Albert injured, Boom to race 'cross! © Joe Sales

by Dan Seaton

While European cyclocross slowly ramped up this week, two former world champions announced late starts to the season, albeit for very different reasons. Niels Albert, who stormed undefeated through the first month of the 2009-10 season, found himself sidelined with illness and injury, while Lars Boom announced a return to the sport.

Albert, who was scheduled to launch his 2010-11 campaign at Erpe-Mere last weekend, told Sporza that he would likely not race before the first World Cup in Aigle, Switzerland. “I twisted my knee while training last Wednesday,” said the 24 year-old Belgian. “On Thursday it was stiff, then Friday I was sick and couldn’t train for three days. [On Monday] when I got on my bike, I couldn’t even get my shorts over my knee. This morning I went to the hospital and they found I have a tear in the bond between my patella and the muscle.”

Albert will spend at least two weeks off the bike and another two weeks working himself back to full health, meaning he will miss this weekend’s race in Neerpelt, as well as the start of the GVA Trofee series in Namur next week and the first Superprestige race in Ruddervoorde.

“My training for the season is ruined,” he said. “The standings in the regular series are gone.”

Albert, who called the development a disaster not just for himself but for the sport, said he hopes to return to action in Aigle on October 17, but could not say for sure how long his recovery will take.

Albert, who battled for cyclocross supremacy with perennial favorite Sven Nys and the popular current World Champion Zdenek Stybar, frequently found himself playing the villain in the eyes of Belgian fans last season. However, he may find himself more in favor this year, as Dutchman Lars Boom announced that he will make a minor return to the sport this fall.

Boom, who all but walked away from cyclocross after failing to defend his title at the 2009 World Championships, has met success on the road bike for the past two years. Though he successfully defended his Dutch National Title last winter, he only appeared in the national championships and one other race.

But Boom announced this week that ’cross fans could expect to see more of him this year. “I will try to race a little better this winter,” said Boom. “If I race more ’crosses, I get into a better rhythm. I still have a challenge then and some better training.”

The Rabobank rider told reporters he would aim for a half-dozen races starting in December. “I’ll pick six nice ’crosses,” he said. “Which races it will be, I still have to look at. I’ll pick some that are good for me and are really nice. True ’crosses.”

Boom said he would likely attempt to defend his national title, but that he would again focus on road and bypass the World Championships at the end of January.

With Albert likely to be healthy by December, Boom back on the scene, rising Belgian star Tom Meeusen making his debut as an Elite rider, and Bart Wellens racing a full schedule this year, last year’s three-way battles between Albert, Nys and Stybar could explode into some epic, six-person clashes. As the season gets rolling, fans of European cyclocross have plenty to look forward to.

Stay with Cyclocross Magazine for more, including full coverage of Sunday’s Elite Men’s and Women’s races from Neerpelt, Belgium.