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'Cross World Cup opens in Aigle

For the first time in four years Switzerland hosts a round of the UCI Cyclo-cross World Cup, and as it did in 2006, Aigle will kick off the World Cup season with a circuit on the grounds of the UCI's headquarters, the World Cycling Centre.

The opening round of the UCI Cyclo-cross World Cup commences this Sunday with events for two of the four World Cup categories: elite men and elite women. The other two categories, U23 men and Junior men, will see their first World Cup action at Koksijde, Belgium, the third round for the elite male and female competitors.

The elite men will contest eight World Cup events throughout the 2010-2011 'cross season, with Zdenek Stybar (Telenet-Fidea) the likely favourite entering the Swiss opener. The 24-year-old Czech, the reigning 'cross world champion and defending World Cup champion, has started the current season hitting on all cylinders, having won each of the four events he's entered: the first two rounds of his home TOI TOI Cup, the first round of the Gazet van Antwerpen Trophy in Namur, Belgium, plus last Sunday's Superprestige opener in Ruddervoorde, Belgium.

Stybar was remarkably consistent in last season's World Cup campaign, finishing on the podium in eight of the nine events, including three victories, to claim the overall World Cup title and should prove once again to be a formidable foe for anyone who seeks to dethrone the Czech star.

Belgium's Niels Albert (BKCP-Powerplus) is someone keen to supplant Stybar for the World Cup title, but the 24-year-old Belgian once again faces health issues which may prove fatal to his chances overall. The 2009 'cross world champion injured his knee in mid-September, putting his early season form in doubt. Albert bounced back earlier than expected to finish a respectable seventh place in last Sunday's Superprestige opener, won by Stybar, and the Belgian hopes for a continued return to form for Aigle.

Albert was the winningest rider on last season's World Cup circuit, with four victories, but he fell short of the overall title, finishing a close second overall to Stybar. The unfortunate Belgian broke a rib at the Belgian national championship which caused Albert to lose his World Cup lead to Stybar in the penultimate round at Roubaix, France. Albert bounced back to win the World Cup finale in Hoogerheide, but Stybar's runner-up finish secured a narrow four-point margin of victory overall.

Last season, 'cross superstar Sven Nys (Landbouwkrediet) sought his sixth straight World Cup title, and the eighth of his career, but a disastrous start in the Treviso, Italy opener put him in a hole from which the Belgian could not recover. However, after Nys DNFed in the first round he finished on the podium seven consecutive times, including a victory on home soil in Kalmthout, which secured third place overall in the World Cup standings.

Nys won in Aigle the previous time the Swiss city hosted a World Cup round four years ago, and the 34-year-old Belgian would surely like to erase the bitter memory of the poor start to his previous year's World Cup campaign. Nys has already won two races this season, Steenbergcross and GP Neerpelt Wisseltrofee Eric Vanderaerden, and finished third in last Sunday's Superprestige opener.

As usual for the perennial 'cross powerhouse, Belgium fields a deep, eight-man squad in Aigle and if it proves not to be Albert's or Nys's day, strongmen such as Klaas Vantornout (Sunweb-Revor), fourth overall last season with three podium appearances, Kevin Pauwels (Telenet-Fidea), fifth overall last season with his first career World Cup win at the Zolder round, or Bart Aernouts (Rabobank - Giant Offroad Team), seventh overall last season, have the ability to fight for the podium's top spot.

French 'cross champion Francis Mourey (FDJ) opened his season with a bang on American soil, taking three consecutive victories at StarCrossed, Rad Racing Gran Prix and CrossVegas. The Frenchman finished ninth overall last season, and began his 2009-2010 World Cup campaign with four consecutive fifth place finishes.

Five-time Swiss 'cross champion Christian Heule (Champion System LBS), too, began this season in the US, finishing second to Mourey at StarCrossed and the Rad Racing Gran Prix, followed by a fifth place finish at CrossVegas. The 35-year-old Heule, 10th overall in last year's World Cup, will certainly have the backing of the partisan Aigle crowd.

The US will field a strong team in the World Cup opener, featuring US champion Tim Johnson and his teammates Jeremy Powers and Jamey Driscoll, Jonathan Page (Planet Bike) and Adam Craig (Rabobank - Giant Offroad Team). Page, the silver medalist at the 2007 'cross world championships, was the best-placed American of last season's World Cup in 18th overall, with two top-10 finishes. Teammates Johnson and Powers bring good form across the pond to Switzerland, with the US champion victorious in six UCI 'cross races thus far this season while Powers has won four.

Other riders who may figure prominently in Aigle include Italy's Enrico Franzoi (BKCP-Powerplus), Dutchmen Gerben De Knegt (Rabobank-Giant Off-Road Team) and Thijs Al (AA Drink Cycling Team), Germany's Philipp Walsleben (BKCP-Powerplus) and Polish national champion Mariusz Gil (Baboco-Revor Cycling Team).

Compton a contender for World Cup opener

Thirty-eight women are slated to compete in the first of seven rounds comprising the women's UCI Cyclo-cross World Cup (the women share all of the men's venues except Igorre, Spain) with Katie Compton (Planet Bike) a strong contender to repeat her blazing start of the previous season's World Cup.

Compton became the only American to ever don a World Cup leader's jersey last year when she opened her campaign with two consecutive victories followed by three straight podium placings. Compton led the World Cup through the first five rounds last season, but ended up fourth overall after health issues forced her to miss the final two events in the seven race series.

Compton, the six-time and reigning US 'cross champion, once again returns to Europe having gone unbeaten in her first five races on American soil. The 31-year-old swept the two Planet Bike Cup events in Wisconsin followed by a three-race sweep of the UCI3 events two weeks later in Kentucky and Ohio. Compton will take part in five World Cup events this season and hopes to earn her elusive first 'cross world championship next February.

Daphny Van den Brand, the 2003 'cross world champion and 11-time Dutch 'cross champion, opens her campaign in Aigle as the defending World Cup champion. The 32-year-old Dutchwoman was a consistent performer last season with five podium appearances, highlighted by a victory in Kalmthout, Belgium. On the two occasions when Van den Brand did not occupy a podium position she placed fourth in each event.

Dutchwoman Sanne van Paassen (BrainWash) has enjoyed a stellar start to her 'cross season, with victories at the GP Harderwijk, GP Neerpelt and the first round of the Gazet van Antwerpen Trophy in Namur, Belgium. Van Paassen finished third overall in last year's World Cup and the 21-year-old has come out swinging this season.

Germany's Hanka Kupfernagel can never be counted out as she looks to rebound from her fifth place World Cup finish of the previous season. Kupfernagel, the 2008-2009 World Cup champion, is a four-time world champion and has finished on the podium in a remarkable 10 of the previous 11 world championships

Other contenders in Aigle include Belgian champion Sanne Cant (BKCP-Powerplus), eighth overall in last season's World Cup, Czech Katerina Nash (Luna), winner of last season's Roubaix 'cross World Cup round and a victor at three UCI races thus far in the US including CrossVegas, and Nash's American Luna teammate Amy Dombroski.

The reigning 'cross champion Marianne Vos, who finished second overall in last season's World Cup, is not taking part in the Aigle opener.

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Based in the southeastern United States, Peter produces race coverage for all disciplines, edits news and writes features. The New Jersey native has 30 years of road racing and cyclo-cross experience, starting in the early 1980s as a Junior in the days of toe clips and leather hairnets. Over the years he's had the good fortune to race throughout the United States and has competed in national championships for both road and 'cross in the Junior and Masters categories. The passion for cycling started young, as before he switched to the road Peter's mission in life was catching big air on his BMX bike.

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