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Cyclo-cross news & racing roundup for January 4

Edited by Laura Weislo

Welcome to our regular roundup of what's happening in cyclo-cross. Feel free to send feedback, news and releases to mtb@cyclingnews.com.

Nys wins when it counts

By Laura Weislo, with additional reporting from Brecht Decaluwé

Sven Nys (Rabobank)
Photo ©: Isosport
(Click for larger image)

UCI rankings leader Sven Nys continued his domination of the European cyclo-cross circuit over the past ten days, stacking up four wins in seven races over the peak holiday racing season and extending his lead in the overall standings of the World Cup, Gazet van Antwerpen Trophy and Superprestige series.

Nys began the post-Christmas marathon with a big win at the Hofstade World Cup. On a varied and challenging course, Nys faced off against his rival Bart Wellens (Fidea) with the help of his Rabobank teammate Lars Boom in what was called the greatest 'cross race of the season.

"This is why we became cyclo-cross riders," Nys said after he and Boom were able to distance Wellens, who made a tactical decision to take a bike change after low tyre pressure hampered him in the wooded section. Nys then steamed away from Boom, who struggled in the sand on the final lap, to take his fourth World Cup of the season.

Nys took a day off after his victory, skipping the C2 Sylvester 'cross in Torhout, which Fidea's Klaas Vantornout won in convincing style ahead of Ben Berden (Revor) and Francis Mourey (FdJ). He then went into the fifth round of the GvA Trophy in Loenhout with the intention of solidifying his lead in that series, however he wound up in a chase group behind Boom, Niels Albert (Palmans) and Zdenek Stybar (Fidea) riding alongside Wellens. With Boom threatening Wellens' second place in the series, Nys was content to let the trio ride away. He then powered away to take fourth place, extending his series tally to 250 points to Wellens' 238.

The C2 race in Middelkerke was next, and the North Sea weather did all it could to throw the riders off their game. Overnight rains turned the course into a mud pit which hid tyre-punching rocks that plagued many riders with flats. Nys proved both strongest and luckiest, coming in safely for the win ahead of American Jonathan Page. The win was no fluke, as Nys made sure to race his hardest, even in the lower ranked race. "I couldn't turn up because of a cold," said Nys about missing last year's edition. "This year I wanted to give something back to all these fans. And no, it's not possible for me to take a day off," Nys said, explaining why he was driven to victory.

Sven Nys (Rabobank) leads
Photo ©: Isosport
(Click for larger image)

The North Sea 'cross turned out to be the perfect warm-up for round six of the Superprestige in Diegem. Adopting an unusual format, the organisers started the men after dark, giving a new challenge to the riders. Nys was unfazed, and went away with Czech rider Radomir Simunek Jr. on the first lap. The pair stayed away until Simunek made a bobble in a dark corner and was left chasing second place.

"I have to say it's something special with this light," Nys applauded the special race conditions in Diegem. "I couldn't see the riders ahead of or behind me. After a while you get used to it and avoid the dark spots." The win put Nys 14 points clear of Wellens, who took fifth, in the series.

Nys then went on to win his fourth race in his hometown of Baal in the GP Sven Nys, which was round six of the GvA Trophy. With Wellens laid up with the flu, Nys was virtually unchallenged for the win, and solidified his lead in the series. His teammate Boom overtook Wellens' ranking with a solid fourth place on the day, while Stybar also leapfrogged over Wellens into third after coming second to Nys in Baal.

Franzoi to skip Italian Championships

By Gregor Brown

Italian Champion Enrico Franzoi takes a pausa to focus on World Championships in Italy
Photo ©: Gregor Brown
(Click for larger image)

Italian cyclo-cross specialist Enrico Franzoi will miss the Italian Cyclo-cross championships after injuries to his ankle forced him to take a break from competition. His ankle caused him pain during the World Cup in Hofstade on December 26, and while he finished 14th in the event, the injury which was sustained in a previous World Cup in Koksijde, forced him to return to Italy rather than continue racing in Belgium.

The Lampre-Fondital rider, who will transfer to Liquigas as of 2008, injured his ankle during a crash in the first metres of the Koksijde World Cup at the end of November. Franzoi explained his decision to La Gazzetta dello Sport on Thursday. "I have to say that this problem worsens when I am running, while on my bike it is better. However, I have to remove any doubts."

The forced pause is a blow to the Italian Cyclo-cross champion, who has taken the Italian title every year since 2001 - first as an U23 rider, then in 2005-07 as an elite. However, the sacrifice is necessary if he wishes to make a good showing at the upcoming World Championships, January 27, in his home region of Veneto. Franzoi finished third at the World Championships in 2007, and the last time the Worlds were held in Italy (in Monopoli) Franzoi struck gold as an under 23 rider.

