The cyclocross season has only seemed to just get underway, and already the first World Cup to be hosted in the United States is already here. With the World Cup in Montreal getting cancelled only months ago, CrossVegas will look to represent North America on its own, with many renowned athletes around the world getting ready for a long World Cup schedule ahead and getting their feet wet in Sin City.
While the start lists have yet to be confirmed, we have the entry lists for 2015 CrossVegas and we are offering a race preview of the Elite Women’s and Men’s Races for Wednesday.
No Women’s World Champ, But Plenty of Faces from Tabor
We’ve said it once and we’ll say it again, the Elite Women’s Races at 2014 CrossVegas and the 2015 World Championships rank up as some of the most exciting cyclocross races of all time for spectators. Those hoping for a few shots of the current World Champion, Pauline Ferrand-Prévot of France, might be in for a let down as she will be opting out of Vegas. Her absence could be predicted as she divides herself thin enough with cyclocross, road and mountain biking, and currently holds the rainbow jersey in all three disciplines.
Still, this race will almost certainly be a nail-bitter, and the crowd will be treated to the number one ranked cyclocrosser in the world, Sanne Cant of Belgium. Cant had a stellar season last year, which ranked as one of the longest, second only to Ellen Van Loy. A poor-timed illness cut deep into Cant’s performance around Holy Week, but she bounced back just in time for Worlds, and was the only athlete to stay with Ferrand-Prévot by the race’s end, losing by half a bike length. Van Loy, third-ranked in the world, will join her to represent the best of the Belgians.
Eva Lechner’s 12th place ranking in the world is seriously misleading, and you may want to see if the Vegas Odds have snubbed her. Lechner knows how to peak for late in the season, so it will be interesting to see how she responds to an early World Cup. A first-lap holeshot took her out of the running at Tabor, but she came back to post some of the fastest laps of the day. Not too unlike clay mud, the Velcro grass of Vegas is for power riders, which has Lechner’s name all over it.
Lucie Chainel-Lefevre and Caroline Mani will represent France in Ferrand-Prévot’s absence, and both riders know what it is like to contend at the front of World Cup events. Like the American-based Mani, Katerina Nash knows the domestic scene of the United States, and the Czech rider dueled her way to the podium last year at CrossVegas, which she considers one of her favorite races. Nash shouldn’t be off anyone’s list for favorites to win.
Americans will be wondering if any of the 17 of the host riders can fight for an early World Cup win. At the very least, the Americans will be seeking to avenge a North American loss at Tabor, where Canadian rider Mical Dyck was able to soar to 12th from a back row call-up, beating all the Americans in the process. Meredith Miller should likely have more lofty goals than a top ten however. She has a good history with the course, and beat Nash and Katie Compton here in 2014. Can she repeat with a deeper field? Both her and Kaitlin Antonneau have been on form, proving their legs with wins at Rochester. Amanda Miller followed their performance with a double victory at Nittany Lion Cross.
The real question could be which Katie Compton arrives for CrossVegas. She struggled with asthma at the end of last season, but that didn’t stop her from a dominating performance at the 2015 National Championship. With her fifth-place ranking in the World, Compton will get a front row call up, and most American eyes will be on her.
Rachel Llyod will be looking to bounce back from a mechanical mishap at Rochester, and will likely find herself near the front of the race. Arley Kemmerer, however, might not be so fortunate. The queen of holeshots nearly made the podium at Nittany on Sunday, but had pushed herself hard enough to give herself a back spasm after the finish. Her ability to start is still in question.
Helen Wyman, another European who has made a home for herself in American cyclocross, will represent the three crosses of the United Kingdom on Wednesday, and will carry a larger weight for her country as Nikki Harris will not be joining her. Other British competitors include Gabby Durrin, Hannah Payton and Amira Mellor
Canadian National Champion, Catherine Pendrel, and Maghallie Rochette will also be flying the maple leaf alongside Dyck, and all three will likely look to capitalize on the emerging strength that is Canadian cyclocross.
Will the Young Guns Continue into the 2015-16 Season?
