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Gallery: Rome Cyclo-cross World Cup practice session

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Belgian riders pre-ride the World Cup venue in Rome.

Belgian riders pre-ride the World Cup venue in Rome. (Image credit: Photopress.be)
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Klaas Vantornout (Sunweb-Napoleon Games) runs a barrier section.

Klaas Vantornout (Sunweb-Napoleon Games) runs a barrier section. (Image credit: Photopress.be)
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Dutch junior Stan Wijkel

Dutch junior Stan Wijkel (Image credit: Photopress.be)
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U23 rider Michael Vanthourenhout (Belgium)

U23 rider Michael Vanthourenhout (Belgium) (Image credit: Photopress.be)
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Sabrina Stultiens (Rabobank Liv/Giant)

Sabrina Stultiens (Rabobank Liv/Giant) (Image credit: Photopress.be)
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U23 rider Laurens Sweeck (Belgium)

U23 rider Laurens Sweeck (Belgium) (Image credit: Photopress.be)
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U23 rider Gianni Vermeersch (Belgium)

U23 rider Gianni Vermeersch (Belgium) (Image credit: Photopress.be)
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Reigning junior world champion Mathieu van der Poel will attempt to keep his season's unbeaten streak alive on Sunday in Rome.

Reigning junior world champion Mathieu van der Poel will attempt to keep his season's unbeaten streak alive on Sunday in Rome. (Image credit: Photopress.be)
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Ellen Van Loy (Melbotech Prorace CT)

Ellen Van Loy (Melbotech Prorace CT) (Image credit: Photopress.be)
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Klaas Vantornout (Sunweb-Napoleon Games)

Klaas Vantornout (Sunweb-Napoleon Games) (Image credit: Photopress.be)
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Belgian elite rider Jan Denuwelaere (Style & Concept) will make his first World Cup start of the season in Rome.

Belgian elite rider Jan Denuwelaere (Style & Concept) will make his first World Cup start of the season in Rome. (Image credit: Photopress.be)
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Italy's Enrico Franzoi pre-rides the World Cup venue in Rome

Italy's Enrico Franzoi pre-rides the World Cup venue in Rome (Image credit: Photopress.be)
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Dutch U23 rider Gert-Jan Bosman

Dutch U23 rider Gert-Jan Bosman (Image credit: Photopress.be)
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Junior rider Jonas Degroote (Belgium)

Junior rider Jonas Degroote (Belgium) (Image credit: Photopress.be)
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American junior Spencer Downing

American junior Spencer Downing (Image credit: Photopress.be)
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Belgian U23 riders check out the Rome circuit.

Belgian U23 riders check out the Rome circuit. (Image credit: Photopress.be)
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American Amy Dombroski (Young Telenet-Fidea Cycling Team)

American Amy Dombroski (Young Telenet-Fidea Cycling Team) (Image credit: Photopress.be)
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Switzerland's Simon Zahner (EKZ Racing Team)

Switzerland's Simon Zahner (EKZ Racing Team) (Image credit: Photopress.be)
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Switzerland's Julien Taramarcaz (BMC Mountainbike Racing Team) has had some solid results this season.

Switzerland's Julien Taramarcaz (BMC Mountainbike Racing Team) has had some solid results this season. (Image credit: Photopress.be)
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Kevin Pauwels (Sunweb-Napoleon Games)

Kevin Pauwels (Sunweb-Napoleon Games) (Image credit: Photopress.be)
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Sven Nys spends familiarizes himself with the World Cup circuit in Rome one day prior to racing.

Sven Nys spends familiarizes himself with the World Cup circuit in Rome one day prior to racing. (Image credit: Photopress.be)
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Nancy Bober (Style & Concept)

Nancy Bober (Style & Concept) (Image credit: Photopress.be)
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Kevin Pauwels (Sunweb-Napoleon Games) pre-rides the Rome circuit.

Kevin Pauwels (Sunweb-Napoleon Games) pre-rides the Rome circuit. (Image credit: Photopress.be)
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World champion Marianne Vos will be a favourite for victory at Sunday's World Cup round in Rome

World champion Marianne Vos will be a favourite for victory at Sunday's World Cup round in Rome (Image credit: Photopress.be)
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Kevin Pauwels (Sunweb-Napoleon Games)

Kevin Pauwels (Sunweb-Napoleon Games) (Image credit: Photopress.be)
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Kevin Pauwels (Sunweb-Napoleon Games)

Kevin Pauwels (Sunweb-Napoleon Games) (Image credit: Photopress.be)
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Kevin Pauwels (Sunweb-Napoleon Games)

Kevin Pauwels (Sunweb-Napoleon Games) (Image credit: Photopress.be)
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World champion Marianne Vos recons the World Cup course in Rome.

