by Dan Seaton

October 4, 2009 – Treviso, Italy. The 2009-10 Cyclocross World Cup season kicked off with a show of force by a single rider in both women’s and men’s races. In the first case, American Katie Compton, riding her first European race in her new stars and stripes Planet Bike kit, left the competition behind after just one lap and never looked back, finishing some 30 seconds ahead of second place finisher Daphny Van Den Brand. In the second, World Champion Niels Albert stormed to huge victory, launching an unanswered attack during the second lap and riding easily away from the competition. At one point Albert extended his lead to almost a minute before slowing to celebrate on the finishing straight at the end of the race.

Compton Cruises

In warm and very dry conditions, speed was the name of the game on a dusty course in Treviso. With both former World Champion Hanka Kupfernagel and current champ Marianne Vos choosing not to take the start today, the race figured to be a showdown between Compton and Dutch star Daphny Van Den Brand. And, at first, that’s how the race developed, with the two distancing themselves from a large chase group as they finished the first lap. But the pace was too much for the Dutch rider; Compton hit the gas just moments later and never looked back.

Compton, who has struggled in the past with leg problems and asthma looked completely relaxed at the front of the race, handling the fairly technical course with ease and stretching her lead with every subsequent lap. Riding a nearly flawless race, only a lap after she broke free it seemed clear that only a major mechanical problem could derail her chances for victory.

Meanwhile, French rider Christel Ferrier-Bruneau rode out of the chase group to connect with Van Den Brand. The two riders traded attacks for the rest of the race, and, for a while it looked like Van Den Brand would not be able to match Ferrier-Bruneau. But she fired back as the pair approached the finish, and Van Den Brand grabbed a second place finish, some 28 seconds behind Compton, who finished the five lap race in 37:37, and six seconds ahead of Ferrier-Bruneau. Sanne Van Paassen and Pavla Havlikova rounded out the top five.

After the race, Compton said that she found the balmy conditions difficult, but was happy with her effort and her early season form. Compton now returns to the US for the Cincinnati Cyclocross Festival next weekend.

Albert Remains Untouchable, Undefeated This Season

In the men’s race, Niels Albert stretched his win streak to four with a truly dominating performance reminiscent of his solo victory in the 2008 under-23 World Championship race, held on the same course in Treviso. After Albert surged on a steep climb early in the second lap, only Belgian champion Sven Nys could hold his wheel. But Nys quickly faded, and Albert rode away from a large crowd of chasers, who seemed content to ride tempo and wait for Albert to crack or make an error.

As Nys faded further and further back, having what he said was his worst day in five years, Albert stomped on the pedals and, by the end of the lap had gained a gap of some 20 seconds over the chasers, none of whom seemed to be able to find the kind of speed that Albert had today.

Albert blasted around turns that others bobbled and was one of the few racers who managed to ride the very steep, loose run up on the front-side of the course. While the racers in the chase faded deeper into the cloud of dust that enveloped their group as they made the rounds of the bone-dry course, he blazed a trail forward, riding completely out of sight of any would-be pursuers.

Finally, with only a few laps to go, after Albert’s gap reached nearly one minute, French rider Steve Chainel launched the first serious effort to close the gap. Eventually four riders distanced themselves from the crowd in the chase: Chainel, Belgian Klaas Vantornout, Czech Zdenek Stybar, and Frenchman Francis Mourey. The group of four traded attacks until Vantornout and Stybar pulled free, and Chainel, tired from his early efforts, slid back into the pack eventually crossing the line in ninth.

While Albert slowed to wave to the crowd and celebrate his victory, Stybar launched one more hard effort, which reduced the gap a bit to 42 seconds, but, more importantly, shook Vantornout loose. Stybar finished second, the same position he secured at the 2008 Treviso Worlds, and leading the Belgian rider home by some 10 seconds. Martin Bina managed to slide into fourth, with Mourey rounding out the top five.

Sven Nys, who has dominated the World Cup circuit, eventually abandoned, telling reporters that he simply didn’t have the legs to stay in the race today, dealing a serious blow to his chanced to take the overall series title. Nys’ form has looked suspect in more than one race this season as he returns to ‘cross after racing mountain bikes during the summer.

“I don’t know what was wrong — this was my first bad day in five years,” Nys told reporters. “I started reasonably well, but then things went from bad to worse. I had no power in my legs.”

“Above all, I have to stay calm,” said Nys. “I have enough experience not to panic, but I hope to be back to my old level soon.”

Albert, meanwhile, reveled in his fourth straight win of the season. “I think I took a major step forward this summer with more riding on the road,” he said, explaining the reason for his excellent early season form.

“The track here in Treviso suits me; it’s dry and fast. When I won the U23 championships over here it was dry and fast too, just like it was when I won my first World Cup in Tabor last year,” said Albert. “I’ve raced four times this ‘cross season and won four times. So my condition is clearly good.”

Next week racing comes back to Belgium with the Cyclocross de Namur Citadelle on October 10 and the first Superprestige race in Ruddervoorde on October 11.  For the Elite men World Cup racing resumes the following week in Plzen in the Czech Republic.