Euro riders debate US trip

By Brecht Decaluwé

Radomir Simunek Jr
Photo ©: Brecht Decaluwé
(Click for larger image)

The young Czech cyclo-cross rider Radomir Simunek Jr. is no longer keen on making a trip to the USA next season. Two months ago the 24 year-old told Cyclingnews that he debated on making a trip overseas so he could easily gather UCI-points. One month later Simunek is riding much better, with the victory in Antwerp on December 21 as highlight. While his sensations on the bike are much better, his UCI-ranking didn't improve at all, as he is still floating between 15th and 20th position. Despite his recent podium finishes in Diegem and Sint-Niklaas, Simunek still needs a top-10 result at a World Cup race to further improve his ranking.

"As it is now, I'm no longer planning to make the trip. I spoke about it with Christian Heule [who has raced in the USA -ed.] and he told me about the travelling and the hospitality. It would take a lot of effort, and back in the Czech Republic it's also possible to capture UCI-points in the Toi Toi-Cup," Simunek referred to the Czech version of the USGP Series. Another problem for the son of the cyclo-cross legend is the language barrier. Despite speaking at least four languages, English isn't his cup of tea. This season Simunek managed to hype up his Dutch language skills which results in a funny mixture of German and Dutch - and provided amusement for the attending Flemish journalists after his recent performances.

Lars Boom (Rabobank)
Photo ©: Isosport
(Click for larger image)

World Champion Erwin Vervecken was the only rider out of the top-10 in the UCI-ranking to compete in some races overseas. Simunek would be a good replacement, but an even bigger name would be Lars Boom. The 21-year-old is the current Dutch champion in cyclo-cross, the UCI's number four in cyclo-cross, but also the U23 time trial world champion on the road. His sponsor Rabobank is trying to gain a foothold in North America and the presence of Boom in some US-races would help them get picked up by local media.

Earlier this season Boom explained to Cyclingnews that his sponsor didn't mind when he choose to go for cyclo-cross until at least the world championships in Hoogerheide 2009. "Rabobank is right behind me. They are happy to have a Dutch rider back in cyclo-cross," Boom referred to the fact that the Dutch team's best rider and UCI-leader Sven Nys is a Belgian, which isn't as recognizable for the Dutch bank as a good Dutch cyclo-cross rider.

Through Michael Rasmussen the road cycling team gained a lot of [negative] exposure in US-media, and with Thomas Dekker the Pro Tour team has a massive talent for the future to gain more positive exposure. Through Lars Boom the team can gain exposure via another channel than the road races in the US. Not a bad tactic since cyclo-cross is finding a new hotbed in the USA as it already hosts most UCI-races in the world with 35 events.

Tim Johnson: Unfinished business

Johnson took his second stars & stripes jersey
Photo ©: Mitch Clinton
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In 1999, Tim Johnson was the first American rider to stand on the podium in a cyclo-cross World Championship back as the U23 bronze medallist, but he then embarked on a tumultuous road career, leaving highest level of 'cross. Seven years after his first US title, Johnson is once more on top of the US 'cross scene and back in Europe to prepare for the World Championships in Treviso, Italy. The New Englander spoke with Cyclingnews' Kirsten Robbins before boarding a flight to Belgium to "take care of some unfinished business with European cyclo-cross racing".

Tim Johnson was just 21 years old when he stood atop his first World Championship podium. The Massachusetts native stood financed his own way to Poprad, Slovakia that year, and then stood shoulder to shoulder with Belgian Bart Wellens on the U23 podium. "I was just so blown away when I realized I won the bronze medal at the World Championships," recalled Johnson.

"I have always been a subscriber to putting your head down and riding hard - then the result will follow," he continued, spelling out his simple plan which yielded such strong results. "I started in the back, with no points, and was looking at row after row of riders in front of me on an icy road ahead. I was relaxed and thought, I just had to make it happen.

"I rode as fast as I could, passed people very lap, but I honestly had no idea what place I was in, even on the last lap when I went onto the finishing pavement sprinting," Johnson described. "I didn't realize that was the sprint against Tom Vannoppen for second place. They grabbed me to go to the podium and I remember all the bells and horns and smoke in the crowds. That's when I met Bart Wellens as the U23 world champion and for me it was brand new experience."

Despite his early success, Johnson has not returned to European cyclo-cross, with the exception of the 2002 World Championships, since his podium in 1999. However, this season Johnson seems to have revived his 'cross spirit with a successful domestic season, and is hoping to show his mettle in Europe. "It will be a basic situation of taking an opportunity to be in the lead group, catch the lead group or take advantage of the situation," he spelled out his plan to gain results. "I have little expectations other than to have a good race at worlds."

Read the full feature here.

Page in search of support

By Brecht Decaluwé in Diegem

Photo ©: Gregor Brown / Cyclingnews
(Click for larger image)

It has been a tumultuous season so far for Jonathan Page. The American cyclo-cross professional pulled off a career highlight in Hooglede-Gits in January 2007, when he finished as runner-up at the World Championships behind Erwin Vervecken. As a consequence Page received a good two-year deal with a professional Belgian team Sunweb-Projob, realizing his long chased dream.

