Cyclo-cross World Championships 2011: The Big Preview
Helen Wyman wins senior women's race, Cyclo-Cross National Championships 2011
What's all this about?
It's the cyclo-cross world championships this weekend. You know, lots of people shouldering their bikes, hopping over barriers and sliding around in the mud, all after a resplendent rainbow jersey.
This year, they're in St. Wendel in Western Germany. It's a small town with a population of about 25,000 and hosted the event in 2005.
Right. So who are we cheering for?
Helen Wyman. She's tall, graceful, deceptively powerful - and one of the friendliest riders out there. Gabby Day and Nikki Harris fly the flag with her in the women's race; Jody Crawforth, Paul Oldham and Ian Field are the British men competing.
As for the U23 men, there's national champ Luke Gray and Kenta Gallagher. In the juniors, we have Jack Clarkson, Luke Grivell-Mellor, Joe Moses, Hugo Robinson and Ali Slater.
What about Wyman's chances of taking back some precious metal?
It would be some ride, but she can do it. Wyman showed signs of breaking through after winning the Koppenbergcross in November and finishing third in the European Championships.
However, she's been kept out of the higher placings with illness (a hacking cough) and bad luck (her rear mech decided to explode in a World Cup race) in recent weeks.
If karma is on her side, she's due the hole shot and a decent race at the very least on Sunday.
Does she fancy her chances?
Confidence is a big issue with Wyman. But, if it stays muddy, the tough course suits her. She told CW last week: "I'd love to finish in the top five. I think that's realistic. Anything outside the top ten would be disappointing."
Not exactly winning talk but when Wyman is on top form, she can beat anybody.
Well, who does she have to beat this weekend?
The bad news is that defending champion Marianne Vos, Hanka Kupfernagel and Katie Compton have been bossing the ‘cross scene this season. And Kupfernagel is going to be on home turf, cheered on by a partisan crowd.
The better news: Compton's got shaky psychology. "Compton has been virtually unstoppable, but for her it's about getting the head right and getting to the start line," says Wyman of her American rival.
What about the men, starting with that Czech bloke with the long name?
That would be the reigning champion and scourge of English-speaking commentators, Zdenek Stybar. He'll be fighting a pack of Belgians, led by Sven Nys and World Cup winner Niels Albert.
Sounds like it could be a bit like the Belgian national championships all over again.
Well, it's the Belgians' chips and mayo. Stybar went through the early season invincible, but he's spent much of the time since then out with a knee injury. But he's so handy that Quick Step have signed him up for road racing.
Albert is the man in form, while cross legend Nys always seems to save his bad luck - or bad legs - for worlds time. But the one and only time he won the rainbow jersey was right here in St. Wendel. Don't discount Kevin Pauwels either.
Sounds like our lads Paul, Jody and Ian are really up against it then...
They certainly are, but they'll give it their best. A top 25 finish would be a good result. There might be a race within a race between the Brits for bragging rights: national champion Oldham and Crawforth have enjoyed some ding-dong battles on the domestic scene.
What's the course like?
Depends on the weather - whether it's ice or mud. It's a 2.8km long course, one for the power merchants. They start and finish on the St. Wendel athletics track, but other than that they'll have to deal with constantly changing gradients, and a fair bit of climbing.
Last and not least, when do they race?
Saturday January 29: men's junior race at 11am CET
U23 men's race at 2pm
Sunday January 30 : elite women's race at 11am
Elite men's race at 2pm