Last year, as the cyclo-cross World Cup descended on Nommay, France the question on everybody's lips was: 'Who can stop the 'Nys-express'?" Twelve months on, the name may have changed, but the line of enquiry remains the same. Who, if anyone, can stop Niels Albert?
After his domination of the Italian and Czech rounds of this year's World Cup season, Albert will head to France as a clear favourite to continue his victorious run. However, the BKCP – Powerplus rider looks set to face his toughest test so far as key rivals Sven Nys (Landbouwkrediet-Colnago) and Zdenek Stybar (Telenet-Fidea Cycling Team) have continued their steady build towards top form.
Nys' sixth consecutive victory at the Koppenbergcross last month blew away any suggestion that the Belgian 'cross star had started to fade. Stybar, too, is certain to give Albert a fight on Sunday in eastern France. The Czech rider has been a regular visitor to the podium this season and won't hesitate to make the leap to the top step if given half a chance.
Sunweb Pro Job teammates Kevin Pauwels and Klaas Vantornout have each recorded top-five World Cup finishes this season. The two Belgians have been animators in the battle that has raged in Albert's wake this season. The pair will be without teammate Sven Vanthourenhout, who was pulled from the Belgian team after suffering from overtraining.
Frenchman Francis Mourey (Française Des Jeux) has finished fifth at each of the opening rounds and will be anxious to impress on home soil.
Nommay will also host the return of the women to World Cup action after the men's-only round in Tabor and, like their male counterparts, the race looks set to be one of the hottest 'cross contests of the year so far. After several weeks of dominance on the US domestic scene, Katie Compton (Planet Bike) will return to Europe to defend her World Cup lead.
Compton will face a field bolstered by the World Cup-season debuts of current Marianne Vos (DSB Bank - Nederland Bloeit) and Germany's Hanka Kupfernagel. The latter's return from injury sets up a repeat of last year's race in Nommay, where Compton emerged muddy, but victorious ahead of her German rival.
Vos' victory at the European Championships last Sunday showed that the current 'cross World Champion has blown the cyclo-cross cobwebs away, and she will be a serious threat this weekend. Britain's Helen Wyman has also staked her claim with bronze behind Vos in Hoogstraten and will be a deserved dark horse this Sunday.
There will be no men's under-23 or junior fields in Nommay. The series for the younger men continues at the end of the month in Koksijde.