World champion Marianne Vos recons the World Cup course in Rome. (Image credit: Photopress.be)
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Kevin Pauwels (Sunweb-Napoleon Games)

Kevin Pauwels (Sunweb-Napoleon Games) (Image credit: Photopress.be)
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U23 rider Gianni Vermeersch (Belgium)

U23 rider Gianni Vermeersch (Belgium) (Image credit: Photopress.be)
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Klaas Vantornout (Sunweb-Napoleon Games)

Klaas Vantornout (Sunweb-Napoleon Games) (Image credit: Photopress.be)
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Klaas Vantornout and Sunweb-Napoleon Games teammate Kevin Pauwels

Klaas Vantornout and Sunweb-Napoleon Games teammate Kevin Pauwels (Image credit: Photopress.be)
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Jan Denuwelaere (Style & Concept)

Jan Denuwelaere (Style & Concept) (Image credit: Photopress.be)
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Pavla Havlikova (Young Telenet-Fidea Cycling Team)

Pavla Havlikova (Young Telenet-Fidea Cycling Team) (Image credit: Photopress.be)
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Sven Vanthourenhout (Crelan-Euphony)

Sven Vanthourenhout (Crelan-Euphony) (Image credit: Photopress.be)
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Switzerland's Marcel Wildhaber (Scott-Swisspower MTB Racing Team)

Switzerland's Marcel Wildhaber (Scott-Swisspower MTB Racing Team) (Image credit: Photopress.be)
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Swiss champion Jasmin Achermann (Rapha-Focus)

Swiss champion Jasmin Achermann (Rapha-Focus) (Image credit: Photopress.be)
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Italy's Eva Lechner

Italy's Eva Lechner (Image credit: Photopress.be)
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Klaas Vantornout leads Sunweb-Napoleon Games teammate Kevin Pauwels in a pre-ride of the course in Rome.

Klaas Vantornout leads Sunweb-Napoleon Games teammate Kevin Pauwels in a pre-ride of the course in Rome. (Image credit: Photopress.be)
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U23 rider Tim Merlier (Belgium)

U23 rider Tim Merlier (Belgium) (Image credit: Photopress.be)
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Klaas Vantournout (Sunweb-Napoleon Games)

Klaas Vantournout (Sunweb-Napoleon Games) (Image credit: Photopress.be)
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Belgian U23 rider Tim Merlier

Belgian U23 rider Tim Merlier (Image credit: Photopress.be)
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Belgian U23 rider Jens Adams pre-rides the course in Rome

Belgian U23 rider Jens Adams pre-rides the course in Rome (Image credit: Photopress.be)
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World Cup leader Sven Nys will try to win his fourth World Cup round of the season on Sunday.

World Cup leader Sven Nys will try to win his fourth World Cup round of the season on Sunday. (Image credit: Photopress.be)
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Dutch riders gather for a pre-ride of the World Cup course in Rome.

Dutch riders gather for a pre-ride of the World Cup course in Rome. (Image credit: Photopress.be)
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Mike Teunissen (Netherlands) won the opening U23 men's World Cup round and holds fifth overall entering the penultimate Rome round.

Mike Teunissen (Netherlands) won the opening U23 men's World Cup round and holds fifth overall entering the penultimate Rome round. (Image credit: Photopress.be)
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Sven Nys leads Crelan teammate Sven Vanthourenhout on a course pre-ride in Rome.

Sven Nys leads Crelan teammate Sven Vanthourenhout on a course pre-ride in Rome. (Image credit: Photopress.be)
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UCI officials examining the barrier section at the Rome World Cup venue

UCI officials examining the barrier section at the Rome World Cup venue (Image credit: Photopress.be)
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Italy's Marco Aurelio Fontana

Italy's Marco Aurelio Fontana (Image credit: Photopress.be)
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Belgian U23 Michael Vanthourenhout lies fourth overall in the World Cup standings entering the Rome round.

