- Brecht Decaluwé
Pauwels and van den Brand set to defend World Cup lead
For the first time ever a cyclo-cross World Cup round in Namur will be held next Sunday. It'll be the first time ever that a Belgian city from the Walloon region will host a World Cup round. The site in Namur also features as the finish area for the GP Wallonnie, this year unsurprisingly won by Cyclingnews' number-one voted rider Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto).
The course in Namur features steep climbs, long run-ups on the stairs, technical twisting and steep drops. Kevin Pauwels (Sunweb-Revor) and Daphny van den Brand (AA Drink – Leontien.nl) are set to defend their lead in the World Cup.
Last year the race in the esplanade next to the historical citadel featured as a round of the Gazet van Antwerpen cyclo-cross Trophy.
Back then world champion Zdenek Stybar (Quick Step Team) battled with Klaas Vantornout (Sunweb-Revor) for the win on the technical course in the Elite Men category while Pauwels flatted out of the lead group. Sanne van Paassen (Brainwash) was outstanding in the Women's race while current World Cup leader van den Brand featured as best of the rest.
In the Elite Men category former winner Stybar is struggling to find his best form this season. Due to the lacklustre form from Stybar, it is Pauwels who's regarded as the top favorite this year. Pauwels finds a course which suits him well because of the long climbs. Co-favorite Sven Nys (Landbouwkrediet) is Pauwels' biggest challenger in the World Cup, trailing Pauwels by 15 points. Despite his off-day in Namur due to the heat last year, Nys is the man to beat after his double wins last weekend. The warm weather conditions from last year will not bother the cyclo-cross peloton this time around as snow and rain is forecasted for Sunday. The dry European fall offered the riders little heavy and technical courses but men like Nys and Vantornout finally get what they've been begging for.
Two other men will have more doubts about the race. Former world champion Lars Boom (Rabobank) makes his short comeback as a cyclo-cross rider in Namur. It's unclear whether Boom will be pleased with the conditions. We expect him to avoid the risks although he did win the World Cup round on the icy course in Zolder last year. Another comeback will be made by the last Belgian world champion Niels Albert (BKCP-Powerplus). The latter stated that he plans to go flat out right from the start as riding in the wheels isn't obvious on the technical course. Albert also said he expected to run out of gas halfway through the race.
Timothy Johnson (Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com) and Troy Wells headed over to Namur after a weekend of USGP races in Bend. They join Belgian-based Jonathan Page (Planetbike) to defend the US-colors at the citadel in Namur.
In the Women's race a clash can be expected between current World Cup leader Van den Brand and her compatriots Van Paassen and world champion Marianne Vos (Rabobank). Van Paassen trails Van den Brand in the World Cup standings by 15 points. US-champion Katie Compton (Rabobank – Giant Off-road Team) is third overall at a distant 45 points. After the not-quite-successful World Cup round in Koksijde, Compton didn't head back to the US. Instead she racked up two wins last weekend in Antwerp and Overijse. The technical course in Namur should suit Compton very well.
British champion Helen Wyman (Kona) and her compatriot Nikki Harris (Telenet-Fidea) fall a bit short against the power of the previous four women but they should be capable of battling for a top-5 result. Third British rider Gabriella Day will surely remember the course in Namur for the horrendous crash she made last year on one of the multiple steep drops.
Other contenders for a top-5 result are Belgian champion Sanne Cant (Boxx Veldritacademie) and a strong French team with Caroline Mani, Pauline Ferrand-Prevot (Lapierre), Christel Ferrier-Bruneau and Lucie Chainel.
There are no World Cup rounds for the Men Under 23 and Junior Men category in Namur.