Well, here we are. Over two months into a season which has left us with many questions. Are these kids the real deal? Is Nys still able to keep up? The former, we have a resounding yes. The latter is still up for discussion. And where better to go to answer these questions than the hardest - and arguably best - course on the calendar? That's right - it's Namur!THE PARCOURS:
It is widely agreed around the world of 'cross that the hardest course in the sport is the hilly track in the Walloon city. The race is based around the city's famous citadel, which is - as many citadels are - on a hill. And no small one either, so this course is full of big climbs and long, rutted descents. Also, this hellish off-camber section:
(C) Dan Seaton
I could go on forever about the huge descents into the trees, the uncontrollably fast bits into mud, the hills that rear up straight from the start, the general amazingness of the course. Pure pain, pure cruelty, pure cyclo-cross.Map
Last year's race here: THE WEATHER
: One of the key components of Namur is mud, and the one way to get mud is rain. (Or sprinklers, but the governing bodies just will not answer my emails.) Apparently, rain is falling today in Namur, and hopefully that will not change. Forecast here: http://www.accuweather.com/en/be/namur/30014/weather-forecast/30014THE RIDERS:
Everyone who's anyone will be riding here in Namur, apart from the two talented under-23 riders, Van der Poel and Van AertTHE FAVOURITES:
No one has ever won the men's Citadelcross twice, with Nys, Albert, Pauwels, Stybar and Mourey all taking a piece of mud pie, but one of the favourites will have to be a previous winner.Kevin Pauwels
is the world cup leader, and has won 4 races this season, Zonhoven, Milton Keynes, Francorchamps and Hasselt. He also leads the World , with second in Koksijde and Valkenburg, coupled with the MK win. His form is a mystery, as he has not raced much recently, but showed decent form in het Waasland, finishing second. He has a decent record in Namur, winning once. In my opinion, he is the biggest favourite for the race.
Stars: (I refuse to give five stars for a 'cross race): :Stars::Stars::Stars::Stars:
Expect to see the almost cruelly white jersey even muddier on Sunday (C) Andy JonesSven Nys:
Though the Kannibal has not raced since abandoning Druivencross two weeks ago, and has not won any race at all since Niel, you can never discount the legend. He has been recovering in Mallorca for a week and will be raring to go for this, one of the season's biggest races. The Belgian champion has had a tough 2014, especially in World Cups, abandoning Valkenburg, 15th in Koksijde and 8th in Milton Keynes being his results. It is a brave man who is the first to not name Sven in a list of favourites, and I am not that brave.
A year of problems for Sven Nys?Lars Van der Haar:
Little Lars loves the World Cup, and will be determined to notch up another victory this year, after his dominant success on home turf, in Valkenburg. He has been unlucky this year, with illness, crashes and pedal problems taking him out of winning situations in Spa, for example. He is the joint leader of the SuperPrestige series.
Can Van der Haar bounce back to his Valkenburg level? (C) Dan SeatonKlaas Vantornout:
The former Belgian champion has been surprisingly out of sorts recently, not finishing in the top ten in either Scheldecross or Zilvermeer, but has attributes that will help him in Namur, especially his prowess at running. While perhaps not in the greatest of form, I wouldn't discount him to win this one.
(C) Tim de WaeleTom Meeusen:
The Belgian Bunnyhopper™ has enjoyed a relatively successful season, with wins in Ruddervoorde and Overijse, along with countless podiums. He has a good sprint, but that may not be much use as he probably will not be able to keep up with the fast runners and climbers. Doesn't matter how good you are, you can't hop over a hill.
(C) Tim de WaeleFrancis Mourey:
I could hardly write this preview without mentioning last year's winner, now, could I? The Frenchman, with mud splattered all over his tricolour bands crossed the line with a smile on his face last year, and has shown glimmers of form this year, with a podium in Milton Keynes, but has shown nothing else.
include the Dutchman Corné Van Kessel
, who through consistency is 3rd in the World Cup and Philipp Walsleben
, but when isn't he an outsider?
On the women's
side, the big news is that world champion Marianne Vos
is making her entrance. The Dutchwoman usually starts her season in December, and is starting her year in Namur However, I can't see her having the form to win so fast after starting, but if anyone can do it, it's Vos.
(C) Cor VosKatie Compton
, the American champion, won Valkenburg, was second in Milton Keynes, and is second in the World Cup. She specializes in the World Cup and came ever so close in Milton Keynes. She has also won this race for the last two years. She is my favourite for the race.
(C) Tim de WaeleSanne Cant
has had a really fantastic early part of the season, winning almost all of the races she has ridden, with Koksijde, Milton Keynes, Zonhoven and Gavere being just some of her successes. She is also the world cup leader. Has she peaked too early however? She hasn't been so dominant recently, and there's only so long a winning streak can last, so she gets:
(C) Dan Seaton
French champion Pauline Ferrand-Prevot
started her season two weeks ago, and has provided a challenge to the dominant Cant. She has not won any races, but has second places to show for her riding. She should podium here.
The world champion's team mate and compatriot, the 21-year-old Sabrina Stultiens
is having a fantastic year, winning Zilvermeer last week, making here the first to beat Sanne Cant for quite some time. She also came second to the Belgian in Koksijde.
Stars: :Stars::Stars:Nikki Harris
is having a fabulous year, winning Francorchamps and podiuming her home race, in Milton Keynes. The Telenet-Fidea rider has had a bad last two weeks, however, with tendonitis forcing her out of some races recently.
Stars: :Stars: :Stars:
Namur is a great course, a brilliant race and a showcase of all we love about the sport. Make sure to tune in at two o' clock on Sunday. It will be shown on the uci youtube channel in English, (a dubious pleasure, the commentator is either Ant McCrossan or Dan Jarvis) but for those of you who are georestricted, Flemish coverage is available on Sporza.