Tom Meeusen races to the win in Kalmthout. © Bart Hazen

Tom Meeusen races to the win in Kalmthout. File Photo © Bart Hazen

by Kat Statman

With the build up to the Christmas ’Cross Week, one would think that we would have a lot of noise from the pro ’crossers in Europe. It seems everyone is keeping quiet and focusing on the week ahead and doing last-minute homework to get their Cyclocross Magazine fantasy team done before Christmas. There’s still some Rumor-worthy sounds coming through, though. Tom Meeusen has spoken out on the possibility of Stybar leaving Telenet-Fidea; both Nys and Pauwels discuss their chances of taking the overall in the World Cup; Francis Mourey sits out Heusden-Zolder; even though Stybar is on the start list for Heusden-Zolder, he may not race;  U23 racer Vincent Baestaens continues the Telenet-Fidea exodus; and is the US really ready for a January UCI race? Don’t forget to check out our Heusden-Zolder World Cup preview!

Meeusen upset about the possible departure of Stybar

We’ve reported multiple times on the discussions that Stybar has been having with either Telenet-Fidea or Quickstep, and what that might mean for Telenet-Fidea as a powerhouse ’cross team for next season. It is clear that Tom Meeusen is concerned about this situation as well, and he told Sporza that he’s not ready to be a team leader after the departure of both Stybar and Pauwels. Even with Meeusen’s stellar season thus far, he hasn’t racked up the wins that Pauwels and Stybar, pre-injury, have been able to. But more importantly, Meeusen is young. This is his first season racing full-time in the Elite category, and the shift in competition level from the U23s to the Elites is big. Can he carry a ’cross powerhouse on his shoulders if Stybar leaves? One possibility would be to make a smart hire with the extra capital from Stybar’s salary, but who? Nys and Albert have extended with their sponsors for a number of seasons. Vantornout has not been consistently at the front. But what about Wellens? He’s still near the front and with the Telenet squad. It would be excellent to see Wellens return to his old self, but that is looking less and less likely. Even before his neck injury, he didn’t have the attack and drive at the front that the other top contenders did; it would be a Christmas miracle for Wellens to be able to carry the team with 10 victories a season.

Pauwels and Nys Philosophical About Their Chances in the World Cup Overall

With only three rounds of the UCI World Cup left, the race for the overall has become increasingly exciting with a three-way battle between Albert, Pauwels and Nys. Even though this weekend promises to be a slippery and cold affair, Nys remained less than optimistic about his chances at taking the overall this year, saying that it would be “waterkansje,” a colloquialism for impossible. He says that he was not able to do enough against Albert at Kalmthout when he was struggling on the slippery parcours. Pauwels is much more confident about his chances at taking over the lead, though he is truly focused on the Superprestige series where he is second to Nys and is taking each World Cup for itself. Pauwels said, “I won in 2009 at Zolder, and I am fairly ready to be a bit closer in the footsteps of Albert on Sunday.” Keep watching as the World Cup races heat up throughout the second half of the season.

Francis Mourey is absent from the Heusden-Zolder start list

Ranked fourth overall and a top contender at nearly every World Cup this year, it’s a sad sight to see Francis Mourey not on the start list for this weekend’s round. Mourey has shown tenacity, strength and a keen sense of race tactics all season from his early US exploits to his European season. Is Mourey starting his preparations for the road or just taking a break to be fresh and ready for the World Championships in St. Wendel?

Stybar may not race Sunday or Monday

Even though Stybar’s name is on the start list for Sunday’s round of the World Cup, it has been reported that he will only make his decision on whether or not to race at the last moment in order to ensure complete recovery from his tendinitis. We have been able to stay on top of Stybar’s exploits recently, and he has not only been training but has returned to the Czech Republic for a few days to visit family and to contest the Czech sports personality of the year. Though Stybar did not win, he did finish in the top 10 of this award contest, a testament to the growing popularity of ’cross around the world. Hopefully Stybar will be ready to go Sunday afternoon and show that his time away and his training have reaped the rewards he is looking for, and he can do justice to the rainbow jersey.

Vincent Baestaens Is Another Member of the Mass Telenet-Fidea Exodus

Thanks to our European correspondent, and elite racer in her own right, Christine Vardaros has alerted us to some more exciting team transfer news. Vincent Baestaens currently racing for Telenet-Fidea under the tutelage of Hans Van Kasteren has decided to join KDL–Trans in an effort to gain Elite experience. Baestaens has been looking to race outside of the U23 division this season in order to gain more experience at the highest level where he will eventually graduate. Van Kasteren believes that Baestaens is not ready, though his World Cup Overal lead and numerous victories in the U23 field this season have shown that he is a forced to be reckoned with. Baestaens will be joined by the Juniors Jan Verstraeten and the Sweeck brothers, some of the fastest juniors in the peloton today.

Is the US ready for January UCI racing?

Most Elite ’crossers in the US, with the exception of those who are heading across the pond, end their season in the middle of December every year. But with USA Cycling moving the National Championships to January for 2012, the need to race later into the year is quickly coming around. Whether the organizers of the Kingsport Cup UCI race in Kingsport, TN, knew this last year when they applied for inscription is up for debate. Regardless, it’s becoming increasingly clear that if we want US ’cross to take the next step from fun winter past time to full blown focus like in Belgium, we need to race a little bit later in the year and have a full season. But maybe the US isn’t ready for that. It is still three weeks away, but not a single UCI Elite racer in the men’s field has registered to contest the Kingsport Cup, and only one woman has registered for the Elite women. Is the US ready, or are we still in the mindset that ’cross is a fun winter time hobby and in January we need to be putting in our base miles for the mountain bike or road season?