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Pauwels to defend World Cup lead in Igorre

By:
Brecht Decaluwé

Four-time Igorre winner Nys expected to challenge

Sven Nys powers through the sloppy parcours in Igorre, Spain.

Sven Nys powers through the sloppy parcours in Igorre, Spain.

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The UCI Cyclo-cross World Cup heads into its fourth round with the ziklokross in Igorre, Spain on December 4. Only the elite men will compete this coming weekend, with Belgium's Kevin Pauwels (Sunweb-Revor) defending his overall lead in the Basque region of Spain. Once again the course in Igorre is expected to be quite muddy as rain is predicted for the days preceding the race and on the race day itself.

This year's edition is the eighth time the World Cup has travelled to Igorre, a locale where Belgian cyclo-cross star Sven Nys (Landbouwkrediet) donned the typical Basque txapela four previous times atop the podium after the race. His last victory, however, was in 2008. Nys only trails Pauwels by five points overall in the World Cup standings and is looking for a solid result to take over the series lead.

World champion Zdenek Stybar (Quick Step Cycling) is already trailing by 25 points in third place while Klaas Vantornout (Sunweb-Revor) and Francis Mourey (FDJ) are each 50 points down. Last year’s winner Niels Albert (BKCP-Powerplus) will not compete as he's still recovering from a wrist injury sustained when he was hit by a car while on a training ride.

During the previous weekend the top riders battled each other in Koksijde, Belgium for the World Cup's third round and top guns Pauwels and Nys clashed with each other, almost literally, in the finale. Nys rode a somewhat diagonal sprint in which fast man Pauwels ended up sitting at the wrong side of him. The sprint caused a lot of buzz in the Belgian media and one day later the duo ended up sprinting each other again at Superprestige Gieten. Nys prevailed once more, this time with undisputable sprinting tactics.

On Monday Pauwels' Sunweb-Revor team told the media that their team leader struggled with a blocked back after his efforts in the sand. During the week after Koksijde a lot of cyclo-cross riders started a two week training camp in Majorca which they combine with the Igorre race. The Sunweb-Revor team found a Belgian physiotherapist in Majorca who has worked to resolve Pauwels' back pain.

Last year many riders had quite an ordeal arriving in Igorre in time to compete due to a strike at Spanish airports. Some managed to travel via private planes while most others arrived in Igorre after a long trip by car. This time around no similar strikes are announced so most riders will be much fresher at the start.

Last year’s race featured a battle between Nys, French champion Mourey and eventual winner Niels Albert. World champion Stybar sat out the race due to a back injury. Last weekend the currently struggling Czech indicated that his demanding summer on the road for the ProTour Quick Step squad might have taken its toll. On the often demanding course in Igorre it’s unlikely Stybar can bounce back with a World Cup win.

Top favorites for victory on Sunday include Nys, Pauwels and Mourey. An outsider for the win is Klaas Vantornout who’s always performed well on the course in Igorre. If the course turns out to be as muddy as usual he’ll be a solid candidate for the win.

Bart Wellens (Telenet-Fidea) tends to go well in Igorre, too, but his performance during the Superprestige round in Gieten last Sunday doesn't bode well for Igorre.

Another rider who often performs well in the Basque Country is Jonathan Page (Planet Bike). After a poor start to the season and illness he should start getting rolling and why not in Igorre. Jeremy Durrin (J.A.M. Fund – NCC) is the sole other US starter while Briton Ian Field (Hargroves) has opted to skip the Igorre World Cup round.