World Cyclo-Cross Championships preview
Elite men podium: Zdenek Stybar (2nd), Niels Albert (winner), Sven Nys (3rd)
Defending champion Niels Albert and Zdenek Stybar go head to head this weekend as the best cyclo-cross riders in the world descend on Tabor in the Czech Republic for the World Championships.
Albert finished the World Cup series in style last weekend in Hoogerheide, repeating his rainbow jersey-winning performance of last year in Holland despite nursing a broken rib following a collision with a drunk spectator at the Belgian championships earlier this month.
The victory was enough to secure second spot in the season-long series for the Belgian, but it was the overall winner who is most likely to threaten the defending champion. Stybar will be on home ground in Tabor and the fervent Czech contingent in the crowd will be willing him on.
It could be enough to swing it in Stybar's favour, although the massed ranks of Belgian riders could make him work for it if last year's championship in Hoogerheide is anything to go by. The strength-in-depth of the Belgium selection gives them the upper hand when the leading selection is made, providing they work as a team - not always the case.
And if Albert slips up or is off the pace, rest assured compatriot Sven Nys will be ready to pounce. The Belgian supporters' favourite has rarely matched the top two this season, although he did get the better of them in the recent snow-bound World Cup round at Kalmthout. With only one rainbow jersey in the elite category (2005) despite a decade of domination in 'cross, the 32 year old looks a long shot to take the title, but don't be surprised if you see him on the podium.
Conditions in Tabor promise to be cold and icy, with temperatures well below freezing and light snow forecast. It is going to be very fast but very slippery. The winner could well be the rider who makes the least mistakes. We go for Stybar.
Niels Albert: heading the Belgian challenge
WORLD CUP RESULTS 2009/10
Round 1 (Treviso): 1. Albert 2. Stybar 3. Vanternout
Round 2 (Pizen): 1. Albert 2. Nys 3. Stybar
Round 3 (Nommay): 1. Albert 2. Stybar 3. Nys
Round 4 (Koksijde): 1. Stybar 2. Nys 3. Vanternout
Round 5 (Igorre): 1. Stybar 2. Albert 3. Nys
Round 6 (Kalmthout): 1. Nys 2. Stybar 3. Albert
Round 7 (Zolder): 1. Pauwels 2. Albert 3. Nys
Round 8 (Roubaix): 1. Stybar 2. Vanternout 3. Nys
Round 9 (Hoogerheide): 1. Albert 2. Stybar 3. Pauwels
NO SPIKES FOR NYS
Manufacturers of the finest handmade 'cross tubulars, Dugast, had Sven Nys testing their latest creation, the Diabolo, in preparation for Tabor.
The seven-time national champion found the spiked tread to be very effective on frozen ground according to Belgian press agency Belga - not surprisingly. What is not known is how painful it would be if a following rider slammed into you, Diabolo-first, as it were.
It looks like we will never know, as the UCI got wind of the new creation and promptly banned all tyres featuring spikes or studs. Back to the drawing board, Mr Dugast. And nice try, Sven.
Sven Nys: slippery character
Eleven Brits are set to battle the elements and the world's best in Tabor at the weekend, opening with the junior men on Saturday. The women's race on Sunday promises to deliver the highest finishing positions for our contingent. National champion Helen Wyman is currently ranked 10th in the world and fellow Belgium-based Brit Nikki Harris will love the fast and slippy conditions. They face defending champion Marianne Vos and in-form Czech Katerina Nash.
Elite men: Jody Crawforth, Paul Oldham, Ian Field (Sunday)
Women: Helen Wyman, Gabby Day, Nikki Harris, Annie Last (Sunday)
Junior men: Tom Moses, Dan McLay, Luke Gray, Luke Grivell-Mellor (Saturday)
Day and Wyman warm up