It's here and we don't mean the end of the world either. Though the Kerstperiode of racing in Belgium actually started this past Wednesday with the GP de Ster for the men, the onslaugh of racing starts this weekend to deliver a total of eight races in Belgium over 13 days. Four more races will be held in other European countries during the same period.
Many Americans made the trip to Europe for the period, for some results are essential to be selected to race at Louisville 2013, for others, it is getting points to move up in the startgrid. Though the Canadian team has been selected but not officially announced yet, many of the Canadian cyclo-cross racers are also in Europe to test themselves and also get those points.
Two races in Belgium this weekend, the C1 Bpost Bank Trofee - GP Rouwmoer is held this Saturday in Essen followed by the World Cup in Namur which doubles as the finale of the Soudal Classics.
After more than a month, the Bpost Bank Trofee is back with the race at Essen where series leader Niels Albert (BKCP - Powerplus) has much to lose and Sven Nys (Landbouwkrediet-Euphony) much to gain. Belgian champion Nys has been nibbling and taking big bites out of the world champion Albert's overall lead which is now only 20 seconds. Remember, the series is now not only time based but also includes a sprint on lap two for bonus seconds. After days of rain, reports are of mud. Of note, Zdenek Stybar (Omega Pharam-Quick Step) will start his shortened cross season at Essen. In the elite women's race, European champion Helen Wyman (Kona) should be battling with Sanne van Paassen (Rabobank Women Cycling) once again Nikki Harris (Young Telenet Fidea) knocking at the door.
Sunday is the fifth (of eight) World Cup races of the season for elite men and women, at the Citadelle de Namur where Albert has a slim 15-point lead overall on Nys. Weather forecast call for rain and temperatures in the high 40s making for a hard race which could play into Nys' favor. Albert may have other factors that come into play for the race. With an eye on Louisville 2013, Belgian coach Rudy De Bie stated that it might be best for Belgium that Albert does not win the overall World Cup.
“With the world championship getting closer, our country has six spots in the elite men plus the world champion last year and the winner of the World Cup.” he explained to sport.be.msn.com. “That totals to eight spots but if Albert wins the World Cup, that will only make seven because he also won the rainbow jersey at koksijde. It might sound a bit simple but that eighth spot is extremely important. Not only to not disappoint another rider but also because that rider may be important as to how the race plays out.”
American champion Jeremy Powers (Rapha-Focus) leads the six-rider USA Team which also includes Tim Johnson (Cannondale-cyclocrossworld.com), Jonathan Page, Zach McDonald (Rapha-Focus), Jeremy Durrin (JAM Fund/NCC) and Justin Lindine (Redline). Powers is looking for that top 5 finish while most of the others are on the hunt for points to get selected for Louisville 2013.
For the first time this season, world champion Marianne Vos (Rabobank Women Cycling) and World Cup leader Katie Compton (Tre Cyclocross Collective) will be racing against each other. Katerina Nash (Luna), who finished third at the 2010 World championship will also be at the start for her first European race of the season. American champion Compton has a solid lead of 50 points following her three victories at Plzen, Koksijde and Roubaix. Van Paassen is in second place.
The USA has a total of nine riders registered for the elite women's race, including Compton, Kaitie Antonneau (Cannondale-cyclocrossworld.com), Amy Dombroski (Young Telenet Fidea), Meredith Miller (California Giant/Specialized), Nicole Duke (Alchemy), Maureen Bruno-Roy (Bob's Red Mill), Crystal Anthony (cyclocrossworld.com), Christine Vardaros (Baboco) and Andrea Smith (LadiesFirst Racing).
A break for Christmas eating and onto the World Cup in Heusden-Zolder, Belgium, the Internationales Radquer Dagmersellen in Switzerland and the Grand-Prix GEBA in Luxembourg on December, 26. After one day of rest comes four back-to-back races in Belgium, the Bpost Bank Trofee - Azencross in Loenhout on Friday December 28, then the Versluys cyclocross Bredene the next day, the Superprestige Diegem on Sunday and finally the Bpost Bank Trofee - G.P. Sven Nys in the hometown of Sven Nys and Niels Albert on January 1, 2013. Also that weekend are the GP-5-Sterne-Region in Switzerland on December 30, the Grand Prix Hotel Threeland in Luxembourg on January 1 and the Cyclo Cross Bussnang in Switzerland on January 2, 2013.
More on these races later.