Belgian U23 Michael Vanthourenhout lies fourth overall in the World Cup standings entering the Rome round. (Image credit: Photopress.be)
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A member of the host Italian team makes quick work of the barriers

A member of the host Italian team makes quick work of the barriers (Image credit: Photopress.be)
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Belgian junior Jonas Degroote

Belgian junior Jonas Degroote (Image credit: Photopress.be)
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Junior world champion and World Cup leader Mathieu van der Poel has been unbeaten thus far this season.

Junior world champion and World Cup leader Mathieu van der Poel has been unbeaten thus far this season. (Image credit: Photopress.be)
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Kevin Pauwels (Sunweb-Napoleon Games) holds third in the World Cup standings entering Rome and seeks his third World Cup win of the season.

Kevin Pauwels (Sunweb-Napoleon Games) holds third in the World Cup standings entering Rome and seeks his third World Cup win of the season. (Image credit: Photopress.be)
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Belgian women's champion Sanne Cant is fifth overall in the World Cup standings.

Belgian women's champion Sanne Cant is fifth overall in the World Cup standings. (Image credit: Photopress.be)
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Elite men's world champion Niels Albert (BKCP-Powerplus)

Elite men's world champion Niels Albert (BKCP-Powerplus) (Image credit: Photopress.be)
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Belgian Wout Van Aert is third overall in the U23 men's World Cup standings and has been on the podium in each of the three previous World Cup rounds.

Belgian Wout Van Aert is third overall in the U23 men's World Cup standings and has been on the podium in each of the three previous World Cup rounds. (Image credit: Photopress.be)
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Sunweb-Napoleon Games teammates Klaas Vantornout and Kevin Pauwels recon the Rome parcours.

Sunweb-Napoleon Games teammates Klaas Vantornout and Kevin Pauwels recon the Rome parcours. (Image credit: Photopress.be)
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Kevin Pauwels (Sunweb-Napoleon Games) pre-rides the World Cup circuit in Rome

Kevin Pauwels (Sunweb-Napoleon Games) pre-rides the World Cup circuit in Rome (Image credit: Photopress.be)
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U23 World Cup leader Wietse Bosmans (Belgium) airs it out on the barrier sector.

U23 World Cup leader Wietse Bosmans (Belgium) airs it out on the barrier sector. (Image credit: Photopress.be)
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Nancy Bober (Style & Concept)

Nancy Bober (Style & Concept) (Image credit: Photopress.be)
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Crelan-Euphony teammates Sven Nys and Sven Vanthourenhout

Crelan-Euphony teammates Sven Nys and Sven Vanthourenhout (Image credit: Photopress.be)
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Sunweb-Napoleon Games teammates Klaas Vantornout and Kevin Pauwels

Sunweb-Napoleon Games teammates Klaas Vantornout and Kevin Pauwels (Image credit: Photopress.be)
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Belgian U23 rider Jens Adams

Belgian U23 rider Jens Adams (Image credit: Photopress.be)
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Belgian junior Quinten Hermans is fourth overall in the World Cup standings entering the Rome round.

Belgian junior Quinten Hermans is fourth overall in the World Cup standings entering the Rome round. (Image credit: Photopress.be)
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Sven Vanthourenhout (Crelan-Euphony)

Sven Vanthourenhout (Crelan-Euphony) (Image credit: Photopress.be)
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Italy's Marco Aurelio Fontana won a bronze medal in the 2012 Olympic Games mountain bike event

Italy's Marco Aurelio Fontana won a bronze medal in the 2012 Olympic Games mountain bike event (Image credit: Photopress.be)
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Kevin Pauwels (Sunweb-Napoleon Games)

Kevin Pauwels (Sunweb-Napoleon Games) (Image credit: Photopress.be)
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US junior champion Logan Owen holds second overall in the World Cup standings entering the penultimate round in Rome.

US junior champion Logan Owen holds second overall in the World Cup standings entering the penultimate round in Rome. (Image credit: Photopress.be)
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Klaas Vantornout makes his way through a sea of course tape while pre-riding the Rome parcours.

Klaas Vantornout makes his way through a sea of course tape while pre-riding the Rome parcours. (Image credit: Photopress.be)
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Junior world champion Mathieu van der Poel has been an unstoppable force this season.

