By Jake Sisson

The snows and ice of Tabor, Czech Republic are sure to bring out the best of every category that is set to contest the UCI World Championships this coming weekend. The first to hit the course will be the Elite Juniors and the Espoir men, who kick off on Saturday, while we will have to wait for the Elite Men and Women until Sunday. If you haven’t been following the state of European Cyclocross over the past season, we’re here to tell you who the favorites are, who the dark horses are, and who to cheer for if you’re from North America.  You can find complete coverage, photos, reports and replay our live coverage from Saturday and Sunday in our 2010 Tabor Cyclocross Worlds Coverage Center.

Elite Juniors: Saturday, 5 AM EST

The North Americans:

Jeff Bahnson (Thule/Van Dessel), Cody Kaiser (Cal Giant Berry Farms / Specialized), Matt Spinks (Team Plan C), Skyler Trujillo (Team Black Sheep), Chris Wallace (KCCX/Verge) – United States of America

Kris Dahl (CMC/Bow Cycle), Kiernan Orange (Ride with Rendall), Conor O’Brien (Specialized-EMD Serono), Mackenzie Carson (Juventus) – Canada

The United States are represented by a strong crop of riders, led by current National Champion, Cody Kaiser. Kaiser’s chances for a good ride are high, despite not having proved himself in Europe earlier this season. Kaiser was the season’s US Gran Prix of Cyclocross winner, a title he defended against a strong fight from Yannick Eckmann. Eckmann attended this season’s Euro Cross Camp, despite not being eligible for the US National Team, and had some very strong results. If Kaiser could mix it up with Eckmann over the course of the entire season, it stands to reason that he’ll have a good shot at doing well on Saturday in Tabor. Working against him, however, is that he’s a California native, which doesn’t prepare him well for the arctic conditions that racers and spectators are expecting.

The rest of the US team is just as strong, and will have an equally strong go from Jeff Bahnson – second at the National Championships in December – and Skyler Trujillo – third at the National Championships. Both have had strong European campaigns with the Euro Cross Camp, picking up a few results inside the top fifteen at some major races. This will be Bahnson’s first shot at the World Championships, and he’ll be eager to pick up some experience for next season. Matt Spinks and Chris Wallace each had strong domestic seasons and rode with the Euro Cross Camp in the weeks after the National Championships.

Canada will be represented by Kris Dahl  – the reigning Canadian Junior National Champion – Kiernan Orange, Conor O’Brien and Mackenzie Carson.

The World Cup Winner:

All eyes will be on Dutchman David Van der Poel, after he snuck his way into the World Cup leader’s jersey on the final day of competition. Van der Poel has been the dominant force in the Junior ranks this year, winning a bunch of major races, and cementing his status as top favorite for the World Championship crown. Where Juniors can be unpredictable on the big stages, Van der Poel has been clinical, winning everything from local races to World Cups. Van der Poel is the current Dutch National Champion and finished 18th in last year’s World Championships

The French Connection:

Emilien Viennet picked up a major win this year by winning the European Championships in November but was upset at the more recent French National Championships. He has returned to form of late, taking second at the World Cup stop in Roubaix, and despite only finishing 15th at the most recent World Cup, his track record indicates that he will be a man to watch over the weekend.

The Powerful Dutch:

If David Van der Poel cannot get the job done, the Dutch have a number of riders waiting in the wings to take over from him. Michiel Van der Heijden finished second at the Dutch National Championships and has a number of strong finishes to his credit already this year. His form has dipped a bit this year as compared to last year, but he will be keen on a good performance on Saturday. Danny Van Poppel finished up his day in Hoogerheide, the Netherlands at the last World Cup stop in second place, and has been picking up pace the entire season. The Dutch also have World Cup runner up Gert-Jan Bosman, Mike Teunissen and Emiel Dolfsma in the stable.

The Belgians:

While the Belgians are not dominating the Junior men’s category in the same way they dominate the rest of the men’s categories, if things go right, Laurens Sweeck and his twin  brother Diether, Jens Vandekinderen, Gianni Vermeersch, Jens Adams and Xandro Meurisse will all have a legitimate shot at the title. The Belgians have strength in their large numbers of good riders, but they do not have the couple of great riders that the Dutch Posses. It was the final member of the Worlds Team – Tim Merlier – who won the national title, ahead of Laurens Sweeck and Bart De Vocht – who didn’t even get a call up.

The Hometown Heroes:

The Czechs have a strong trio of riders who will use the support of the Czech crowd to contest for victory in Tabor on Saturday. Tomas Paprstka, Radek Polnicky and Matej Lasak have all had strong rides at one point or another this season, and will have the afterburners on in order to defend their home turf. The Czechs will know the course in Tabor better than anyone, and they cannot be counted out for victory.

The Prediction:

David Van der Poel takes the win, with Viennet and a Czech rider hot on his heels. Cody Kaiser ranks as the top American.

