A few thoughts while marveling at the nearly 600 comments posted yesterday between cross and six-day racing... there's no quit in you guys.
* Is the Cross season down to a two-man race? Niels Albert hopes is stuck on the trainer while his wrist heals, and Zdenek Stybar is disembarking for Mallorca in order to refresh his
tan dance moves legs after maybe overtraining this summer. Seems like another day, another Pauwels-Nys sprint. Stybar is the only other rider to win since November started, and the usual suspects (Aernouts, Meeusen, Vantornout, etc.) are doing their thing, i.e. kicking much ass but not enough to disrupt the top four.
* The question is, what does this mean for the most coveted prize in the knobby world of cross, the Rainbow Jersey? Saturday was a preview of sorts for the 2012 Worlds when the field returns to Koksijde January 29, a fact not lost on the Belgian contingent. [Supposedly Albert was out there gently riding the course, wrist and all.] The last Belgian win in 2009 (Albert) coincided with the last time the race was held in an ENECO Tour country (Netherlands, in this case) and the last CX worlds on Belgian soil in 2007 also went to a local, Erwin Vervecken. In other words, the world's most cross-mad country is pretty good at holding serve, which juxtaposes nicely with the inability of Belgians to win anywhere south of Valenciennes.
* So if this season sets up so perfectly for a Belgian win, who's it gonna be? Not sure but for now the real question is, what do Autumn results tell us? In the road world everyone is carefully managing the calendar for specific peaks of form, the cost of which is spending the rest of the season not peaking and generally not winning. Unless your name begins with "Gilbert." Is this true of Cross? This is my second full season of heightened interest, so discount the foregoing accordingly. But...
* Stybar won the worlds last year in February... after starting the season on a big September-October roll. Styby lost for the first time in Hasselt in mid November, then didn't win for over a month, returning to the top step of the podium on December 30. Then some more seconds and thirds to lull the competition to sleep, before bagging his second world title. In his previous world title, he came in on a tremendous roll and won on a home course in Tabor.
* When Albert won in 2009, he was on and off the top step all season, with no real streaks of form. Lars Boom's season prior to his world title defies categorization, since he was rocking the U23 road circuit before adding another notch to his bar tape in cross season. By the standard of recent winners, there is no "peaking" pattern that predicts victory. Cross is a bit like a time trial in the lack of uncontrollable elements (compared to road, where punctures and crashes upend results constantly), so if people were subject to discernable peaks, it would matter. The evidence isn't too telling. Still, Styby and Albert are taking brief "breaks" from the grind at a time which could see them fresher than the rest in late January.
* Sven Nys did fade last season, from a dominant start to a string of third places after the new year. At 35 his body might not appreciate the length of the season the way his younger competitors' do. On the other end of the age spectrum, K-Pow is 27, Albert 25, and Styby 24 (for a few weeks). Nys' current run of form is like watching an old master at work, far enough along for everyone to comprehend what they're seeing while still catching him at the top of his powers. Enjoy it while it lasts. Because if he can stretch it through another two-plus grueling months, it might be the crowning victory of his career.
Photo by Patrick ("the Safety Jogger") Verhoest