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Cyclo-Cross World Cup #4 - CDM

Koksijde, Belgium, November 29, 2008

World Cup heads to the sand box

By Laura Weislo

Some of the sand sections
Photo ©: Luc Claessen
(Click for larger image)

The UCI Cyclo-cross World Cup presented by Safety Jogger heads to the beach front town of Koksijde for Saturday's fourth round. While the race is a World Cup for elite men and women, the day will also decide the champions of West Flanders in the Under-23, Junior and Debutante categories.

The elite men's race will begin without the series leader, Niels Albert (Palmans-Cras), who ruptured his spleen in a freak accident during the warm-up of the Superprestige in Gavere two weeks ago. It will also start without the last round's winner and world champion, Lars Boom (Rabobank). Boom has recovered from a urinary tract infection, but on the advice of his doctor will take one more weekend off to get back to full health.

This leaves the door open for Sven Nys (Landbouwkrediet-Tönissteiner), who is currently second in the World Cup standings between Albert and Boom, to take a commanding lead in the series. Nys prevailed in a tight battle with Erwin Vervecken (Fidea) in last year's race after then-Belgian champion Bart Wellens suffered an untimely puncture on the penultimate lap.

With a week in Mallorca, Nys will have had his energy recharged and should be on top form to go for a repeat. Nys and Vervecken will have extra incentive to win, as both are four-time winners in Koksijde, along with the retired Danny De Bie. One of the two could achieve the outright record for wins in Koksijde on Saturday.

The sinuous parcours features five sections of deep sand, which adds a somewhat random element to the race. The beach tends to grab wheels and shift their direction in unexpected ways, and one brief lapse in attention can result in a crash – which is why the thickest crowds gather at the two 180-degree turns which take place in the sand pit.

This element of chance could result in an unexpected winner – someone big and powerful like Zdenek Stybar (Fidea), or maybe even the experienced and wily Richard Groenendaal (AA Drink). Who knows? It might even be time for American Jonathan Page (Planet Bikes) to have that podium performance he's been promising.

In the women's race, a fresh crop of US riders will fight their way up from the back rows. World Cup leader Hanka Kupfernagel will battle Daphny Van den Brand and Pavla Havlikova for the hole-shot from the front row, but the many long straight sections of the course will provide ample opportunity for Katie Compton, who took second in Pijnacker after starting in back row, to repeat her quick ascent to the front of the race.

Also making the trip across the pond will be Laura Van Gilder (C3-Sollay) and Deidre Winfield (Velo Bella-Kona), who will join expatriate Christine Vardaros. The race will be Van Gilder's first European 'cross experience, but this muscular powerhouse who has for years demolished the competition in US criteriums should be well-suited for the challenge.