After a two-year hiatus from the UCI Cyclo-cross World Cup circuit, the legendary Roubaix Velodrome and its grounds once again play host to the cream of the 'cross world on Sunday, December 2 for the fourth round of the 2012-2013 series. The sole French race of this year's 'cross World Cup will feature only the elite-level competitors, both men and women, while the U23 and junior men sit out Roubaix, France as well as the next event in Namur, Belgium before returning once again for Heusden-Zolder on December 26.
Both the men's and women's World Cup leaders, Niels Albert (BKCP-Powerplus) and Katie Compton (Trek Cyclocross Collective) respectively, are scheduled to compete with each looking to put more daylight between themselves and their closest rivals for the overall title.
Reigning world champion Niels Albert has been the most consistent of the elite men in World Cups thus far this season - the only rider to make the podium in all three previous rounds (3rd in Tabor, Czech Republic, 1st in Plzen, Czech Republic and 2nd in Koksijde, Belgium). Albert holds a 30-point lead over the next two riders on the standings, Belgian champion Sven Nys (Landbouwkrediet-Euphony) and compatriot Klaas Vantornout (Sunweb-Revor) who each have 185 points, but the BKCP-Powerplus Belgian suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of Nys at the previous round on the sand dunes of Koksijde.
Nys has been a force to be reckoned with this season, outside of the hiccups suffered at the first two World Cups where he finished 5th and 6th, and Albert will need to be on his A-game to remain in control of his World Cup destiny. Vantornout, too, has been strong of late, finishing second and third in the previous World Cup rounds as well as holding off Nys to win last Sunday's Superprestige round in Gieten.
Vantornout's teammate Kevin Pauwels holds fourth place overall, trailing Vantornout and Nys by just one point. Pauwels's only victory of the season came in the opening World Cup round and the defending World Cup champion will look for a solid result in Roubaix to keep himself in contention for a repeat title.
Look to French riders, particularly Francis Mourey (FDJ-BigMat), third at last Saturday's Koksijde World Cup round, to provide strong competition for the Belgian juggernaut. Mourey said last Saturday that the Belgians weren't unbeatable and he'll be amply motivated to back up his rhetoric on home turf. Mourey's compatriot and trade teammate Steve Chainel should prove an able ally while French 'cross champion Aurelien Duval has been having a solid season thus far. Chainel was the highest placed Frenchman the last time a World Cup round was contested in Roubaix, January 17, 2010, with a ninth place result to his credit.
Nine of the top 11 finishers from the 2010 Roubaix edition return once again, with only Zdenek Stybar and Erwin Vervecken not on the start grid. Stybar won in 2010 but the two time elite 'cross world champion has put his 'cross career on hold while he focuses on the road, while Vervecken, a three-time 'cross world champion in his own right, has retired.
Reigning US champion Katie Compton is the heavy favourite for victory in the 41-rider elite women's contest, particularly if the forecasted rain showers for Saturday evening come to fruition and turn the parcours on the Roubaix Velodrome grounds into a muddy quagmire.
Compton has wontwo of the three World Cups contested thus far, with her season's only blemish a close runner-up finish at the opening round in Tabor to Sanne van Paassen (Rabobank Women Team), and another victory would bring her one step closer to one of her season's goals - her first overall World Cup title.
Compton holds a commanding 40-point lead over her nearest three rivals, all tied at 130 points: van Paassen, Nikki Harris (Young Telenet-Fidea) and European champion Helen Wyman (Kona). The 33-year-old American, whose birthday comes one day after Roubaix, hopes to start celebrating early with a win that will help extend her overall World Cup lead and contribute to her quest of attaining a buffer in excess of 60 points over her nearest rival after the penultimate round. Compton hopes to have an insurmountable World Cup lead after the Rome, Italy round on January 6, which would enable her to remain in the United States for the interim between US 'cross nationals (Jan. 13) and 'cross Worlds (Feb. 3), taking place on US soil for the first time in history, thus avoiding a return trip to Europe for the World Cup finale in Hoogerheide, the Netherlands (Jan. 20).
For the elite men, Steve Chainel (FDJ-BigMat) will be the only rider to start both the 2012 WorldTour Paris-Roubaix road race plus the Roubaix, France round of the 'cross World Cup, taking place at the iconic Roubaix Velodrome and its surrounding grounds. Chainel finished a very respectable 16th at the cobbled Monument in April, edged out in a 10-man sprint for 15th by Taylor Phinney, 4:37 behind race winner Tom Boonen.
For a truly remarkable display of both road and 'cross prowess in a single season, look no further than what Roger de Vlaeminck accomplished in 1975. The Belgian superstar won his country's national 'cross title followed by the 'cross world championship to kick off his year, then won Paris-Roubaix for the third time that spring (Boonen equaled De Vlaeminck's record Paris-Roubaix win tally of four this year). Also in his palmares for 1975, De Vlaeminck won seven stages and the points classification at the Giro d'Italia, six stages and the overall at the Tour de Suisse, three stages and the overall at Tirreno-Adriatico, plus earned several victories in Italian one-day events.