The second race of the cyclcoross season took place in Neerpelt on Sunday and we are non the wiser. Before the season, there were many speculations how the season would unfold, who would fill the void left by the sad departure of Niels Albert.
While an aging Sven Nys towers over the field and he seems to be unable to slow down, it is unclear who can challenge him consistently in the coming months. He finished second and first on courses that were fast, hard and not overly technical, on courses that didnít favour him in theory.
Klaas Vantornout might be one of those riders, he comfortably beat Nys in Erpe-Mere and he only lost by inches in Neerpelt. One could argue that the first race was not televised (read: not that important) and Neerpelt wasnít part of any of the three big series, but the fact that he was the only rider, other than Nys, who was on the podium at both races shows that at least his early-season form is perfect. In the past, he hasnít coped well under the pressure of the teamís expectations to win races and the win in Erpe-Mere has admittedly put him at ease.
Another rider that comes into mind is Lars van der Haar. Very strong start again, he had a bad day at Erpe-Mere the week before but he was in the mix for the entireity of the race in Neerpelt and finished on the podium. Last year, he was very selective with his racing program and it allowed him to do concentrate on the World Cup and to bag the overall win. This time around, he will be riding all the big races, so he might have to be a bit more conservative at races he doesnít consider as a priority.
Philipp Walslebenís first two races were the mirror image of van der Haarís: podium in Erpe-Mere but a mechanical prevented him to leave his mark on the race on Sunday. After his dominating U23 years, he spent the last couple of years with meandering among the elite until last season, when he delivered a string of very strong performances, though he hasnít managed to stand on the top at a major race yet and that might change this year.
And there are the riders with a bit question marks next to their names: Tom Meeusen, Thijs van Amerongen, Rob Peeters and Kevin Pauwels. These are riders who have won big races in the past and yet, during the first two weeks of racing, we could barely see them in the front for too long. They are not too far back but they werenít in the position to fight for the top positions. Whether it is a question of timing their form or they need some time to find the winning legs, the next couple of weeks will tell if they can pick up the pace of the front.
Last, but not least I have to mention the youngíuns. The first two races didnít have a dedicated Ďbeloftení category, the U23 riders raced with the big boys and for the most, they raced really well. Laurens Sweeck attack late in the race in Neerpelt will remain memorable, so will Michael Vanthourenhoutís racing in Erpe-Mere. There were two U23 riders in the top 10 in Erpe-Mere and four in Neerpelt and that was without the two young stars of the category, Mathieu van der Poel, who raced to 10th at the road Worlds in Ponferrada, and Wout Van Aert, whoís nursing a broken collarbone.
The next race is Gieten on 5th October, Sunday, the race that opens the Superprestige series – and no more excuses for bad performance.
If you havenít seen it yet, check out my coffee table album about the 2013/2014 cyclocross season. It is an exclusive chronicle of the 13/14 season on 240 pages.
|VAN DER HAAR Lars|
|VAN DER POEL David|
|VAN KESSEL Corne|
|VAN AMERONGEN Thijs|
|VAN IJZENDOORN Eddy|
|VAN LEEUWEN Patrick|
|VAN COMPERNOLLE Kenneth|
|VAN LOY Ellen|
|DE BOER Sophie|
|VAN ANROOIJ Lindy|