Stybar wins the 2012 Liévin World Cup in France. ©Bart Hazen

Stybar wins the 2012 Liévin World Cup in France. ©Bart Hazen

by Evan Schmitt

It has been five years since the World Championships of Cyclocross have been in Belgium, and the cyclocross-loving country is excited to have the most prestigious race back on its soil. Great pressure will be put on the men of the host country to bring back a world title that has rested on the shoulders of Czech superstar Zdenek Stybar for the past two years. The European riders will be eager to win, as they will not get another World Championship in Europe until 2014, as the 2013 championships will be held outside of Europe for the first time in the American city of Louisville, Kentucky.

The heavy favorite will undoubtedly be returning World Champion Stybar (Omega Pharma-Quickstep). Stybar has had few wins this season but showed he is on form for Worlds after a  strong, but fortunate victory at the World Cup in Liévin, France two weeks ago. Stybar started the season in fine form, had a quiet mid-season but has come to Worlds fresh and motivated.

Pauwels leads Nys through the sand at the 2011 Koksijde World Cup. © Bart Hazen

Pauwels leads Nys through the sand at the 2011 Koksijde World Cup. © Bart Hazen

The Belgians will bring a loaded team to challenge Stybar that includes superstars Sven Nys, Kevin Pauwels and Niels Albert. Nys has only been able to claim the world title once, despite winning almost every other race and overall series up for grabs – many on multiple occasions. Pauwels has shown he is one to mark, as he has been showing the form of his life and he won the overall World Cup this season in convincing fashion. Both riders were skilled in the sand at the 2011 Koksijde World Cup, where Nys just edged out Pauwels for a highly-contested and controversial victory. After missing a month of racing due to a wrist injury sustained in a car wreck, Albert will be quick to get back the rainbow stripes that belonged to him just three years ago.

The American team ranks fifth in the UCI rankings and will be bringing six riders to Koksijde. Jeremy Powers (Rapha-Focus) is the front runner on the team after claiming his first national title in Madison a few weeks ago. Powers also snagged a 10th place ride at the World Cup in Plzen, Czech Republic, earlier this year as well as the overall series win in the USGP of Cyclocross.

A familiar sight on U.S. cyclocross podiums: Johnson, Trebon and Powers. ©Jeffery Jakucyk

A familiar sight on U.S. cyclocross podiums: Johnson, Trebon and Powers. ©Jeffery Jakucyk

Ryan Trebon (LTS-Felt) spent six weeks off the bike after a crash injured his knee. The big man from Bend, Oregon, will be hungry for redemption in Koksijde after spending most of the season watching from the sidelines. He came back for the Chicago New Year’s Resolution races with back-to-back wins and a silver medal at Nationals though, so he’s not one to discount.

Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com teammates Tim Johnson and Jamey Driscoll will also be on the team. Johnson had a winless season until he scored a win at the Jingle Cross Rock in November. Driscoll was a solid top-five finisher at the UCI races in North America.

Jonathan Page (Planet Bike) earned his spot on the team with a 12th place finish at the 2011 World Championships as well as three top-25 finishes at World Cups this season. The three-time national champion is the only American to step on the Elite men’s podium at the World Championships with his silver medal performance in 2008.

Chris Jones (Rapha-Focus) will round out the six-man American squad. He earned his place based on his UCI ranking. The pro road racer also won the Single Speed Cyclocross World Championships in San Francisco.

And don’t forget, we’ve got live coverage of the 2012 UCI Cyclocross World Championships in Koksijde, Belgium, on January 29, 2012 with live blogging of the Elite Women’s and Elite Men’s races. Races are at 11am and 3pm Belgian time, which is an early 5am EST and 9am EST. Join us as we give you live, interactive updates of the racing, complete with updates of the American racers we’ll be getting from on-the-ground reporters (as well as technology allows). It’s the perfect way to start your Sunday morning, and complements any live video feed you might find.