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Time For Nys' Race! Baal...LIVE!

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As always on New Year's Day, the cyclocross peloton heads to Baal, hometown of the great Sven Nys.

Patrick Verhoest

I doubt that any cyclocross enthusiast would disagree with me when I say that Sven Nys is a legend of the sport. He has won two world titles, nine BPost Bank Trofees, and two World Cups. He has also won one hundred and forty-three individual series races. It's only fair he can call one race his own. This race is Baal, which always takes place on New Year's Day. There's something about races that are always on a certain day that just makes them better. Think Koppenbergcross.

The Parcours: As you might expect with a race named after his Svenness, the Baal circuit is tight, twisty and technical, and usually quite muddy. If the conditions are anything like Azencross on Tuesday, there could be an ever bigger mudfest - and that's saying something.

Mathieu van der Poel in mud

Van der Poel and Aert at Azencross -- David Stockman, AFP/Getty

Last year, Sven Nys accelerated away from the start to win by almost a minute from Stybar.

The Riders: According to most of the riders who missed Loenhout's twitter accounts, they will all be back for the first race of 2015. That means a fairly full startlist, with all of the "Big Seven." But, again, no Styby.

The Favourites:

Wout Van Aert: After his dominant display in the mud of Loenhout and his fantastic BPost Bank Trofee record, Wout Van Aert is my definite favourite for the GP Sven. He has a lot of power, and a fantastic sprint, which puts him in good stead for most CX races. He seems to suit both wet and dry, so will be looking forward to having a go at the victory in Baal.

Van Aert ahead

(Patrick Verhoest)

Stars: :Stars::Stars::Stars::Stars:

Mathieu Van der Poel: Mathieu Van der Poel was the only person who could come within two minutes of Van Aert in Loenhout, finishing 37 seconds down. He also leads the Superprestige classification. However, Van Aert never seems to stop tormenting the Dutchman, who he can neither seem to drop nor outsprint. That trend looks fit to continue on Thursday.

Mathieu van der Poel chases

(Patrick Verhoest)

Stars: :Stars::Stars::Stars:

Lars Van der Haar: Lars Van der Haar was just getting on top form, dominating Zolder, when he crashed into the Diegem snow - multiple times! He caught a cold and missed Loenhout. I won't comment on whether that is an advantage or a disadvantage, he'll certainly be fresher than most other riders, but might he be still suffering from the aftereffects of his illness? Time will tell. On his Zolder form? He'll challenge.

Van der Haar chases

(Patrick Verhoest)

Stars: :Stars::Stars::Stars:

Kevin Pauwels: Pauwels, no doubt, has been the star of this year's season. He has won five series races, the World Cup, and is within shouting distance of taking the Superprestige. However, he seems to be losing a very small amount of form, but one percent has decided many races this season. He came 6th in Azencross, after a poor first few laps. He is one of only four winners of the GP Sven Nys, which will stand to him. It will be interesting to see how he does in Baal.

Pauwels solo

(Patrick Verhoest)

Stars: :Stars::Stars::Stars:

Sven Nys: This is De Kannibaal's home race, and he always goes all out to win it. At least I hope he does, because if twelve wins in fifteen years isn't all out, I'd hate to see what is. Nys, as documented by many CX enthusiasts, is having a bad year, but he was showing signs of promise with 8th in an apocalyptic Azencross. When interviewed, he identified the podium as a possible target, but if there's a race he'd like to win before the worlds, it's this.

Sven practices

(Patrick Verhoest)

Stars: :Stars::Stars:

Tom Meeusen: While Tom Meeusen wasn't the strongest rider earlier in Azencross, he was not the worst, and had good tactics, knowing when he should attack for third. Another podium is reachable for the Belgian Bunnyhopper.

15

(Patrick Verhoest)

Stars: :Stars::Stars:

Klaas Vantornout: Another rider who missed Azencross, and another rider who has been out of form and sick. Klaas Vantornout has been on a downhill slope since coming second to Pauwels in Milton Keynes, not starting or not finishing the majority of December races. He looked like he was beginning to recover with 11th in Diegem, but he had to dig deep. While perhaps not a contender for victory, he could spice up the race. As an aside, I wonder if Sunweb will change their kit again...

Klaas Vantornhout run

(Patrick Verhoest)

Stars: :Stars:

In the women's race, Dutch and World Champion Marianne Vos isn't riding for the first time since Namur, and nor is Pauline Ferrand-Prevot. This leaves a very small field.

Favourites:

Kateřina Nash: Czech champion Nash has had a great last fortnight, winning Namur, and yesterday in Loenhout. The mud in Loenhout suited Nash, if the conditions repeat, and with no Vos, she should win here.

Katerina Nash wins Namur

(David Stockman, AFP/Getty)

Stars: :Stars::Stars::Stars::Stars:

Ellen Van Loy: Fidea rider van Loy has been riding around all season in places between third and fifth, but Baal may be her chance for a win, after coming third in Azencross behind only Vos and Nash. Dry conditions will suit her more than Nash, but she will have to try hard to hang on. Second spot on the podium is very possible, however. 

Van Loy third

(Patrick Verhoest)

Stars: :Stars::Stars:

Sanne Cant: The Belgian champion peaked for November and early December, which I think is clever. It earned her Koksijde, Milton Keynes, Zonhoven, countless other races and a good shot at the world cup. She forfeited, though, worlds form. Her form is already disappearing, and she'll do well to score many more podiums.

Sanne Cant

(Bryn Lennon/Getty)

Stars: :Stars::Stars:

Nikki Harris: Van Loy's team-mate Harris had a fairly torrid December, recovering from tendinitis. She is showing promise, with 4th in Loenhout, a podium is possible.

Nikki Harris wins

(Patrick Verhoest)

Stars: :Stars:

Sophie De Boer: Sophie De Boer had a fantastic early season, winning Koppenberg and Ronse, and leading the World Cup for a race. Shoulder problems, however, made her form erratic, but she's always a threat.

Sophie de Boer

(Patrick Verhoest)

On a hard circuit, Baal is never a bad race. Tune in on Sporza, Thursday at 3 CET, and enjoy the race.