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A Charles Pelkey Gallery
It hasn’t rained all week in Treviso and that could mean that this weekend’s world cyclocross championships could be settled on what is probably the fastest world’s course since the 2002 championships in Zolder, Belgium.
Like the world’s in Belgium that year, the 2008 world’s will be contested on a course designed by former world champion Adrie Van der Poel. And just like last time, the 3.25km route through the Brandie Sports Center near Treviso will be missing something ‘cross fans hold almost sacred: Namely, barriers.
Van der Poel, however, insists that the Treviso course is by no means “easy.” The course features no man-made obstacles, he conceded, but plenty of natural variations that could make things difficult even the strongest in the field.
“Depending on conditions, this can be one of the world’s most difficult courses,” Van der Poel told VeloNews under cloudy skies in Treviso on Friday. “Even if there is no rain, there are plenty of challenges to break up the field and do that very early.”
If last year’s World Cup race on the same course is any indication, the field may be broken up quite early. U.S. national cyclocross champion Tim Johnson said the first big hill on the route could well be a decider. At a leg-busting 26 percent, the hill comes after a fast run through stretches of meadow and gravel, with a sharp 110-degree turn on a flat surface.
In November 2006, the fourth round of the World Cup was pretty much decided by the top of that first hill. Sven Nys, Erwin Vervecken and the day’s eventual winner, Francis Mourey, led the field on to the slopes of the climb. Each managed to ride the grade without dismounting. The fourth rider in line did not and the ensuing traffic jam caused an insurmountable split in the field.
That race was in completely dry conditions and the surface was packed. This weekend, despite the absence of recent rain, the ground is damp and ruts were already forming on the toughest part of the climb.
“People may be better off going into that with the plan of running the hill,” Johnson said. “You’re better off than trying to granny it, falling and then trying to make up time. The hill may be a race-breaker, but probably won’t be the only factor in determining a winner.”
Van der Poel said Friday that the course – and the world’s spot on the calendar – may produce some interesting results.
“I don’t think you’ll see another across-the-board Belgian sweep,” Van der Poel said. “The way he’s riding now, you have to consider (Lars) Boom to be the favorite coming in. Mourey has won here before. I would list him, too.”
One rider notably absent from Van der Poel’s picks, however, is Nys, the World Cup and Belgian champion. A month ago, Nys was riding high, storming through the World Cup, securing the Belgian national title and seemingly on track what would be only the second rainbow jersey of his career.
“And that is his problem,” Van der Poel suggested. “He races to win every time he gets on the bike. He can’t always do that. He needs to ease off and rest before he comes to world’s.”
The Belgian’s lackluster performances in the last two rounds of the World Cup would seem to confirm that assessment, but Nys may have already taken those experiences to heart, following what has to be the easiest pre-world’s week schedule of his career.
“I have not been riding,” Nys said. “After winning the (Belgian national) title, I was obligated to ride more than I wanted … and I never got my form back. I made myself take the week off and only now am taking easy rides to check out the course here.”
The U.S. contingent in Zolder is being led by last year’s world’s silver medalist , Jonathan Page, and U.S. champion Johnson. In the elite men’s field, they will be joined by Jonathan Powers, but the fourth rider, Ryan Trebon has withdrawn, still suffering the aftereffects of a crash at the U.S. national championships.
Also doubtful is U.S. women’s champion Katie Compton, who told VeloNews that she may not line up for the world-championship event on Sunday because of a recurring muscle problem that she has been suffering from “on-and-off for the past few years.”
“I can’t say I’m not disappointed, but it’s been a great year for me,” Compton said. “I want to race, but I also want to race well. This has really affected me the last few weeks, so I am not yet certain.”
Compton said if she does line up, she intends to “give it everything I have,” and as the world’s silver medalist from last year, she could be a major factor on a course that seems to favor her strengths.
Absent her involvement, Compton said that the Treviso course “seems made for a rider like Hanka (Kupfernagel).”
The three-time world champion was said to be focusing her efforts on next summer’s Olympic Games in Beijing, but last month she jumped into the German national championships and easily won. She’s on form and probably one of the few women in the field who could be expected to nail that big hill on the first few laps.
Canadian national champions Wendy Simms said she’s impressed with the course and agrees that it will favor a strong rider capable of putting in a big effort early in the race. Simms will be joined on Sunday by Kelly Jones, but the other two qualifiers – Alison Sydor and Lyne Bessette – will not be at the line. Sydor declined her invitation and Bessette, after spending the last few weeks in Europe, decided she didn’t have the form.
The weekend of racing begins Saturday with the men’s junior and U23 events. The elite men’s and women’s fields race on Sunday.
Check in with VeloNews.com for reports throughout the weekend.