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2007 Cyclo-cross World Championships - CM

Hooglede-Gits, Belgium, January 27-28, 2007

World championships coming home

Best rider of the year wants to become champion of the day

By Brecht Decaluwé

Sven Nys wins his seventh World Cup
Photo ©: Brecht Decaluwé
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Cyclo-cross is alive and kicking ... in Belgium. A quick glance at the country rankings shows that Belgium has almost double the points of the number two, neighbouring country The Netherlands. Knowing this, it isn't difficult for Belgians to believe that the world championships are coming home. The organizers in Hooglede-Gits expect massive crowds all weekend long; two weeks before the championships, almost 10,000 tickets were sold.

The race organizer works with a budget of 1.2 million euro. "There's a gap left of 250,000 euro in our budget, this means we need to sell 20000 tickets to reach a break even," Rik Debeaussart said. Prices for the elite races on Sunday are 25 euro, a realistic price according to Debeaussart. The organizers did everything to comfort the visitors, their biggest effort was ensuring a railway station was right next to the course.

The course

The 3,000 metre-long course contains various obstacles and surfaces. Most parts of the course are grass, but there's also a challenging sand section of 35 metres right after the toughest part of the course in the forest. The course has been unavailable for training to preserve the condition of the course, and to avoid disasters like the latest Belgian national championships where cycling was virtually impossible.

Former multiple world champion Roland Liboton did a reconnaissance of the course, and predicted it will be very hard for the riders. "The course seems all right, although the ground has swallowed lot's of water recently," Liboton said to Het Nieuwsblad. The best cyclo-cross rider of his generation predicted the sand section might be decisive during the final lap. "Whoever gets stuck in the sand has had it," Liboton predicted.

The organisers are bringing an innovation to cyclo-cross by placing a double row of fences throughout the length of the course. This way the organisers want to avoid contact between the riders and the spectators, ruling out disturbances like the karate kick from Bart Wellens (Fidea) towards a overactive Nys-fan in Overijse last year, or the unintentional obstructing of riders. There will be a gap of 75 centimetres with stewards between the fences, securing a safe development of the races.

Elite men: Nys against the rest

Belgian champion Bart Wellens
Photo ©: Brecht Decaluwe
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The men's UCI-rankings makes it clear who's the big favourite for the win on Sunday. Sven 'cannibal' Nys (Rabobank) missed out on victory only eight times this season, finishing always in the top five and is – on paper – the man to beat. However, the UCI-leader drags along a miserable history at (world) championships. Despite being undoubtedly the best cyclo-cross rider around, he has repeatedly failed to show that at championships.

With three Belgian titles and only one title at the world's in 2005, he appears vulnerable. "I'm looking forward to the champ's. I feel that I am the champion of the year, now I only need to become the champion of one day," Nys said to Cyclingnews last weekend after his win at this season's last World Cup race in Hoogerheide.

If Nys fails to convert his supremacy again there will be a bunch of riders who will gratefully seize their chances. Bart Wellens surprisingly won the Belgian champ's, a result that has boosted his confidence enormously. Out of precaution, Wellens abandoned last weekend's race after only three laps, he didn't want to take any risks as the skinny Belgian has difficulties coping with the combination of rain and coldness.

Current world champion Erwin Vervecken (Fidea) was unable to extract any magic out of the champion's jersey as he won only one big race, the World Cup event in Hofstade. The Belgian mainly focused on picking up 5000 euro everywhere he started a race. "I was pretty tired after so many races in January but I've been resting a lot recently, so I'll be in good form for the world's. Anyway, it's not only necessary that I'm super, it's also necessary that Nys and Wellens aren't super. I hope there will be a frozen underground in Hooglede-Gits, making it a more tactical race in which Nys isn't excelling," Vervecken said to Cyclingnews in Hoogerheide.

Belgium conquering cyclo-cross world

Seven years have past since a non-Belgian rider won the world championships - with Richard Groenendaal (Rabobank) beating Mario De Clerq and Sven Nys in Sint-Michielsgestel. The 35 year-old will be fighting the Belgians again in Hooglede-Gits, and although not chance-less it's unlikely he'll win on Sunday given his current form. Not that cyclo-cross is purely Belgian, because behind Nys, Wellens and Vervecken there are few foreigners with strong chances for eternal cyclo-cross glory. In with a chance are Groenendaal's compatriot Gerben De Knegt (Rabobank), who believes in his chances for the win although he dug very deep in Hoogerheide, abandoning with one lap to go.

