'Cross stars rev up for Zolder World Cup

Conditions to thaw after Europe's big freeze

Arriving at the Terlaemen Circuit, a motorsport race track in Heusden-Zolder, Belgium, means the World Cup is two thirds away and reaching its final stages. The third Belgian round of the World Cup on Saturday features four races and kicks off the series of Holiday 'cross races across Flanders. The spectacles attract huge crowds where fans are often spotted with a jenever in one hand and a cone of frites with mayonnaise in the other one while sporting the Bart Wellens fan jacket.

For the Elite Men it is the seventh out of nine rounds and with world champion Niels Albert and Czech champion Zdenek Stybar tied in the lead, it is clear that those two riders will be focusing on each other and the race for the overall prize.

While the weather was a crucial factor with the unusual snowy conditions in the World Cup round in Kalmthout last weekend, it seems that Saturday should bring the more typical Belgian conditions. On Friday rain is predicted and the race day offers rain showers while temperatures are climbing up to 4°C.

If this is the case then Terlaemen will not offer the high speed racing that was witnessed last year. The frozen ground provided fast racing which, combined with a Belgian blockade against then-World Champion Lars Boom, allowed unfamiliar riders like winner Thijs Al and Marco Aurelio Fontana to top the podium.

Last year the course suited riders with a lot of power and fewer technical skills. While we're not expecting to see Al (bad form) and Fontana (last start row) on the podium once again, it is likely that a rider like Niels Albert will excel in these conditions. The world champion is getting back near top form but surely Stybar will be keen on finally taking over the leader's jersey from the Belgian.

In-form Belgian champion Sven Nys is racking up the victories lately but the course in Zolder just doesn't quite suit him; Nys surely will be hoping the thaw will has done its work in the Limburg region, in the North East of Belgium.

The Women's World Cup heads into its fifth out of seven rounds and the battle here is on between fresh US-champion Katie Compton and Dutch champion Daphny van den Brand, who is trailing by only ten points.

It is hard to judge who will be best in the sloppy conditions in Zolder, as Van den Brand, Vos and Compton have all proven to be able to win in the worst that 'cross can throw at the riders. Vos has the edge with her powerful sprint, while Compton loves the mud but prefers a course which is more technical than that in Zolder.

While it is money time for the elite riders things are different at the youth ranks. It's been a month since the last youth World Cup races were held and for them this is the third out of five rounds. In the under-23 category, Slovakian Robert Gavenda is leading Belgian Tom Meeusen and French ace Arnaud Jouffroy. Dutchman Gert-Jan Bosman is comfortably leading the Junior Men category.

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