All week long we preview the contenders. Let's start with my favorite...
Tale of the Tape
Height: 175 cm (about 5'9")
Weight: 60kg (about 132 lbs)
Hometown: Kalmthout, Antwerp, Belgium
Pedigree: The best. He came up thru Fidea, rode with world champions Erwin Vervecken and Bart Wellens, before jumping to Sunweb and taking the top slot. Pauwels himself was a junior (2002) and U23 (2004) world champion. Just one jewel left to complete his crown. But it wasn't until last year that he joined the elite of the elite at the top level. He won 12 times last year, took the World Cup and GvA crowns (finishing second in Superprestige). Sand wasn't his thing and he came in third in Koksijde, but arguably he was the best rider in the universe last season.
How's He Doing?
Pretty good run of form, though he sagged in the sand (again) at the Belgian Nats, finishing third behind Klaas Vantournout. Before that, he won in Rome on an easy course, and won in Baal at the GP Sven Nys (for which Nys was ill).
How's the Course for Him?
Tough to say. Pauwels excels on easier courses, where his pure power and speed is an asset. I don't think he lacks technical ability; he just can't count on it to out-fox Nys. If the weather conditions are good, Louisville will play a bit easy and probably suit him more than Nys or Albert. Like a lot of UCI courses, it's not outrageously tricky... but it does have its bits, and If it's nasty, when conditions deteriorate, it won't race easy at all.
The Case Against Pauwels
His last world title was nine years ago. Hell, last season, when he was so fantastic, was a long time ago, and he hasn't shined brightest in the biggest spotlights at the top level yet. Our eyes have been telling us for much of this season, especially early on, that he isn't as strong as Nys and Albert. Also, I believe this is his first trip to race in the US. He comes off as shy -- if that's accurate, then the long trip to the thoroughly un-Belgian environs of northern Kentucky could be a shock to his system. Will he get hooked on buckets of extra crispy at KFC? Will the female fans be knocking him out with those American thighs? Eh... probably not. But he needs as few distractions as possible this week.
Did you know Pauwels dismounts on the right side of his bike? Douglas and tgsgirl talked about this earlier. He's a lefty... or a dirty-sider... or something. This is significant because almost nobody, anywhere, does this. The right side is where the drive train is, and it's easier to get hung up on a dismount with a chain there. Still, his better hand (the one staying on the brake longer) is his right, meaning his rear brake, which helps, except most of the pros cross-cable their brakes so the left is the rear brake. Don't ask me how this works out. My brain would melt if someone cross-cabled my bike.