ice covered the course.
While Sven Nys (Landbouwkrediet-KDL) defends his leader's jersey in the Elite Men category, US champion Katie Compton (Rabobank - Giant-Offroad) returned to the US for a family event instead of defending her lead and going for a seventh consecutive win in a World Cup round.
One week ago in Plzen, Compton put in a dominating performance in the first round of the World Cup, while the men's race was overshadowed by a controversial start where a TV-camera blocked the way for many riders. No second chance was offered to the multiple riders involved, and the race turned into a tactical battle between home rider and world champion Zdenek Stybar (Quickstep Cycling Team), pokerfaced Kevin Pauwels (Sunweb-Revor) and veteran Sven Nys (Landbouwkrediet-KDL), who came out on top after some excellent bike handling in the last corners.
Belgian champion Niels Albert (BKCP-Powerplus) and Francis Mourey (FDJ) are still fuming about being blocked at the start and missing a shot at the podium. Expect them to hook their wagons to the train of last week's top three.
World championship memories
The last time these riders were in Tabor it was Stybar who grabbed the rainbow jersey. Back then Klaas Vantornout (Sunweb-Revor) was the best of the rest ahead of Nys, Martin Bina (Budweiser) – who is working on his comeback from injury - and Mourey. Then runner-up Vantornout was the perfect team player last week although it didn't lead his team to the win in the end. Maybe the in-form Sunweb duo can play their cards better this time around.
Jeremy Powers (Rapha-Focus) was the leading American rider in Plzen. He fell just short of keeping up with the main chase group but eventually finished on an impressive tenth place. We're assuming that the hyper-active Yankee will be even better next Sunday. Timothy Johnson (Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld) was one of the blocked riders at the start, and has plenty of room for improvement on his 20th place last week.
Women's race open due to absence Compton
In the Women's category home rider Katerina Nash (Luna Pro Team) will get a second chance to win a World Cup round on home soil. The US-based rider came close with a second place last week, but an ill-timed crash allowed last year's World Cup winner Sanne van Paassen (Brainwash Wielerploeg) to overtake her in the end.
During the world championships of 2010 Nash never felt comfortable on the frozen course and this time around she should have a much better chance to improve on her fourth place that year.
Other riders who have performed well in the past in Tabor include defending world champion Marianne Vos, who is taking a small break after the road season, and German Hanka Kupfernagel, who didn't start in Plzen because of illness. Daphny van den Brand (AA Drink/Leontien.nl) should be motivated to grab her chance.
Last week Van den Brand and British champion Helen Wyman (Kona Factory Racing) fell far too short in the first encounter between the top 'cross women, but they'll be keen to grab a second chance on Sunday.
One rider who has opted not to take the start is Katie Compton. The US champion returned home for a family event and is not focusing on trying for the World Cup overall this season as she puts all her efforts into finally winning a world title.
Youth categories kick off their World Cup
The riders in the Under 23 category make their World Cup debut on Sunday. Top favorite for the overall win is Lars van der Haar who showed the elite men a lesson during Cross Vegas last month. His major rivals are his compatriots Tijmen Eising and Mike Teunissen, together with Belgian riders Wietse Bosmans and Vinnie Braet. Don't count out the home riders and especially Tomas Paprtstka who won the junior men's world championship race back in 2010.
Making predictions in the current junior men's category is a tricky thing. The French are building on a new team after seeing their leading trio move up a category. Quentin Jauregui is the man to look out for. Other favourites are Yorben Van Tichelt (Belgium) and Mathieu van der Poel (Netherlands) but they'll all have to get past the home riders in Tabor.
Racing starts at 10am for the Junior Men, 11:10am for the Men U23, 1:30pm for the Women and finally the Elite Men's race at 3pm.