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Tough week for cyclo-cross peloton kicks off in Zonhoven

Niels Albert on the run-up.

Niels Albert on the run-up. (Image credit:

The Belgian cyclo-cross season is off to the start of a grueling week. The week kicked off with the demanding, sandy cross in Zonhoven on Sunday. The cyclo-cross classic up and around the legendary Koppenberg will follow on Tuesday, and the week will conclude with a race in Ronse, which last year was notoriously rainy.

Zonhoven winner Niels Albert (BKCP-Powerplus) realized that his efforts in the sand quarry could take their toll on Tuesday. "It's a demanding week and actually I'm also riding in Dottignies next Saturday. Anyway, the Koppenbergcross will not be easy, but first I'll try to enjoy this win and then hopefully be up to the task on Tuesday," said Albert.

"Sven Nys is the man to beat there as he's dominated the race in the past decade," said Albert. "I heard the course is dry, so the circumstances might be different than other years. This was an extremely tough race, so tomorrow will surely not include a thorough training."

When asked whether the sandy race in Zonhoven had been a good rehearsal for the world championships on what will be a sandy course in Koksijde, Albert didn't want to make a connection. "Koksijde is slightly similar but this wasn't a test for the world championships. It does boost my confidence that I can ride well in the sand even though I knew that already," he said.

Cyclo-cross legend Sven Nys (Landbouwkrediet) figured that multiple tough races in a short period of time was an advantage for him as he is known to have a high basic level of form on which to build. On Sunday in Zonhoven, he finished as runner-up behind Albert but in the Koppenbergcross, he has been virtually unbeatable in recent years. He knows how to handle a series of hard races like no one else.

"This one slashes right into it. It's the biggest sand race of the year," said Nys. "What you did here certainly influences your performance on Tuesday. Last year, I saw some grimaces at the finish line in Zonhoven, like with Stybar. This year it's in their advantage that there's one day between the two races [while last year the races featured on Sunday and Monday]. Will I rest tomorrow? Certainly not. At my age I have to keep moving," 35-year-old Nys said.

World champion Zydnek Stybar finished fourth in Zonhoven, and the Czech rider was pleased with that outcome. The 25-year-old is still struggling to find his rhythm on the cyclo-cross bike after completing the season on the road with his Quick Step team. "Maybe I could've been third. Every race I'm feeling better. Today's course was extremely technical, and I haven't done much training in the sand just yet. I hope to improve my result on the Koppenberg," Stybar said.

When asked whether he would win on the Koppenberg, the world champion said making such a prediction wasn't possible these days as the level of competition is very high. "There are six or seven guys who can win so it's impossible to say that I'm going to win," Stybar said.

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