Editor’s note: Dan Seaton has been literally crawling through the Belgian mud covering European cyclocross since 2008. Each week this season he’ll look ahead to the weekend’s races and answer your questions about ’cross on the other side of the Atlantic. Got a question for your favorite Euro star? Want to know the inside story about the legendary Flemish fields? Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Emails to this address were being bounced earlier this fall, so if you tried to email and didn’t hear back, please do try again.
BRUSSELS (VN) — This weekend is the start of a long crescendo that will culminate with four races for rainbow stripes in Louisville, Kentucky, at the beginning of next month. In Europe — and, for the second year in a row, in the United States as well — it is national championships weekend. While Americans are packing their bags for Verona, Wisconsin, most Europeans are headed home from Sunday’s World Cup in Rome to chase their own titles.
Chief among the interesting storylines this weekend will be the battle for the men’s title in Belgium, in a race held on sandy course in Mol, at the same venue as the Boonen and Friends race last month. Two weeks ago Sven Nys (Crelan-Euphony) would have been the hands down favorite; he owns eight previous titles and was all but unbeatable during November and December. But less than a week after a serious case of bronchitis knocked him out of his namesake race in Baal, Belgium, Nys finished a disheartening 20th place in Rome. Though he tweaked the Belgian press for their breathless will-he-or-won’t-he reports of his plans for the championship race on Twitter, Nys said he would not decide whether to take the start before Friday, after a week of training and recovery on the Spanish island of Mallorca.
Whether or not Nys elects to race, world champion Niels Albert (BKCP-Powerplus) will go into the race as the favorite in the wake of Nys’ illness. Even a healthy Nys might not be able to hold off a motivated Albert, who excels on sandy courses like the one in Mol and said more than once in recent weeks that winning a second Belgian title was his top priority. Albert, however, will have to overcome Sunweb-Napoleon Games teammates Kevin Pauwels and Klaas Vantornout to take the win. The pair were on their way to a one-two finish ahead of Albert on Sunday before a mechanical undid Vantornout’s podium hopes, and both will surely be motivated to deliver a victory to a Sunweb team that has had relatively little to celebrate this year.
One other rider to watch on Sunday is Bart Aernouts (AA Drink-Leontien.nl). Aernouts is exceptionally skilled on sandy, fast tracks like the one in Mol, and would no doubt love to punctuate a solid if unremarkable season with a podium at nationals, especially with a momentary void at the top of the Belgian hierarchy while Nys continues to try to recover from his illness.
In the women’s race in Belgium, defending champion Sanne Cant (Enertherm-BKCP) will be a clear favorite, but elsewhere in Europe, women’s racing may be the featured event. The most notable of these contests is the matchup between Nikki Harris (Telenet-Fidea) and European champion Helen Wyman (Kona) in the British championship race. The pair have battled head-to-head all season, racing to an almost perfect split decision; guessing who has the edge is a near impossibility, but it’s easy to predict that the sparks between the two are likely to be among the most spectacular of the weekend.
Meanwhile, in other championship action on the continent Lars Boom (Blanco) will attempt to defend his title against the meteoric rise of Lars van der Haar (Rabobank Off-road) and Zdenek Stybar (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) will defend his Czech title in his final race of the season. Many of these races will be televised and, undoubtedly, streamed on the internet, so a dedicated fan might be able to watch six or seven great races in a single day on Sunday — including the American championship races in Wisconsin.
Now let’s turn to a couple of questions.
U.S. women get an extra worlds spot
Katie Compton clinched the World Cup on Sunday. Does this mean the U.S. women’s team will have an extra slot for worlds?
—Chandler in Massachusetts
In its rules governing world championship events the UCI specifies the number of riders that individual countries can enter in the cyclocross championship races. Rule 9.2.043 gives the baseline numbers and rule 9.2.044 reads:
The national federations concerned may additionally enter the outgoing world champions and the leaders of the final UCI Cyclo-cross World Cup standings Men Elite, Men Under 23, Men Junior and Women.
So, on the surface, it would appear that the answer to your question is a simple yes. But, as more than one team and athlete have discovered over the years, even when the rules sound straightforward, UCI doesn’t always interpret them in a straightforward way. So, to be sure, I went to USA Cycling’s cyclocross program director, Marc Gullickson, who was able to give me an official confirmation. The U.S. will take six women to worlds.
What that means for the team selection is another story. The team is certain to include Katie Compton (Trek Cyclocross Collective) and Kaitlin Antonneau (Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com), both automatic qualifiers. As VeloNews.com editor Brian Holcombe wrote a few weeks ago, deciding which four women will join them in Louisville will not be easy. My personal guess is that two riders with 11th-place finishes in World Cup races, Amy Dombroski (Telenet) and Meredith Miller (Cal Giant-Specialized) are likely to earn two of the four discretionary slots, and Olympic mountain bike bronze medalist Georgia Gould (Luna) will take the third. That leaves maybe five women — namely Maureen Bruno-Roy (Bob’s Red Mill-Seven), Crystal Anthony (Cyclocrossworld.com), Nicole Duke (Alchemy), Elle Anderson (LadiesFirst) and Teal Stetson-Lee (Luna), assuming each applied for selection — all with an equal chance for the final spot on the team. A good result at nationals could very well punch someone’s ticket to worlds, so Sunday’s championship is likely to produce not just a thrilling race for the podium spots, but also for some of the deeper positions as well.
Who’s paying Jon Page
I keep seeing Jonathan Page listed in results as “Planet Bike,” and the UCI has him listed as such in the World Cup rankings. Does he actually have a sponsor-slash-team affiliation this season?
—Grady in Colorado
Indeed, Jonathan Page is racing without a title sponsor this season. I suspect that this is happening because UCI licenses list a rider’s team affiliation as it was when they are issued at the beginning of the year. Since Page was still sponsored by Planet Bike at the beginning of 2012 — the end of last season — the company continues to be occasionally, and incorrectly, listed as a sponsor in official results.
However, a few weeks ago two of Page’s friends, Jerry Chabot of an engineering consulting firm called ENGVT, and Bob Downs, founder of Planet Bike, decided that they wanted to ensure Page used his recent good form to make a run at a fourth national title. The two threw their support behind him, and Page will race this weekend in a special kit with the logos of those two companies.
Page, obviously, hopes that a good ride in Madison might help him sort out his sponsorship problems before next season; after Sunday he returns to the blank kit he’s been racing in for most of this season — one that he undoubtedly hopes will have to be reprinted with the stars and stripes early Monday morning.