Yes, it was Sven Nys that won in Koksijde. For the first time in over a year, he won a race against a field of the highest quality, and boy, it looked like it meant something. He rode with Wout Van Aert for most of the race, staying with him, and taking out occasional gaps, until the last 200 metres, when he unleashed a vicious attack that seemed to blow Van Aert off his wheel, and took the victory. It was the day after he took his first victory of any description for over a year, winning (an admittedly Woutless race) in Hasselt.
But that wasn't the only remarkable thing that happened on Sunday. Mathieu van der Poel reappeared after his knee injury, and even led the race for three laps before falling back. More impressively than that, he came back for third place. Lars Van der Haar and Kevin Pauwels were there or thereabouts as well, and in a race with slightly less Nys-and-Van-Aert-friendly elements, I'm fairly certain they would have been up there too. It's entirely possible that we have three, four, or even five-way fights for victory in December, especially in the races coming up soon, which I'll be getting to.
The women's race, while less a thriller than the men's, did offer up some talking points. Eva Lechner, not the best at riding on sand, needed to stay in contact with Sanne Cant to keep her within reach of the World Cup. She did, just about, managing ninth, and is only seven points behind. The women's scene is about to get a lot more interesting; World champ Pauline Ferrand-Prévot is returning on December 13th for Francorchamps, and should be on form just in time to challenge in Namur. While I've complained about the quality of the field in many women's races, things are looking up, with Compton back on form, Lechner and Cant looking good, Ferrand-Prevot on the way back, and who knows, maybe even Nash by the Kerstperiode? The World Cup will be a close-fought battle between Cant and Lechner.
So what's up next? Well, there's Hamme, which is flat, and really fast, and is one of the very few CX course that looks like it would be actual fun to ride. That's in the dry though. I have no idea what it would be like in the wet, and rain is forecast in the area all week. If it is dry though, it's going to be between Van Aert and Van der Haar, in all likelihood, with possibly a few more in a sprint. Cant will win the women's without a shadow of a doubt. Last year there was actually a peloton for quite a large amount of the race. There was even co-operation within teams - imagine! Then there's a bumper weekend, with Essen and Overijse. Essen is REALLY fun in the mud, which somehow tends to happen a lot. Wout Van Aert dominated it more than any other race last year, and I see no reason why that shouldn't continue. Then there's the fun Overijse, which Sven won four times in a row until last year, so he can have that. Mathieu Van der Poel should be back on form for Scheldecross - wait - Did I say Scheldecross? INSERT OCTOPUS PICTURE!
Ahem, yes, as I was saying, Van der Poel should be back in form for Scheldecross, which will be his first win of the season. Cant will keep going on her winning rampage. The next week is Francorchamps, which is suited to Lars Van der Haar - he'll win that. That's the race PFP is back for, so Cant may have to look back a few times. And then...well then it's the Kerstperiode, and you'll hear us going on about that when it comes.
We're headed for some pretty great battles in December. Pauwels, Van der Poel, Van Aert, Van der Haar and Nys are all capable of winning big races, and that's not to mention the fabled appearance of Lars Boom.