Koksijde's sand dunes loom for World Cup's third round

The third round of the UCI Cyclo-cross World Cup takes place this coming Saturday, November 24, on the taxing sand of Koksijde, Belgium. The last times pedals were turned in anger at the venue was the 2012 world championships in January and three of the four riders to earn rainbow jerseys return once more to face the dunes: Niels Albert, Lars van der Haar and Mathieu van der Poel. Van der Haar, however, will not be wearing his U23 world champion's kit as he's jumped to the elite men's ranks for this season while women's world champion Marianne Vos has yet to start her 'cross season, taking her usual break to recover from road racing.

Reigning world champion Niels Albert (BKC-Powerplus) returns to Koksijde also leading the elite men's World Cup. The 26-year-old Belgian won the previous round in Plzen, Czech Republic, and is tied for the lead at 145 points with compatriot and 2011-2012 World Cup overall winner Kevin Pauwels (Sunweb-Revor). Pauwels won the opening round in Tabor, Czech Republic and each have a third place finish as well to even out the points.

Pauwels's sole victory thus far this season was at Tabor, and while the 28-year-old Belgian has struggled of late, hampered by an injury sustained at Superprestige Zonhoven, he'll be looking to keep his hopes alive for another overall World Cup title.

As has been the case in recent years, Belgians have a firm grip atop the elite men's World Cup standings, holding seven of the top eight positions. Klaas Vantornout (Sunweb-Revor) and Tom Meeusen (Telenet-Fidea) hold third and fourth, while Sven Nys (Landbouwkrediet-KDL) lies in fifth.

For Nys, the World Cup rounds have been the only hiccups in what's been yet another stellar stint of results thus far this season. The 36-year-old Belgian has won all six UCI C1-ranked events on home soil this season and has two additional victories in C2 races. He leads the Superprestige series and is second behind Albert in the Bpost Bank Trophy series.

The last time Nys raced in Koksijde was a sobering day as he finished in seventh place, the final position in Belgium's sweep of the top seven positions. Nys won the previous World Cup round held here, however, and has prevailed three additional times at the venue so another victory in his palmares should be well within his reach.

The only non-Belgian in the top eight is 21-year-old Lars van der Haar (Rabobank-Giant Off-road Team), 6th overall, whose last appearance at Koksijde resulted in his second straight U23 world championship. He'll have his work cut out for him this go round, but as his elite level World Cup debut showed (2nd place in Tabor) he's more than capable of making his mark.

Other riders to look for on Saturday include Bart Wellens (Telenet-Fidea), Francis Mourey (FDJ-BigMat) and Julien Taramarcaz (BMC Mountainbike Racing Team). Jonathan Page is the sole American entry.

Compton looks to extend World Cup lead

For the elite women, World Cup leader and reigning US champion Katie Compton (Trek Cyclocross Collective) has returned to Belgium where she'll be based through to the US national championships in January. Winner in Plzen and runner-up at the opening World Cup round to Sanne van Paassen (Rabobank Women Team), Compton's only defeat of the season, the 33-year-old American will continue in her pursuit of the overall season's World Cup title. As was the case with Nys at January's 'cross Worlds, Compton's previous race on the Koksijde dunes too was a disappointment (5th place), but she's won previous World Cup rounds at the venue and possesses the power and bike handling talent necessary to excel yet again.

Compton should face stiff competition from van Paassen, second overall in the World Cup standings, as well as European champion Helen Wyman (Kona), returning to Europe after a stint of racing in the United States at the Louisville, Kentucky USGP rounds (where she finished fourth both races) plus three days of racing at Iowa City, Iowa's Jingle Cross (Wyman swept all three).

Nikki Harris (Young Telenet-Fidea) holds fourth overall in the World Cup standings and finished on the podium in Plzen. The Briton arrives in Koksijde on good form and morale after a strong solo victory in Gavere the previous Sunday. Belgian champion Sanne Cant (Veldritacademie Enertherm - BKCP), bronze medalist at the 'cross Worlds in January, should be in the mix as well and garners extra motivation from competing on home soil.

Belgium's Wietse Bosmans leads the U23 men's World Cup after a third place finish in Tabor followed by a victory in Plzen, the only rider to place on the podium in each of the previous rounds. Bosmans finished a close second to Lars van der Haar at the U23 'cross Worlds in January contested at Koksijde and the 20-year-old Belgian should once again figure prominently on the sand dune parcours. Two Dutchmen trail Bosmans in the World Cup standings, Mike Teunissen and Corne Van Kessel. Teunissen and Van Kessel finished 1-2 at Tabor, but neither finished on the podium when the parcours grew sloppier in Plzen.

Zach McDonald, seventh overall in the World Cup standings, is the sole American entry in Koksijde and hopes to improve on his fourth place finish in Plzen and remain in the running for a front row start position for the 2013 Worlds in Louisville, Kentucky.

Can anyone beat Mathieu van der Poel in the junior men's ranks? The 17-year-old Dutchman won the world championship last January in Koksijde and has yet to lose a race thus far this season. Belgium's Quinten Hermans has finished runner-up twice to van der Poel in the opening World Cup rounds while US champion Logan Owen finished third in the Plzen World Cup despite being delayed by a crash at the start. Owen, like compatriot Zach McDonald in the U23 ranks, is vying for a front row grid position in Louisville and another podium finish would pave the way for that coming to fruition for February.

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