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Analysis: 5 things to watch over ’cross nationals weekend

With each of the big cyclocross countries holding their national championships this weekend, here are a few things we’re going to be paying particular attention to.

A coup in the world’s ’cross capital?

For the uninitiated, Belgium is the world center of cyclocross; it’s where the sport’s best riders battle week-in and week-out all season long. The Belgian men are so dominant that at last year’s worlds — in Koksijde, Belgium — they took the top seven places.

And if it seems like national champ Sven Nys (Crelan-Euphony) and world champ Niels Albert (BKCP-Powerplus) are the only riders who ever win races, that’s probably because more often than not that’s the case. When it comes to nationals, Nys reigns supreme with eight titles on his résumé, while the much younger Albert has snatched glory just once so far.

Can the Nys-Albert stranglehold be broken? That’s anyone’s guess, but young Kevin Pauwels (Sunweb-Napoleon Games) would like to take a shot this weekend — and it looks to be his best chance to date. A former junior and U23 world champ, Pauwels’ momentum seems to be building: He was third at worlds last year and has racked up several victories in the World Cup series over past few seasons. Last week Pauwels flew to a big win at the World Cup round in Rome, so look for him to go for broke come Sunday.

Perhaps the biggest obstacle for Pauwels this weekend is the sand in Mol. Albert and Nys are generally stronger in the sand, but the latter is still recovering from a bout of bronchitis and could only muster 20th in Rome.

Either way, Belgian nationals is likely to be one of the most exciting races of the weekend.

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