By Andrew Hood
If you believe Erik Dekker, the Championship of Zurich on Sunday is the decisive race in the 2001 World Cup.
Dekker, a Dutch rider on the Rabobank team who leads the 10-race World Cup series, has 269 points going into the eighth round. Dekker, a winner at the Amstel Gold Race this year, is 69 points ahead of last week’s HEW Cyclassics winner, Erik Zabel.
With Telekom’s Zabel missing the Meisterschaft von Zurich, as it’s called in Swiss German, Dekker’s nearest rivals are more than 100 points in arrears.
“I think if I can finish among the top eight at Zurich, it could be the end of the World Cup,” Dekker said last week after finishing third at HEW. “It’s a hard course and it will be difficult for me to be among the favorites, but I will try because Zurich is the key race.”
The race is one of the oldest in Europe, dating back to 1914, and has been held every year since 1917, even during World War II.
Formerly called the Grand Prix Suisse when the race started in Basel and ended in Zurich, organizers changed the name to the Championship of Zurich a few years ago to reflect the circuit course it adopted with the start and finish in Zurich.
This year’s course is 248km, featuring six circuits of 41.4km each. Each lap leaves Lake Zurich and opens up with a 10km climb to Forch at the 10.6km mark, drops to Esslingen and climbs 6.5km up the decisive Pfannenstiel climb just past the halfway mark of each circuit.
There’s another short climb before a sharp descent to Erlenbach along the shores of Lake Zurich. The course follows the lake on a long flat 8km to the start-finish line.
It’s been a feature since the World Cup’s inauguration in 1989 and some of the biggest names in cycling have won here. Lance Armstrong finished second here in 1992, losing to now-U.S. Postal Service teammate Viatcheslav Ekimov.
Last year, Laurent Dufaux (Saeco) edged Jan Ullrich (Telekom) and Francesco Casagrande (then of Vini Caldirola). Armstrong finished fifth.
The race will mark the final European competition of the season for three-time Tour de France champion Armstrong, who arrived here Friday night after competing in the Vuelta a Burgos last week.
“Lance is feeling OK. He felt better every day in Burgos,” said U.S. Postal Service director Johan Bruyneel.
Joining Armstrong will be George Hincapie and Steffen Kjaergaard from the Burgos team, with Tyler Hamilton, Antonio Cruz, Ekimov, Benoit Joachim and Matthew White coming in “fresh,” as Bruyneel called it.
Other Americans on the start list include Fred Rodriguez of Domo, who rode strong for leader Romans Vainsteins last week in HEW Cyclassic, Bobby Julich, of the Credit Agricole team, and Kevin Livingston with Telekom.
Mercury, which has been battling money problems, is not starting in Zurich, even though the team competed at the Classica San Sebastian and HEW.
In all, 24 teams are scheduled to start, including Euskatel-Euskadi, the only Spanish team, and seven Division II teams.
Defending champion Dufaux, who is Swiss, returns with a strong Saeco team, with Mirko Celestino, Salvatore Commesso and Paolo Savoldelli. Other pre-race favorites include Rebellin, a winner here in 1997, and Casagrande, third here last year.
Ullrich rode strong in HEW and will be looking to avenge his second place finishes here last year and in 1997. Mapei’s Michele Bartoli, a winner here in 1998, will liven things up with teammate Paolo Bettini.
Swiss riders Oscar Camenzind (Lampre) and Alex Zulle (Coast) will likely try to do something for the polite Swiss fans.
The Meisterschaft von Zurich is followed by Paris-Tours on October 7 and the Tour of Lombardy on October 20 to round out the 2001 World Cup.
World Cup standings through seven of 10 races:
1. Erik Dekker (Nl), Rabobank, 269 points; 2. Erik Zabel (G), Telekom, 200; 3. Romans Vainstains (Lat), Domo, 186; 4. Davide Rebellin (I), Liquigas,156; 5. Gianluca Bortolami (I), Tacconi, 131; 6. Oscar Carmenzind (Sui), Lampre-Daiken, 126; 7. Johan Museeuw (B), Domo, 116; 8. Francesco Casagrande (I), Fassa Bortolo, 113; 9. Servais Knaven (Nl), Domo, 101; 10. Serge Baguet (B), Lotto, 97.
Others: 13. George Hincapie (USA), U.S. Postal Service, 73; 38.Christian Vande Velde (USA), U.S. Postal Service, 19; 53. Bobby Julich (USA), Credit Agricole, 7.