I, like a good deal of cycling fans, and what I would imagine is the majority of cyclo-cross fans, live in Europe. Not quite Belgium, but as good a place as anyone could want for watching cycling. However, a large amount of the people on this site, I know are American, and have to go out of their way to watch cycling. Want to watch the Queen Stage of the Tour? Set your alarm clock. Tour of Flanders? Okay, but if you start drinking Belgian beer at four in the morning, you can only blame yourself. The same for all the other CX races this year, including worlds. So yeah, it's good to live in Europe, if you want to watch cyclo-cross. But this year there's a World Cup when I'm slightly inconvenienced. The women's race starts at 8.15, Vegas time. Tell me, Mr. Google, when do I have to wake up?
Oh well. At least I can see it live. I might survive work, it's touch and go.
This is the map:
It should be noted that I spent an hour looking for the 2014 map, to see how it had changed. This is the 2014 map.
Time well spent, but that looks to me like no changes at all, which surprises me a little, I was expecting them to change the start/finish straight, I thought there was some regulation about it being tarmac. Apparently not. Looks like grass to me. Most of it's grass, and most people call it a "grass crit," though I've listened to two podcasts today describing it as not a grass crit. There's a little sand, and something which is optimistically calling itself a Col. Helen Wyman describes the ground as "sticky."
Who's riding? Well, not Van der Poel. Ignore his name on the startlist. He hurt his right knee, overtrained, and when his right knee healed, his left became the problem. It will harm his World Cup hopes, but I don't really think it's his sort of race anyway, there's not really anywhere to get rid of Nys, Van Aert and Meeusen, and he's not as fast in a sprint as any of them. Still, points down the drain and all that. Other than Van der Poel, everyone you could expect to be riding is there, which mightn't have been expected when it was announced. The USA are bringing 16 riders.
One of those is Jeremy Powers. He's America's best crosser, wears their national jersey, and managed 7th in a World Cup last year. He's used to this race and its course, and even the arid conditions. He finished third last year, and can he hang on for a world cup podium? I personally doubt it. This field is so much deeper than last year, he could struggle, but another top 10 is certainly a possibility. Belgium bring a strong set of riders, Sven Nys, Kevin Pauwels, Tom Meeusen and Wout Van Aert chief among them. Their national champion Klaas Vantornout with his
stilts legs isn't suited to the race. There's a few barriers to jump along the way, which suits Meeusen, who has also ridden the race before, which many have pointed out to be an important factor. Telenet-Fidea did a training camp around the area as well, so he may be better prepared for the conditions than some of the other riders. He has a great sprint and is coming into what should be his peak. (Grandad!)
Lars Van der Haar and Wout Van Aert are both good at sprinting, but I think I'd favour Van der Haar for this one. While he lost his Dutch jersey in the mud last year, he rode well at CrossVegas, and despite being a little less than enchanted with the beer element of the race, he rode well to second place. He tends to target the world cup, and is used to the race. What of the defending World Cup champion? Kevin Pauwels is new to the race, and probably not going to be in form in September.
It's Sven Nys that some would call the favourite for the race. He has been the most faithful of the Belgian riders, riding the race several years, winning solo in 2013 and last year, before fading into poor results for some reason. Finally, I have to mention Laurens Sweeck, who has form you can point to, beating Walsleben in his new ERA colours in an EKZ race.
I think it'll come down to a sprint between Van der Haar, Meeusen and Nys. My pick: Tom, Sven, Lars.
The women's race hasn't got so packed a field. In fact the startlist looks a little sparse. No Vos (obviously), no PFP, no Harris. It certainly has a competitive field though. Eva Lechner won the women's version of that race Sweeck won, but against a very poor field. And, ya know, jet lag. Sanne Cant is there, but she peaked early last year. I think she might aim more for December this year. That leaves Katie Compton. It's an America race, she's the America champion, and assuming she keeps up at the start, the race could be hers. Her biggest competition comes from Katerina Nash and Helen Wyman. Wyman had an injury-prone season last year, and Nash a late one, with a victory in Namur, but she's won this race before. Wyman has said she's targeting the world cup this year, and was there training early before the race.
My pick: Wyman, Nash, Compton