Espoirs: Saturday, 8 AM EST

The North Americans:

Dave Hackworthy (Team Plan C), Luke Keough (Champion System), Zach McDonald (Stevens), Danny Summerhill (Felt – Holowesko Partners – Garmin), Jerome Townsend (’s Garage/IF) – United States

Jared Stafford (Bikesports Racing) – Canada

Danny Summerhill has the class, the power and the experience to mix it up for what would be his second career World Championships medal. You may remember Summerhill crafting one of the masterstrokes of American cyclocross when he won a silver medal at the 2007 World Championships as a Junior. Summerhill has had a great season, routinely mixing it up at the front of elite races, with numerous major race top tens to his credit. Summerhill got a late start to his season, waiting until November to attend his first race, so freshness may well be on his side. Summerhill is the US National Champion too, and will be eager to do his country proud.

Zach McDonald was disappointed to have suffered a mechanical issue very early in the US National Championships in December, when many tipped last year’s Junior National Champion to give Summerhill a stiff challenge for the Espoirs title this year. As it was, McDonald dropped out of the Espoirs race and later won the Collegiate Division 1 National Championship. McDonald and Summerhill have been racing at around the same level in Europe since they’ve been over as part of the Euro Cross Camp. It was McDonald who has the best recent result in Europe, besting Summerhill by one place at the Hoogerhiede World Cup, finishing the day in 29th.

Dave Hackworthy was this season’s USGP overall winner, and had a very consistent season. Hackworthy should have a good ride and will look to get some good World Championship experience. Luke Keough and Jerome Townsend parlayed good seasons in New England into a World Championships position, and each will also look for good rides. Keough had a strong race at last year’s Junior World Championships despite a poor starting position. Representing Canada is Jared Stafford, who was fourth at this year’s National Championships.

The Next Sven Nys:

Tom Meeusen is being hailed across the globe as the Next Sven Nys, and he has looked the part this season both in Espoirs races and in Elite Races. Meeusen bagged a Belgian National Championships bronze medal in his first crack at the elite race. Meeusen had too many victories to count this season, in everything from the World Cup to the Superprestige to the GvA Trofee series. Meeusen won the Espoirs World Cup handily, and has been easily the fastest Espoir on many occasions this year. Meeusen did, however, show a chink in his armor in Hoogerheide, where he finished the day in second.

The Brothers Poland:

The Szczepaniak brothers – Kacper the younger and Pawel the older – have been constant threats to Meeusen’s throne of fastest Espoir rider in Europe. It has mainly been Pawel having the better rides, but it was Kacper who took the win at the last World Cup stop in Hoogerheide. Pawel managed a bronze medal in last year’s Espoir World Championships, and Kacper is the Polish National Espoir Champion, a title he earned while Pawel was contesting the Polish Elite Cyclocross Championships, where he finished second. As if two Polish threats were not enough, the Szcczepaniaks will have the added assistance of Marek Konwa, who is a constant top ten rider at the World Cup level.

The Belgian Armada:

Meeusen is not the only rider that the Belgians have to count on in the Espoir field. The Belgians bring riders like National Champion Jim Aernouts, former National Champion Vincent Baestaens, Jan Denuwelaere, Kenneth Van Compernolle and Joeri Adams. All six riders have had excellent seasons thus far, and just like their Elite counterparts, could work together to ensure that a Belgian controls the top step of the podium.Van Comperonlle was the next best rated Belgian in Hoogerheide after Meeusen, finishing up the day in fourth.

The Man From Slovakia:

Despite being the Elite Men’s National Champion of Slovakia, Robert Gavenda is still an Espoir and will give Meeusen a run at the World Championships. Gavenda was unstoppable at the beginning of the season, winning races left and right, and spending a good amount of time in the World Cup leader’s jersey. Gavenda’s form tailed off for a period during the middle of the season, and we are only now seeing the young Slovak return to his former self. Gavenda could only muster a 16th place in Hoogerheide, but the past shows that Gavenda could well be a title threat.

The Boys of the Netherlands:

The Dutch are not as strong at the Espoir level as they are at the Junior level, but they are a collective threat nonetheless. The Dutch are led by Corne Van Kessel, who is the reigning Dutch National Champion and was the World Championips silver medalist last season in the Junior division. Tijmen Eising is also on board for the Dutch and, despite finishing only fourth at this year’s Dutch National Championships, is no stranger to World Championship success, having won the Junior division last season. Micki Van Empel will be eager to please his new employers – Telenet – Fidea (which he will join next season) – with a strong ride in Tabor. Lars Van der Haar and Boy Van Poppel round out a very deep Dutch squad.

The French Resistance:

The French Espoirs may have been in turmoil this season after losing their out-and-out best rider – Aurelien Duval – to a doping suspension, but they have rebounded quite successfully. Despite the wins being scarce, former French champion Arnaud Jouffroy and current French champion Matthieu Boulo will have little trouble animating the front of the race for the Espoirs World Championship.

The Home Field Advantage:

The Czechs do not have a true title threat among their Espoir ranks, but will bring along Lubomir Petrus, Jiri Polnicky, David Menger, Jan Nesvadba and Karel Hnik. Petrus is the reigning Czech Espoirs champion, having bested Karel Hnik at this year’s event. Petrus was also the highest ranked Czech at the final World Cup stop in Hoogerheide, finishing 13th.

The Prediction:

Tom Meeusen by a wide margin ahead of Pawel Szczepaniak and a couple of Belgians. Danny Summerhill will be the highest ranked American.