By the time Tabor rolled around earlier this year, cyclocrossers not named Mathieu van der Poel or Wout van Aert were practically an afterthought in terms of possible winners, and the two young guns proved the assumption correct with a big one-two finish ahead of Lars van der Haar.
At 2015 CrossVegas, while the entry lists revealed that the Dutch-Belgium rivalry would continue, we have it under advisement from the Telenet-Fidea riders that Van der Poel won’t be wearing his rainbow colors to the Men’s Elite Race. Looking at the podium of the World Championship from last year as a reference, Van der Haar is the most capable of providing Van Aert a challenge, and he has experience in Nevada, taking a second-place finish last year during his first time visiting Las Vegas. The 2013-14 overall World Cup winner will want to create a big statement early against his slightly younger peers.
Van Aert was visibly furious at his second-place finish at Tabor, and nothing will calm the fiery Belgian except a win a CrossVegas. With the course punishing early attacks, will Van Aert be able to work the other riders in to his favor, or does he plan on attacking early? Perhaps we have to wait and see.
Although the United States will be hosting, the Belgians will be bringing along a full 15 riders, only one less than the Americans, due to the automatic eligibility of top 50 riders. Without a single win at Tabor in any field, the country has likely been in mourning since February, and there must be tremendous pressure on the boys in blue to perform well early in the cyclocross season on the road to reclaim their crown. 2014-15 overall World Cup-winner Kevin Pauwels will look to defend his title. Tom Meeusen and Laurens Sweeck come in ranked fifth and sixth in the world, and it should be interesting to see how both have responded to a full offseason of contending with the Ozone doping scandal.
However, of all Belgians coming to Vegas, none have more questions than Sven Nys, who will be getting a second row call-up. Nys will be entering his last season as a pro cyclocrosser, and spent his last season struggling after a win at 2014 CrossVegas. Many wonder if he has found his rhythm once again now that the pressure of his divorce is a full season behind him.
The Dutch will also be sending two riders to the second row behind Van der Haar. Corne van Kessel, ranked 12th in the world, and Mathieu’s older brother, David, will both be looking to ensure the Belgian blue is properly offset with a Dutch orange at the front of the race. David van der Poel will also be wanting to bounce back after a flat took him fully out of the World Championships in Tabor.
Philipp Walsleben of Germany will be one of the few cyclocrossers in the front row that won’t be hailing from Belgium of the Netherlands. From the start of last season through Holy Week, the German furiously attacked early in the races, and loves to keep the pace high, which ended being a tactic that Van der Poel sought to capitalize on. Walsleben is a big threat, although lost some of his consistency after the New Year, and will likely be looking to regain his place as a top ten finisher.
Because Van der Poel will not be making an entrance, that means American Jeremy Powers will be the last to pick a spot on the first row, and will lead the charge for the American contingent. From looking at the entry lists, the Vegas field is just as deep as most European World Cups, and the American Men might be in for an uphill battle ahead. Still, Powers showed his worth with a top-ten overall finish in the last World Cup, and like Valkenberg, CrossVegas is a course that suits the American National Champion.
As for the other Americans, Jonathan Page doesn’t excel either in the heat or the early season, although he is usually ready to surprise his doubters, and with his summer move to Utah, CrossVegas is practically his hometown race. In a preseason interview with Cyclocross Magazine, Stephen Hyde reported that he is feeling good ahead of the American World Cup, and is excited to be able to race the course for the first time. For our money, the racer that might be the closest to Powers all race will be Danny Summerhill, who is coming off a well-conditioned road season and was the only American cyclocrosser able to outgun Powers in a C1 race last year. A top-15 is certainly not a far reach for Summerhill.
Jamey Driscoll, Curtis White and Zach McDonald will also be in the hunt dictating the pace as the other Americans ranked in the top fifty in the world.
Canada will not be bringing their National Champion in Mike Garrigan. However, both Michael van den Ham and Geoff Kabush will be leading a deep pack of Canadians at Las Vegas.
Cyclocross Magazine will be providing live coverage of the race via tweets @cyclocross, with photos, interviews and race reports coming soon.