French champion Francis Mourey (fdjeux.com), who won the World Cup race in Treviso, promised to do better at the world's than his third place from last year. His last test in Nommay wasn't his best- he came in 13th place. Cyclingnews was there to get a reaction from Mourey. "I'm disappointed but the only thing that matters are the world's; I trained a lot recently so now I need to rest a lot."

US-riders Ryan Trebon (Kona) and Jonathan Page (Morgan Blue) hope to surprise in Hooglede. National champion Trebon won everything in the US there is to win, but failed to get things moving in Europe. The 25 year-old got sick and decided to return to the US to fully recover and prepare for the world's. Last week Trebon returned to Europe and proved himself with a tenth place in Hoogerheide.

Just ahead of him – claiming the best US result ever in a World Cup - was compatriot Page who's getting back to his early season's form. "I hope to do something great in the near future," the 30 year-old Page said to Cyclingnews.

Other favourites for glory on Sunday are Czech champion Petr Dlask (Fidea), Swiss champion Christian Heule (Stevens Racing Team) and Italian champion Enrico Franzoi (Lampre) and maybe the young Belgians Klaas Vantornout (Fidea) and Sven Vanthourenhout (Sunweb) can benefit from the rivalry between the top favourites.

Elite women: Vos could surprise again

Hanka Kupfernagel
Photo ©: Brecht Decaluwé
(Click for larger image)

There's no Nys-like dominance in women's cyclo-cross, since there are more than five women who have a realistic chance on gold. Under normal tough conditions the big favourite will be German champion and UCI-leader Hanka Kupfernagel (Worlds sport star). She won the most recent World Cup race in Hoogerheide and has shown consistency in her results this season. "Hopefully it won't be too muddy, because that's not what I like about cyclo-cross," the 32 year-old said to Cyclingnews.

The German sees the current world champion as her main rival for the world title. "She's one of the biggest talents in ten years, together with Nicole Cooke," Kupfernagel said of Vos. Nevertheless, the current world champion in cyclo-cross and on the road couldn't fully live up to the high expectations, and won only one World Cup event (Treviso) this season. On the other hand, if the 19 year-old can keep up with Kupfernagel towards the final straight, she may best the German with her vicious sprint.

At the national championships in The Netherlands, Vos got beaten by Daphny Van Den Brand who finished third at the world's last year and could do better this year. Helen Wyman (Global Racing) rode a consistent season but failed to grab big wins - a podium spot would be a great result for the 25 year-old. Another former world champion, Laurence Leboucher, showed at the World Cup in Nommay that although growing older, she's still a candidate for the title, by beating Kupfernagel in an entertaining race.

For the last three years, the world title has gone to someone from the organizing country, but we can't see that happening this year as the Belgian women aren't performing as good as the men. Kupfernagel expects her compatriot Birgit Hollmann to perform well, and maybe US champion Katie Compton can surprise the Europeans. She dominated the US-races and came to Europe in good form, although her 10th place in Hoogerheide isn't indicative of her true talent.

U23 men: Local crown prince Albert against Dutch elite champion Boom

Niels Albert is the new leader
Photo ©: Brecht Decaluwe
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During the past month, there has been a public battle going on between Niels Albert (Palmans) and Lars Boom (Rabobank). Together with Zdenek Stybar (Fidea), these are clearly the strongest riders of their generation. While the current world champion Stybar has been performing less strong recently, he could surprise the two protagonists again like he did last year. Albert and Boom played a bit of a game in the media, trying to push each other into the role of favourite for Saturday's race.

While Boom is certain to become an elite rider next year, Albert is still uncertain about what to do, as he's allowed to stay U23 for another season. Already certain is that both riders will dominate cyclo-cross during the next decade. Boom recently won the national championship in The Netherlands... in the Elite race; beating top class riders like De Knegt and Groenendaal, while Albert has shown the same kind of class by beating the complete elite field in Loenhout.

In direct duels they have beaten each other already, so nobody is clearly better than the other. "The world's will be decided by the form of the day," Boom said in Hoogerheide. This might become one of the most entertaining races during the world championships.

Junior men: competition wide open

As usual it's hard to pick a favourite in this race but if we got to give a name then we go for Joeri Adams. The Belgian has won the World Cup and has shown something which is very important at this age, consistency. Unfortunately for him, that doesn't guarantee a world title but only a good starting spot. Another rider who showed consistency is Czech rider Jiri Polnicky, finishing top six in every World Cup race. Our other picks are Belgian Vincent Bastaens or possibly the French duo Thomas Girard and Arnaud Jouffroy.

One thing's for sure, the Flemish lion flags will dominate the course near Hooglede, and we can expect massive crowds supporting their local heroes during these world championships. Let the games begin!