by Dan Seaton
Tábor, Czech Republic – While Louisville got the go ahead to plan for ‘cross Worlds in three years, the city of Tábor–about 100 km south of Prague in southern Bohemia–was finalizing preparations for their own World Championships starting tomorrow. The city, population 37,000, which has hosted a World Cup since 1996 and previously hosted a World Championships in 2001, was getting into the act. Downtown, banners and signs celebrating the race hung from buildings and lamp posts, while race organizers put the finishing touches on the course, tucked into fields a few kilometers from the town center.
Racers, meanwhile, were contending with perhaps a bigger challenge, a course now slick with a combination of mud, snow, and ice. American racers Jonathan Page and Jeremy Powers both took a few spills during early training in the slick conditions yesterday. And, though more snow fell last night, relatively warm temperatures, some work on the course by officials, and a large number of racers testing the track had, by this afternoon, reduced the snow cover on the course leaving it more muddy than snowy.
Page, perhaps America’s best chance at a medal on the men’s side, reported that he loved the course, and his twitter feed reflected that fact. “Rode the course today! Ice, snow. More snow coming now! I LOVE it! This is the best opportunity I’ve ever had to do well at Worlds!!!!!!!!!!” he said. Page, who was eighth at last weekend’s World Cup in Hoogerheide, said he felt like he was headed into Worlds with some of the best form of his career.
Meanwhile, the Belgian team, who hosted a breakfast with members of the press this morning, shared some mixed feelings about the race. Belgian Champion Sven Nys was the only member of the seven-man elite team to pick himself as the winner, emphasizing that a well-rounded racer would have the best chance to win. “Tactics will play less of a role than last year,” Nys said. “It is more a real ‘cross for men with fitness and technique. ”
Nys added that the snowy conditions would help him more than other racers. “I’m good in the snow,” he told reporters, “which is an advantage. I’ve already shown that I can come back from a bad start. Do not get me wrong, it is important to stay alert on Sunday and stay ahead so nobody can pull away.”
Defending World Champion Niels Albert, however, said he did not expect to repeat. Nonetheless, he told reporters that he was happy with his season in the rainbow stripes. “”I think I’ve shown myself to be a worthy world champion,” he said. “I won 15 races and, at my worst, finished eighth.” Albert told reporters that he expected an outsider—a racer who has not yet appeared on the podium—would have the best chance at victory, but did not name a specific racer.
In training, one Belgian racer stood out in particular for his skills on the slippery course, Under-23 racer Tom Meeusen was seen practicing bunny-hopping the barriers, which are situated at the top of an already tricky climb just after the course makes its first trip through the pits. Reports were that Nys, seeing Meeusen’s acrobatics, impressed the fans with his own barrier bunny-hop, albeit without the same finesse as his young countryman.
A number of Belgian racers said that they did not expect the same team unity that they had used to defeat Lars Boom in Hoogerheide last year. Saying that they viewed favorite Zdeněk Štybar, a Czech who lives most of the year in Belgium, more as friend than foe, several riders suggested that while fans are unlikely to see the Belgians attacking each other early in the race, the big block that dominated last year’s Worlds was unlikely to materialize this time around.
Still, all other considerations aside, the local hero Štybar remains the top pick for the win on Sunday. Štybar told the press here that he thought the course in Tábor was perfect and said he felt well prepared to chase the win. Of the two Belgian favorites he said, “Niels Albert is not so good on the snow and ice. And Sven Nys has much experience, but I have more knowledge of the track. I know the difficult passages.”
Štybar did, however, report one hiccup in his preparation for Worlds. The Czech racer told the press that he had run 1600 stairs last week instead of the 160 his coach had suggested in preparation for the race. “Only on Friday morning, when I no longer could get off the toilet under my own forces, I realized that I had made a huge mistake. On the schedule I read that I should have done only 160 steps,” laughed Štybar.
Racing kicks off tomorrow morning at 11:00 (5:00 AM EST) with the Juniors race, with the Under-23 Men following at 2:00 in the afternoon (8:00 AM). The Elite Women hit the course on Sunday, again at 11:00, and Elite Men at 2:00. Stay with Cyclocross Magazine for much more from Tábor, including live coverage on Saturday and Sunday and photos from today’s athlete training sessions. Find complete coverage, photos, reports and replay our live coverage from Saturday and Sunday in our 2010 Tabor Cyclocross Worlds Coverage Center.
US Worlds Team Pre-Ride Photo Gallery:
International Worlds Pre-Ride Photo Gallery: