Two weeks from Worlds... and much work to do.
The Cyclocross scene wraps up its World Cup this weekend, a final major-race determination before the world championships in Louisville in two weeks. Yes, I like typing that sentence. World championships almost always come with a week off beforehand, in part because the race program goes on a bit and in part so people can gather their belongings, transition from a trade team to a national team frame of mind, and show up on the line for the world title at something near their peak. Cross is no exception, even if team tactics are kind of snickered at and even if there really is just a race weekend. It's for the best. The Loo-ville track will be torn up enough by showtime.
Oh, and the gnomes are working overtime today. Sporza: "Tired Vantournout replace Diseased Albert." So much win in that sentence. The reference is to the Zonnebeke race, a race tomorrow held in... wait for it... Zonnebeke, West Flanders. Zonnebeke hardly belongs on the 'Cross circuit, since its name translates to "solar conversion." Or maybe the conversion part means that in Zonnebeke, just when you think the sun might come out, the clouds move in. Yes, I think that's probably it. Tricky West Flemings.
The underlying story is about how newly minted national champion Klaas Vantournout is tired after a busy week (he raced and won Otegem Monday), but will nonetheless take the start in Zonnebeke. Smart move; he's a very distant fourth in World Cup points, so Sunday is just another race (in the Netherlands, no less), whereas Saturday is a chance to win, in Flanders, in his shiny new kit. As for Albert, he has come down with a case of nasopharyngitis, a disease so terrifying that... wait, he has a cold. Buck up, Niels. Kevin Pauwels is breathing down your neck in the World Cup.
Albert, the world cup leader, sits at 485 points, ahead of Pauwels at 469 and Nys at 446. The points system awards a World Cup race winner 200 points, followed by 160 for second and 140 for third. Pauwels, like Albert, controls his own destiny -- a win wraps up the world title. But he can also finish second or third, as long as Albert is behind him, and he's guaranteed to pip the World Champion at the seasonal post. Nys, meanwhile, can take the title by winning, with Pauwels and Albert second and third, in either order. [If Albert is second to Nys, he loses the world cup by a single, excruciating point, which should make for some good copy afterward.] But Nys can't win by finishing second unless the other two are stuck in the soup somewhere. Anyway, that's math, and as the race plays out we should have a pretty good idea of what's at stake in real time.
As for that soup, here's tgsgirl's take on the well-used Hoogerheide course:
The race in Hoogerheide is the final World Cup leg of the season. A quick recap says it's flat, fast and boring as hell. Good news though, the geniuses at the UCI have selected Hoogerheide to be the world champs in 2014! Yeah. That's not really good news, I know. So we, I don't know, hope for torrential conditions? Rain and the likes? We'll need it.
Pfft. Try snow. Yes, cross fans, your prayers are about to be answered by the 'Cross Gods. We should have a white trail to behold Sunday. The forecast says 5-10cm (72 inches) of snow is expected to fall on Noord-Brabant overnight and into the day. That's enough to radically change the course. Take a look at the map: I count 47 turns on each lap. If it were me, that would be 470 seconds lost, or 47 hook slides, or some combination of the two. Now, these guys are pros, and I'm sure they all have their strategy for efficiently navigating the slick turns. But whoever does it the best is likely to enjoy this day a lot.
As for other competitions, I would like to tell you who's racing, but the official site is a bit light on that information. I can tell you that young miss Jelke Bosmans is the official... woman of the race, thanks to a friendship with one of the van der Poels and being the niece of Wietse Bosmans. But I can't tell you who's racing.
Mathieu van der Poel is probably gonna be there. The Junior World Champion is a local kid, so there's no excuse, particularly since his dad Adrie is one of the vdPs after which the event is kinda named. I suspect American challenger to the crown Logan Owen is back here in Seattle; I know the camp they did last ended with Rome, and he was in Wisconsin last weekend. Seems a bit much to keep going back to Europe, at least when you're that young.
Katie Compton has already salted away the women's season title in the World Cup, so if she has to let Marianne Vos put on a show for the home crowd, well... so be it. But behind Compton (390 points), the battle for second and third is a razor-thin affair, with Nikki Harris, Sanne van Paassen and Helen Wyman bunched up between 246 and 254 points. Then there's Vos and Rome third place Katerina Nash, neither of whom will be on the WC podium but both of whom are looking to posture themselves for Louisville. With snow, maybe people get a little cautious so as not to beat their bodies up too badly (and if so, too bad for the Dutch riders who can't really give less than their all). Anyway, should be a very interesting day.