Or will the Cannibaal von Baal eat them for lunch........
I could go on for ages in a Sun/News of the World vein but won't. It is hard to tell whether this years World Cross Champs are wide open or whether they are actually a 2 horse race.
Certainly the 2 protaganists that occupy more column inches than most of the others put together are clearly on form - last weekends WC race in Milan turned into a sprint between Lars Boom and Sven Nys with the latter taking a perhaps surprising though deserved win. The fast race though had a large lead group in its closing stages and no one rider was able to break away from this group - more on this later.
Sven has had a history of croaking at the Worlds - either self-induced or with bad luck, as well as accusations that he is overtired by a hectic racing schedule by the time the end of Jan comes round. He is clearly hungry for another Worlds title and stung by the reticence of the Belgian public to class him with the greats at the moment because of his lack of rainbow success.
Lars Boom always set his sights on a World title, but he acheived it 1 year early in Treviso. This year (the year he originally wanted a title) is home turf year for extra motivation and he has not been quite as visible as Nys on the racing circuit, preferring to peak for certain races (Pijnacker, Niel etc). When doing so he has been untouchable and Hoggerheide will be no different.
Prince Niels Albert nearly took himself out of the game (for good) with a serious crash at Gavere and has been easing his way back in. He will be fresh for sure and has either been hiding in the pack just behind the front, getting the race training in, or simply struggling. He above all is the unknown quantity - good enough to win one dayfor sure, but good enough this year?
Bart Wellens has picked some good wins this year and lost some races that he perhaps should have won too - who knows how he will do?
Vervecken looked like he was doing his usual Xmas form finding exercise and won on his style of course at Roubaix but has not been consistent since Xmas - dont discount the old timer, though he may struggle when others are at the top of their game too.
Other possibles - Kevin Pauwels looks like the poor kid that got bullied at school but rides so elegantly (sehr elegant in Flemish!) and packs a mean sprint. He is also a superb bike handler - one of the best? Stybar has a riding style remiscent of an amphetamine enhanced 17 yr old at a hard house rave, but could do the business too? He was looking good at Milan. Vanthourenhout was also very active at Milan and clearly on form - would the other Belgians ride for him as he is Nys mate (a long involved stor for another post)? Klaas Vantornout has been sort of there all season, but not quite. Groenendaal is too old surely but on home turf and up there till the final selection recently in other races. His teammate Thys Al is getting better and better this season - he would have some national teammates to ride for him too.
Official Crossjunkie spies (Dave and Eric from the club) tell me the course was waterlogged last week and they were not allowed to ride on it by order of Adrie van der Poel himself so a muddy race is almost guaranteed. That will benefit Nys, Boom, Vervecken and Wellens in particular judging by the results from the earlier season mudbaths.
So, enough prevarication, what is the prediction that you've all been waiting for? No pressure here considering the 100% record of predictions so far from this source........
1 Ben Berden
2 Petr Dlask! ...............just kidding!
Bart will go out fighting but Boom looks like he will do the business, Pauwels is under-rated and threatening to break through big time (therefore my wild card result) and Vervecken can always get up there. Nys will be marked closely and may lose heart if he can't get away with Boom. He does not seem to have the power this season to ride away from the field like he used to, get a gap and keep it. Boom does though. The Belgians may not ride for him (Nys) like they would for Pauwels or Wellens due to past shenanigans with Groenendaal and Albert simply hasn't recovered enough (I think...).
The oracle has spoken. Whether it bears any relation to reality will remain to be seen.
Live coverage on Eurosport 2pm Sunday - I shall be there with a Duvel or 3 in hand to watch the showdown.
Update: Course conditions appear to be dry with minimal mud on the surface - forecast for frost but no heavy rain.
If conditions are faster then perhaps that throws it wider open??
I'm with Boom all the way, with a Treviso replay type performance.
The Belgian squad will tear itself apart mentally before the start line to create a free for all scrap for second spot.
Bunch sprint with Stybar and Nys for the silver and bronze.
Lion of Flanders wins the most popular flag contest.
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