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Page aims for top-10
By Chris Milliman
The local weather forecast for this Sunday in St. Wendel, Germany, host of the 2005 UCI World Cyclo-cross Championships, calls for near-freezing temps and snow, which should appeal to pre-race favorite Sven Nijs (Rabobank). A slippery, muddy track plays right into the hands of the most dominant rider on the elite ‘cross circuit; then again, Nijs has shown he can win in any conditions in the 2004-05 campaign. Snow, rain, sand, mud, grass, pavement: Sven Nijs can win, and has won, on everything.
Having won a total of 20 ‘cross races this season, including six World Cups and the Belgian national championship, the 28-year-old Belgian enters Sunday’s race as the heavy, heavy favorite for the elite men’s rainbow jersey.
But Nijs is no stranger to disappointment at the elite worlds. The former two-time Under-23 World Champion has never made the top step of the elite podium, and didn’t even finish last year’s world’s, leading many to question whether or not Nijs is dogged by some sort of world’s curse.
Nijs has won all season and in every fashion. First-lap attacks, races of attrition, last lap solos, Nijs has proved capable of winning no matter what the situation. Following his World Cup win in Hoggerheide, the final prep before St. Wendel, the normally inscrutable Belgian tipped his hand as to his expectations from world’s.
“Inside of me I am already world champion,” admitted Nijs in a post-race interview. “So if I don’t win, that’ll be that. But I would be very disappointed.”
Keeping Nijs out of the rainbow stripes will almost certainly fall to his countrymen. While young Italian national champion Enrico Franzoi (Lampre) and Dutch veteran Richard Groenedaal (Rabobank) have shown the form to race with Nijs on occasion, a rider out of the Belgian contingent, Sven Vanthourenhout (Rabobank), Davy Commeyne (Palmans-Sapim), Tom Vanoppen (Palmans-Sapim), Erwin Vervecken (Fidea), and defending world champion Bart Wellens (Fidea) remain the bettor’s choice to upset Nijs.
Belgians have regularly swept the top-five at major races throughout the season and there’s no reason to think St. Wendel will be any different.
After dominating the 2003-04 season, Wellens has struggled mightily while wearing the rainbow kit. A mid-season hiatus from racing seemed to snap the defending World Cup champion back into some sort of competitive form, but for every good result there has been a disappointment and the untouchable Wellens of a year ago is a faint memory going into St. Wendel. Vanthourenhout and Vervecken have both won World Cups this year at Nijs’ expense and seem the most likely choices for darkhorse winners.
As for the American contingent, if three-time national champion Jonathan Page (Cervelo-Hot Tubes-Mavic-Adidas) can avoid the crashes and mechanicals that have dogged many of his World Cup races, his stated goal of a top-10 finish may be within reach.
Page has struggled since winning the U.S. title in December, but with a recently diagnosed virus and iron deficiency under treatment the 29-year-old New Englander may be back at his best in St. Wendel. In his first prolonged stretch racing ‘cross in Europe, Ryan Trebon (Kona-Clarks-Les Gets) notched a top-20 finish at the Nommay World Cup and his increased confidence and experience could land him the top American finish in St. Wendel.
With no single rider dominating its relatively short season, the elite women’s race in St. Wendel promises to be a wide-open affair. Pint-sized Belgian Daphny van den Brand won the world’s title in 2003 but former mountain bike world champ Laurence Leboucher (France) carries the rainbow stripes into this year’s championships.
German powerhouse Hanka Kupfernagel will be keen to win a third world title on her home turf. Kupfernagel is a solid bet for the podium, having never missed at top-three finish at the world’s. American Ann Knapp (Kona) finished fourth last year in Point Chateau, France and is arguably riding better this year. Knapp finished sixth in Hoggerheide and given the bad conditions predicted for St. Wendel could make a charge for the medals.
Bjorn Selander (Alan Factory)
Toby Marzot (Corner Cycle)
Braden Kappius (TIAA-Cref)
Adam McGrath (Redline)
Mitchell Peterson Under-23
Jesse Anthony (Cyclocrossworld.com)
Matthew White (Fior di Frutta)
Jeremy Powers (Jelly Belly-PoolGel)
Troy Wells (Easton-Kona)
John Hanson (NCC-Bikereg.com)Women
Ann Knapp (Kona)
Gina Hall (Missing Link)
Barbara Howe (Velo Bella)
Rhonda Mazza (Vanilla-Team S&M)
Sarah Kerlin (VeloBella) Elite Men
Jonathan Page (Cervelo-Hot Tubes-Mavic-Adidas)
Ryan Trebon (Kona-Clarks-Les Gets)
Barry Wicks (Kona-Clarks-Les Gets)
Ben Turner (TIAA-Cref)
Erik Tonkin (Kona)