The UCI Cyclo-cross World Cup concludes its opening stint in the Czech Republic on Sunday, October 28 as Plzen hosts round two of the series, one week after its commencement in Tabor. As was the case in the opening round, there's a full slate of competition featuring all four categories - elite men, elite women, U23 men and junior men - and all of the winners from Tabor will be present, resplendent in their World Cup leader's jerseys.
Last year's race in Plzen got off to an ignominious start courtesy of a television cameraman who had yet to leave the start grid prior to the gun going off. The cameraman was finishing his shots of the front row and stopped to zoom in on Niels Albert (BKCP-Powerplus) when the UCI officials gave the start signal. Albert and Frenchman Francis Mourey (FDJ) were blocked, as were riders directly behind such as American Tim Johnson (Cannondale p/b Cyclocrossworld), and in the absence of a re-start those affected had their hopes of victory dashed in the blink of an eye.
Sven Nys (Landbouwkrediet-KDL) won the Tabor round of the World Cup last year in a tight duel with then world champion Zdenek Stybar (Quickstep) and Kevin Pauwels (Sunweb-Revor) and the 36-year-old Belgian will have ample motivation to win his first World Cup of the season following a disastrous mechanical early in the Tabor round last Sunday. While riding at the head of affairs, pushing the pace, Nys snapped his chain on the third of nine laps and dropped back more than 40 seconds by the time he received a new bike from the pits. Nys would plow back through the field to an eventual fifth place finish, and barring any incident this week the legendary Belgian should once again figure in the mix for the podium's top step.
Defending World Cup champion and current leader, Kevin Pauwels (Sunweb-Revor), had a masterful performance last week in Tabor in which he rode away from the four-man lead group which contained teammate Klaas Vantornout, world champion Niels Albert and 21-year-old Dutchman Lars van der Haar (Rabobank-Giant Off-road Team) to earn a definitive victory. Pauwels also leads the UCI 'cross standings and seeks to remain unbeaten thus far in World Cup competitions.
Pauwels's rivals last week at the pointy end of the race, Vantornout, Albert and van der Haar, will again provide a firm test to the World Cup leader. Van der Haar lived up the hype as he made his elite World Cup debut last week in a season in which he opted not to race at the U23 level, in which he still had a year of eligibility left. The Dutchman outsprinted Albert for second place and the on-form Rabobank-Giant rider may very well go one step higher on the podium this week if the race comes down to a sprint finish.
Six of the top eight finishers in Tabor were Belgians and riders such as Bart Aernouts (AA Drink), who won the Kiremko Nacht van Woerden Wednesday evening, and Tom Meeusen (Telenet-Fidea), who wowed the crowds in Tabor with his acrobatic bunny-hopping technique on the barrier section, should again make their presence felt.
Other contenders include American champion Jeremy Powers (Rapha-Focus) whose seventh place result last Sunday was the best ever by an American in an elite men's World Cup. Powers had set a goal this year of a top-five World Cup finish and he's got the form and the drive to make that come to fruition in Plzen. Czech Radomir Simunek (BKCP-Powerplus) will have a partisan crowd urging him on and Francis Mourey will look to better his fourth place finish from last year, marred by the start line incident.
Sanne van Paassen (Rabobank Women Team), the winner in Tabor and World Cup leader, should once again face fierce competition in the form of Katie Compton (Trek Cyclocross Collective), runner-up to van Paassen last week in a sprint finish. The two rode away from the field and while Compton repeatedly tried to distance herself from the 23-year-old Dutchwomen, van Paassen responded to each parry and ultimately came around Compton in the finishing straight. In last year's race in Plzen Compton soloed in for the victory, with van Paassen second at 18 seconds. The eight-time American champion hopes to repeat that performance and keep on track for a season goal of winning the World Cup overall.
British champion Helen Wyman (Kona) rode in no man's land for much of last week's race, and kept Compton and van Paassen pegged at 18 seconds entering the final lap. Wyman typically gets off to a fast start and she'll be motivated to keep in contact with van Paassen and Compton as long as possible this go round.
There was a hotly contested battle for fourth place last week and ultimately Belgian champion Sanne Cant (Veldritacademie Enertherm-BKCP) prevailed in the sprint finish against Briton Nikki Harris (Young Telenet-Fida), France's Christel Ferrier-Bruneau (Hitec Products - Mistral Home Cycling Team) and Switzerland's Jasmin Achermann (Rapha-Focus). All should once again be contenders for top-10 finishes, if not vying for a podium place.
The Czech Republic's Pavla Havlikova (Young Telenet-Fidea) started fast last week but ultimately finished 8th and she'll look for redemption on Sunday in front of a home crowd.
U23 and junior men
The Netherlands dominated both categories in Tabor with Mike Teunissen and Mathiu van der Poel soloing to victory in their respective U23 and Junior men's contests. Teunissen, second overall in last year's World Cup, looks to pick up where compatriot Lars van der Haar left off last season in his domination of both the World Cup and world championships. Fellow Dutchman Corne Van Kessel won the sprint for second to secure a one-two finish for the Netherlands in Tabor, but all of his rivals in the finale last weekend - Wietse Bosmans (Belgium), Zach McDonald (USA), Michael Vanthourenhout (Belgium), Jens Adams (Belgium), David van der Poel (Netherlands) and Emiel Dolfsma (Netherlands) - have the ability to achieve the podium in what should be a fiercely contested race on Sunday.
Mathieu van der Poel (Netherlands) continued his domination of the Junior ranks with victory in the first World Cup round last week. Van der Poel won a remarkable 24 of 26 races last season as a Junior, including a clean sweep of the World Cup races plus a world championship, and he remains the class of the field for the 2012-2013 season.
Belgium's Quentin Hermans has been a consistent second place finisher thus far this season behind van der Poel and will look to exploit any chinks in van der Poel's heretofore invulnerable armour. The battle for the final podium spot last week came down to a five-man sprint, taken by the Czech Republic's Karel Pokorny. Seven-time US Junior champion Logan Owen finished in fifth place on the day and hopes to keep his aspirations of a front row start in Louisville alive with another solid performance.
The World Cup takes on added importance for both the U23 and junior men's fields as the front of the world championship grid is solely determined by one's overall placing in the World Cup series. The top 16 in the final World Cup results will occupy the top 16 places on the start grid in Louisville, Kentucky at the world championships.