Junior world champion Mathieu van der Poel has been an unstoppable force this season. (Image credit: Photopress.be)
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Belgium's Joyce Vanderbeken

Belgium's Joyce Vanderbeken (Image credit: Photopress.be)
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Belgium coach Rudy De Bie

Belgium coach Rudy De Bie (Image credit: Photopress.be)
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USA junior Spencer Downing

USA junior Spencer Downing (Image credit: Photopress.be)
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Belgian U23 rider Wout Van Aert

Belgian U23 rider Wout Van Aert (Image credit: Photopress.be)
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Belgium coach Rudy De Bie watches his riders pre-ride the World Cup course in Rome.

Belgium coach Rudy De Bie watches his riders pre-ride the World Cup course in Rome. (Image credit: Photopress.be)
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Ellen Van Loy (Melbotech Prorace CT)

Ellen Van Loy (Melbotech Prorace CT) (Image credit: Photopress.be)
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Belgium's Wietse Bosmans pre-rides the course in Rome

Belgium's Wietse Bosmans pre-rides the course in Rome (Image credit: Photopress.be)
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Belgian junior Yannick Peeters

Belgian junior Yannick Peeters (Image credit: Photopress.be)

The UCI Cyclo-cross World Cup returns to Italy on Sunday, January 6 for the first time since October 2009 with a full compliment of racing featuring elite men and women, U23 men and junior men. After a punishing stint of racing in Belgium and the Netherlands during the holiday season, featuring plenty of inclement weather and taxing, muddy circuits, the 'cross peloton enjoyed warm weather and sunny skies in Rome today as riders had the opportunity to train on the circuit, one day prior to competition.

The Rome, Italy World Cup event is the penultimate race for all categories, the seventh of eight for the elites and the fifth of six for the U23 and junior categories. The elite men's overall World Cup title is still up for grabs with the season's two main protagonists, Belgian champion Sven Nys and world champion Niels Albert, tied on points with 415 each. After Nys's first two World Cup rounds in the Czech Republic were marred by crashes and mechanicals the Belgian champion has been on a tear, winning three World Cup rounds and finishing second in the other. Having written off his 2012-2013 World Cup campaign, Nys is suddenly in the lead with momentum on his side.

Niels Albert, however, is still more than capable of regaining and securing the World Cup lead and the final two rounds in Rome, Italy and Hoogerheide, the Netherlands should see a fierce contest between the powerhouse Belgian duo. Defending World Cup champion Kevin Pauwels holds third overall and trails Nys and Albert by 26 points.

Barring disaster on Sunday, US champion and World Cup leader Katie Compton should achieve one of her season's goals of winning the elite women's overall World Cup title. Winner of four World Cup rounds and runner-up in the other two, Compton has enough of a points cushion over second-placed Nikki Harris that she just needs a top-15 finish in Rome to secure the overall series title. In addition to becoming the first American to win a 'cross World Cup title, Compton would be able to skip the final round in the Netherlands on January 20, 2013 and remain in the United States between its national championships on January 13 and the world championships on February 3.

While Compton enjoys a comfortable overall lead with 340 points, the battle for second is tightly contested between Britons Nikki Harris and Helen Wyman, currently in second and third overall with 235 and 216 points respectively. Former World Cup champion Sanne van Paassen is also in the mix at fourth overall with 210 points.

The x-factor on Sunday will be reigning women's world champion Marianne Vos, who's not in contention for the World Cup title after her usual delayed start to her 'cross season but very much a threat to win on the day. Vos opened her World Cup campaign in Namur, Belgium on December 23 with a third place finish followed by a victory three days later in Heusden-Zolder, Belgium. While Vos can win on any course, a dry, fast circuit should play to her considerable strengths and provide Katie Compton with a strong challenge for victory.

Belgium's Wietse Bosmans has been on a hot streak in the U23 men's World Cup, winning the previous three rounds following a third place finish at the opening event in Tabor, Czech Republic. The 21-year-old Belgian holds a 60-point lead over second-placed rider Corne Van Kessel of the Netherlands. Van Kessel, however, is just one point ahead of Belgium's Wout Van Aert.

In the junior men's ranks the season has belonged to Dutchman Mathieu van der Poel. The reigning world champion and World Cup leader has won every race he's entered this season and he holds a 75-point lead over American champion Logan Owen in the World Cup standings. The Netherlands' Martijn Budding holds third overall in the series with 160 points, just five behind Owen.

Click on the gallery to the right to view photos from Saturday's pre-race training session.