Nevertheless, this season things haven't gone smoothly. Page got into an argument with his team manager Jurgen Mettepenningen. Feeling the mental weight and bother of the team's pressure on him, Page and Mettepenningen came to an agreement to shorten Page's term at the Belgian team so his contract will end on February 28.

Out from under the pressure, Page's results have recently improved with second place in Middelkerke the highlight of his season so far. With the World Championships at Treviso coming up in less than one month it seems that Page will be ready right in time.

"Many people say, 'He's had it.' Now I want to make some people shut their mouth and prove they're wrong," Page said to Cyclingnews.

The runner-up at the US National Championships behind Tim Johnson is in search of support for next season. "Support is the right word, because that's what I lacked this year. Whether it's a team or individual sponsorship isn't so important; it is important that I feel good in the situation. I don't know whom to trust anymore, so right now I can only trust myself and get results. Hopefully the rest will follow," Page said.

At the Superprestige Round #6 in Diegem Sunday, Page finished tenth, near the back of the main group chasing winner Sven Nys.

Chown gains European experience

By Gregor Brown in Diegem

Nathan Chown of Handlebars - Queen City Cyclists is getting a taste of European cyclo-cross racing at the highest level. The Canadian from Toronto has been racing World Cups to C2-ranked races in Belgium for the last two weeks.

"I came over on the 19th of December," noted Chown to Cyclingnews before the start of the Elite Men's Superprestige race in Diegem, Belgium. "I really just came over for some days to get experience, and really see what it is all about. In North America, it is less technical and more about power. Here you have to have the power but if you don't have the technical skills it does not matter how strong you are."

We witnessed Chown deal with the technical aspects of cyclo-cross racing the day before in Middelkerke, on the windy and muddy course in West Flanders. He fought hard in a field that included greats like Sven Nys (Rabobank) and Bart Wellens (Fidea Cycling Team), though many positions back. Eventually, mud and small rocks of the C2-ranked race locked up his rear derailleur and spelled the end of his day.

"Yesterday, in Middelkerke, I ripped off my rear derailleur just after the pits. On this course you can't get away with one bike – it is that type of course."

Chown knew lining up for the Diegem race that he was not going to win or even get on the podium, however he had his own objectives: "Finishing is definitely possible," he continued.

"It [the Superprestige] is kind of a different level race than a World Cup – I think in the World Cups these guys are able to really pick it up a couple of levels. This race might be one of those, but there are enough areas, like in a sand section or a technical muddy part, where I am not going to lose time. If I can finish on the same lap [as the winner] then that would be really good." He battled valiantly in the race won by Nys, but was lapped along with five others.

Chown boarded a transatlantic flight to return home and celebrate a late Christmas with his extended family after Diegem. "I live just a little bit west of Toronto, Canada, in a place called St. Catherines. I have a good group that I train with there – when in Europe I am staying at The Cycling Center, which works out pretty good and there is good support."

The main support comes from his partner, "I am here with my wife, and this is our last day; we are going back tomorrow," he said in Diegem.

Fisher wins Junior Worlds Scholarship

Rad Racing's Steve Fisher was awarded a scholarship by the organizers of the US Gran Prix of Cyclocross this week. The Lakewood, Washington resident was selected to receive the 2007 USGP/Clif Bar Junior Scholarship to participate in the 2008 UCI Cyclocross World Championships in Treviso, Italy, January 26-27.

"Steve Fisher is a very worthy recipient of the worlds grant from USGP and Clif Bar," said Geoff Proctor, USGP Technical Director and US National Team Coach, who leads the annual Euro 'Cross camp which Fisher just completed. Fisher took 24th in his first race in Laarne, 35th in the Hofstade World Cup, and 43rd in Loenhout before scoring 9th place in the GP Sven Nys.

Fisher's domestic results were a major factor in his receiving the prize. "Steve comes from a great program in Rad Racing with a great coach (Dale Knapp) and director (Jim Brown)," Proctor said. "Steve repeatedly rode with the front group of elite juniors this year and ultimately finished second to USGP and National Champ Luke Keough. In fact, Fisher is the only rider to beat Keough at a national series race this year taking the first day of the Portland USGP," added Proctor.

"I would like to thank both Clif Bar and the USGP of Cyclo-cross for the opportunity that they have given me," said Fisher. "The USGP has been an amazing way to bring all of the top US riders together on a regular basis. I think that it has been pushing everyone to keep improving and is the best possible way to prepare for European competition. They are helping to pave the way for the future of American cyclo-cross."

"One key component of TEAM CLIF BAR's Sustainable Sports program is the focus on supporting junior athlete development efforts," stated Dylan Seguin, manager of the TEAM CLIF BAR program. "The scholarship is a great addition that will allow Steve to compete at Worlds. The scholarship, combined with the CLIF BAR Kids' Clinics, really puts a nice focus on the importance of supporting the young athletes."

Upcoming UCI Cyclo-cross races

  • January 5-6: National Championships CN

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