Endurance: Niels Albert

Catching up with 'cross ahead of worlds

January, 2, 2013
1/02/13
9:00
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Sven Nys, Niels AlbertDavid Stockman/AFP/Getty ImagesIs Belgian Niels Albert, right, on the verge of closing the gap on dominant countryman Sven Nys?
BRUSSELS -- The UCI elite cyclocross world championships open one month from today in Louisville, Ky., and with two weeks of non-stop Kerstperiode racing in the books, the road to the Ohio River is becoming clearer every day.

Nys stumbles, Albert, Pauwels step up


Two weeks and eight races ago -- though it might seem like much longer for anyone who has watched them all -- Sven Nys (Crelan-Euphony) was all but invincible. The Belgian champion had won eight of 12 races and had not finished off the podium since October. He extended his run of good results in the past two weeks during Belgium's ultra-intense Kerstperiode with wins in C2 races in Sint-Niklaas and Bredene, a World Cup win in Zolder and a second-place finish in Namur.

But even Nys couldn't maintain his perfect record through the last two grueling weeks. He finished fifth in Essen on Dec. 22, seventh in Diegem on Sunday, and abandoned his race in Loenhout shortly after leaving the course mid-race to admonish a spectator for repeatedly splashing beer on him as he rode past. Nys spent Tuesday, the day of his namesake race, in bed with an apparently serious case of bronchitis. Before missing the 14th edition of the GP Sven Nys, he had racked up 11 wins in Baal, his hometown, and had never finished worse than second. But the massively popular Nys is apparently human once again.

In his place, the three men who dominated cyclocross in seasons past found themselves returning to prominence. World champion Niels Albert (BKCP-Powerplus) took wins in Loenhout and Diegem, Kevin Pauwels (Sunweb-Napoleon Games) was victorious in Namur and Baal, and two-time world champion Zdenek Stybar (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) returned from the road to cyclocross and immediately snapped up five podium places. Stybar could have earned a victory in Essen as well, but was relegated for causing a collision with Jan Denuwaelare (Style & Concept) during that race's dramatic sprint finish.

The race forecast for the elite men at the worlds is, if anything, even more clouded than it was before. Only one question has been answered with any certainty these past two weeks: Stybar, despite showing impressive form from the moment he returned, will not make the trip to worlds.

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