Sven Nys (Landbouwcredit-Colnago) will start the Fidea Scheldecross in Antwerp on Saturday as a firm favourite but admitted he will be wary of Rabobank's Lars Boom, who will continue with the third of his six-race cyclo-cross programme at the Belgian event.
Nys heads into the event after winning the Vlaamse Druivenveldrit in Overijse, Belgium last Sunday ahead of an in-form Kevin Pauwels (Telenet-Fidea) and Klaas Vantornout (Sunweb-Revor). Boom, who is using the cyclo-cross to prepare for next year's Spring Classics, finished seventh at the event but clearly left his mark on the race and his full-time 'cross colleagues.
"[Boom] wants us to believe that he's only doing it for fun, but in Overijse we learnt to take those words with a grain of salt," said Nys. "During the warm-up I knew what was happening. I put in a burst and he reacted like lightning; he clearly wanted to impress me."
Boom's participation in this year's cyclo-cross season has attracted significant media and public attention, particularly within the heartland of the discipline, Belgium. The Dutchman has made no secret of the fact that his focus is on the upcoming road season. However, Nys dismissed any suggestion of resentment towards the 2008 cyclo-cross world champion, preferring instead to focus upon the increased exposure his presence has brought.
"Lars is a tough customer in every race he starts," said Nys. "The man wasn't world champion in all age categories for no reason. Boom has so much ego and pride that he will spare no effort to challenge us.
"Cyclo-cross can only benefit from it. People like Lars Boom are the salt in the soup."
For his part, Boom downplayed the attention he has attracted but admitted he had been pleased with his form given to him in his first major hit-out against the top 'cross riders.
"It's not me but the real cyclo-cross riders who deserve the attention," said Boom. "Last week I was aided by the difficult start onto the Tenotsberg, where I could hurt the others. It also helped that I had a lot of support from the public - I wasn't treated like an intruder, as I'd feared.
"It also helped that the other guys were had had a tough race [at the GvA trophy round in] Essen in the legs. But my performance has reassured me. I'm curious and I'm looking forward to the races ahead."
Nys will also face stiff competition from Niels Albert (BCKP-Powerplus) and Pauwels, though his task is made easier due to the continued absence of current world champion Zdenek Stybar, who remains sidelined by injury.
Stybar's teammate Pauwels currently leads the GvA trophy series and alongside Tom Meeusen has been one of the only riders capable of breaking the Nys-Albert-Stybar stranglehold on the three major 'cross competitions (the World Cup, GvA Trophy and Superprestige series') this season.