It's money time in the cyclo-cross world. All four race categories, Elite men and women, U23 men and Junior men, are heading to Hoogerheide, The Netherlands on Sunday to battle it out during the last round of the 2009-2010 UCI Cyclo-cross World Cup presented by Safety Jogger.
Hoogerheide hosted last year's world championships on a particularly fast parcours. This year, however, organizer and cycling legend Adrie van der Poel opted to remove most of the pavement in the town center making the course a lot tougher on the legs. Some riders might opt to hide out in Hoogerheide in order to remain fresher one week later and surprise the bunch at the Tabor, Czech Republic world championships, but for other riders this last round of the World Cup will determine the overall win in the World Cup. Cyclingnews gives you a run-down on the ninth and final World Cup round of the season.
The Elite men's category is likely to attract the most spectators on Sunday afternoon. Ask Lars Boom about the reception he received on the Dutch course and he'll clarify that most spectators were not cheering him on since they were Belgian; the Belgian-Dutch border is only a stone's throw away.
Flemish riders like Sven Nys, Bart Wellens, Erwin Vervecken and more recently the still only 23-year-old Niels Albert have dominated cyclo-cross during the past decade but this season a foreigner could unseat the Belgians atop one of the major cyclo-cross classifications. The last winner of a major competition by a rider from a non-Dutch speaking country was the Italian Luca Bramati back in 1996 when he won both the World Cup and the Superprestige Series.
Last weekend in Roubaix, France, the 24-year-old Czech champion Zdenek Stybar moved into the overall lead of the World Cup with an impressive performance in the mud around the famous vélodrome. World champion Niels Albert explained he was unable to defend his lead in the World Cup due to a rib injury sustained during the Belgian championships weekend.
While Stybar rode through the mud as if he was riding over a newly-asphalted road at the head of the race, Albert was going backwards, dropping out of the top-five during the second half of the race and out of the World Cup lead. Stybar now leads Albert by a slender 14 points which means that an overall win for Stybar is not a foregone conclusion. If Albert wins at Hoogerheide then Stybar must finish second to claim the World Cup. An Albert win and a finish by Stybar of third or lower will give the young world champion the overall World Cup title over the Czech champion.
Of course there are a lot of other scenarios possible besides the one mentioned. If Albert takes second or third place then Stybar needs to finish at least two places behind the Belgian for Albert to clinch the World Cup title. If Albert finishes off the podium it's less likely he can still win the competition because Stybar would claim the overall win with at least a seventh place finish. Keep in mind that Stybar's worst performance in the World Cup this season was a sixth place in Zolder, Belgium.
Albert expressed he'll have a go for the win in Hoogerheide but that the main focus lays one week later, at the world championships in Tabor... home soil of Zdenek Stybar. Third and fourth place in the World Cup seem to be locked-up by Sven Nys and Klaas Vantornout but fifth place will surely provide a battle between Gerben De Knegt, Kevin Pauwels and Bart Aernouts.
The US team is lining up in Hoogerheide with its full squad featuring Jamey Driscoll, Jonathan Page, Ryan Trebon, Jeremy Powers and American champion Timothy Johnson, who has recently flown in to Europe. It'll be interesting to see how they fare during this last major event ahead of the world championships.
In the Elite women's category the overall ranking was turned upside down in Roubaix due to the non-start of leader Katherine Compton. The US champion was afflicted with a leg cramp injury one day before the race and she was unable to compete. The injury means she lost the lead in the World Cup to Dutch champion Daphny Van den Brand and dropped to third after the Roubaix round.
Van de Brand went down hard on the vélodrome when she touched wheels with eventual winner Katerina Nash. If Van den Brand recovers well she should be able to hold off world champion Marianne Vos, second in the World Cup, this weekend as twenty points separate them. For Van den Brand to win the World Cup she must finish on the podium if Vos wins the race, finish at least fifth if Vos is second, or at least eighth if Vos is third. Van den Brand has yet to finish worse than fourth place in a World Cup this season, so it is likely the Dutch champion will be able to wrap up the overall title in Hoogerheide.
Compton's current third place World Cup ranking seems certain even if the 31-year-old US champion doesn't start in Hoogerheide, which might be likely since Compton explained to Cyclingnews that the leg cramps usually takes two to three weeks to disappear.
If current fourth-placed rider Sanne Van Paassen finishes on the podium in Hoogerheide, she'll finish ahead of Compton overall and make it a Dutch trio on top of the final World Cup ranking. In order to avoid losing her third place on the World Cup standings Compton might be helped by Katerina Nash. The California-based Czech champion won the event in Roubaix and with her current form she seems to be the only one capable of staying near Van den Brand and Vos on their home soil. Nash, winner of the US Gran Prix series, explained she'll start in Hoogerheide with the goal of collecting as many points as possible in order to move up towards a front row start position at the world championships on her home soil in the Czech Republic.
On Sunday morning the final World Cup events for younger riders will be contested. In the U23 category Tom Meeusen is dominating affairs. The Belgian has a 35-point advantage over Slovakian Robert Gavenda and it seems unlikely he'll let this slip away from him.
In the Junior men's category there will be an interesting battle between young Dutchmen Gert-Jan Bosman and David van der Poel, son of Adrie van der Poel. The latter told Cyclingnews he would love to perform well in his dad's race but taking away the overall win from his compatriot Bosman wasn't on his wish-list. With only 14 points separating them they have to look at the same placing scenario as Stybar and Albert in the Elite men's race. And if Van der Poel manages to turn things upside down on Sunday morning Niels Albert might take an example from the young Dutchman later that afternoon.