Editor’s Note: Dan Seaton has been literally crawling through the Belgian mud covering European cyclocross since 2008. Each week this season he’ll look ahead to the weekend’s races and answer your questions about ’cross on the other side of the Atlantic. Got a question for your favorite Euro star? Want to know the inside story about the legendary Flemish fields? Send your questions to email@example.com.
This weekend, ‘crossers from around the world will descend on Tabor, a city of about 35,000 people roughly an hour south of Prague in the Bohemian Region of the Czech Republic, for the first round of the UCI World Cup. Today we’ll take a close look at both the World Cup and the likely favorites in Sunday’s race.
The Czechs have a long history of cyclocross success, culminating most recently with Zdenek Stybar’s back-to-back world titles in 2010 and 2011. Radomir Simunek Sr., BKCP-Powerplus rider Radomir Simunek Jr.’s father, won the elite world championship in 1991 after much success in the amateur championship category in the 1980s. On the women’s side, U.S.-based Czech Katerina Nash has had the most success, landing on the world championships podium with a third-place ride in Sankt Wendel, Germany, in 2011.
World Cups are considerably more international than other races in Europe and Americans hoping for good world championships results have been making the trip to Europe in the hunt for vital UCI points, which, in turn, determine riders’ start positions in races that range from regional series to the worlds. Even for European riders, who might be paid better for appearing in other races, the points are too valuable to ignore. For example, 10th place in Tabor this weekend earns 60 points and 20th earns the same number of points that Niels Albert pocketed for his win last Sunday in Ronse. Even a rider finishing 50th earns 10 points. So a good ride in Tabor can seriously advance a racer’s standing in the international rankings.
On top of that, many federations, including the United States, use World Cup performances as a basis for deciding who goes to worlds and who sits out. For Americans, for example, a top-five finish in a World Cup earns a spot on the team, and a top 15 is a near-guarantee. So while in an ordinary race, the payout and UCI points for a finish outside of the top 10 may not be enough to justify fighting tooth-and-claw for position, there is so much more on the line in the World Cup; expect to see hard-fought battles even for spots that are well off of podium pace.
Now let’s get to one of your questions, which just so happens to be about Sunday’s race.
What is the course in Tabor like? What is the history there? What kind of rider does it favor and who will do well there?
—Matthew in Maine
Tabor has been a regular World Cup stop for a long time, and has also hosted worlds twice, once in 2010 when Zdenek Stybar thrilled local fans by claiming the first of his two titles and Marianne Vos rode to victory among the women, and earlier in 2001, when Erwin Vervecken beat another Czech, Petr Dlask, in a tight sprint finish, and Hanka Kupfernagel claimed the second of her four world titles in the women’s race. In last year’s World Cup edition, Katerina Nash took a close victory over Daphny Van Den Brand among the women and Kevin Pauwels rode away from Zdenek Stybar for the men’s victory.
The race in Tabor takes place in a gradually sloping hillside park on the banks of the Lužnice River on the outskirts of town. Both of the world championship races there were icy, muddy and technical, but when the weather is relatively pleasant, as it is expected to be on Sunday, the course is very fast and not exceptionally technical. But neither is it an easy track, and, because the pace will be high, mistakes and technical problems can be very, very costly.
The track favors a quick and agile rider like Stybar, but the reining Czech national champion is focused on his burgeoning road career, and will not return to ‘cross until mid-December. A fast starter like Klaas Vantornout (Sunweb-Revor) could have a very good race — Vantornout was second in the 2010 worlds race in Tabor — but I suspect we’ll ultimately see a battle between Kevin Pauwels (Sunweb), Niels Albert (BKCP-Powerplus) and, if he gets a good start, Sven Nys (Landbouwkrediet). But watch out also for the speedy young Dutch U23 world champion, Lars Van Der Haar (Rabobank), who is making his elite World Cup debut on Sunday.
Among the American entrants, Jeremy Powers (Rapha-Focus) is the best ranked and also had the best result in Tabor last year. The course very much suits his abilities and Powers seems to be in great form at the moment, sweeping last weekend’s Trek U.S. Gran Prix of Cyclocross Smartwool Cup in Colorado, so look for a very good result from the national champion. As the 12th-ranked rider in the UCI standings, he’ll start on the second row with Ryan Trebon (Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com), who is 15th.
Among the women, with Daphny Van Den Brand now retired and Marianne Vos still recovering from her remarkable road season, the favorite has to be American Katie Compton. The Trek Cyclocross Collective racer is undefeated on the season, is always strong in European races, and has set the World Cup overall title as a top priority this season. Compton recovered from a cold in time to win both Smartwool Cup races over the weekend.
On home soil, the Czech riders would seem to be primed for good results, but Katerina Nash (Luna Chix) is recovering from injury and the course, without any significant elevation gain, doesn’t really suit the diminutive Pavla Havlikova, so the locals may be disappointed this time around. Dutch racer Sanne Van Paassen (Rabobank), who has ridden well in Tabor before, should be in line for a good result. And British champion Helen Wyman (Kona) and American Amy Dombroski (Telenet-Fidea), who both have had good early season results and recently transitioned from North America back to Europe, would like very much to establish themselves as among the very best on this side of the Atlantic.