No doubt you agree that the odds makers would have a difficult picking the winners of Clif Bar CrossVegas, the kickoff event of the Telenet UCI World Cup Cyclo-Cross series that takes place Wednesday evening September 21 under the lights of Las Vegas.
What makes the pick so difficult? The strong field of international racers, the unpredictable nature of the early season and the unusual element of surprise that the desert climate plays on racers are all factors.
In a city that’s built on gambling, it’s a tough choice to pick a winner. But for the fan, the odds are in their favor for a great viewing experience.
Wout Van Aert (Belgium) – Van Aert had a record-setting 2015 season. Winner of CrossVegas 2015. Reigning World Champion. Winner of the 2015 overall World Cup title. Now, with a “W” in his record last Sunday on the legendary Geraardsbergen course, expect another fast start to the season for the young Crelan – Vastgoed Service team rider.
Michael Vanthourenhout (Belgium) – The young Flandrien was the early animator of CrossVegas 2015 and held on to take the 3rd spot on the podium after Van Aert and the now retired legend Sven Nys. Vanthourenhout combines skill, youth and a blazing start so watch for his Marlux-Napoleon Games uniform among the leaders.
Jeremy Powers (USA) – Winner of CrossVegas in 2012 and current US national champion, Powers was within striking range with a 6th place finish last year. He’s already starting the US schedule with a win, and if revenge and the desire to start the new season with a “pow,” count for anything, keep an eye on J-Pow.
Tom Meeusen (Belgium) – The Belgian strongman, who has uncorked some great rides over the years, looks to prove himself to his new team owner, Sven Nys. The Telenet-Fidea team has taken the nickname “Lions” in their title and Tom is eager to show who’s the king of the jungle.
Laurens Sweeck (Belgium) – Quickly gaining ground, this young ERA Real Estate – Murprotec team rider has proved he can be an animator of any race. His 7th place finish at the World Championships in 2015 was no fluke as he showed consistency season long.
Rob Peeters (Belgium) – Rob missed CrossVegas in 2015 with an illness, but the Crelan- Vastgoed Service ride is back, with a victory in the Chinese season opener race in late August in his account. No stranger to the grassy parcours of CrossVegas, Peeters has raced here two times before with a 3rd place in the 2011 edition.
Jen Adams (Belgium) – With a 3rd place finish in in China two weeks ago, the Crelan -Vastgoed Service rider shows his top 10 finish at CrossVegas 2015 was no fluke. He can start the season strong with a solid place in Las Vegas.
Kevin Pauwels (Belgium) – A former winner of the overall world cup title, the Marlux-Napoleon Games can be expected among the leaders in any race. His 5th place finish in 2015, and podium finish at the 2015 World Championships, shows he is never far from the action.
Thijs Van Amerongen (Netherlands) –Van Amerongen is part of the powerhouse Telenet-Fidea Team that enjoys starting the year in Las Vegas and always has good team results. Expect that streak to continue with this Dutch strong man.
Curtis White (USA) – A top 20 finish in CrossVegas 2015 and a strong road season behind him, expect a power performance from the Cannondale- Cyclocross World rider.
In any Tip Sheet, it’s worth mentioning a few who will not make the start line this year. 2013 & 2014 winner Sven Nys is now retired but still present on the sideline with his Telenet-Fidea Lions Team. Also missing is Lars Van der Haar, another previous winner of CrossVegas, who is recovering from tendonitis and resting for the long winter season ahead. Two-time CrossVegas winner, Ryan Trebon has hung up the bike over the summer in favor of retirement. Perhaps most prominent among non-starters is Michael Van der Poel, who is recovering from double knee surgery over the summer. While these strongmen will be absent, don’t expect a let up in the pace. World Cup series points are at stake and the prestige of winning the biggest cross race outside of Europe is a big motivator.
Katerina Nash (Czech Republic) – Reigning champion of CrossVegas and a 3-time winner, there has perhaps never been a CrossVegas winner who made the grueling race look as easy as a pleasant ride in the park. The only time Nash has not stood on the CrossVegas podium in the event’s ten-year history was the single year she did not start. Looking for consistency, start with Nash.
Eva Lechner (Italy) – Now with the Luna team, Lechner took the 2nd place spot in the 2015 World Cup CrossVegas. The heavy course with the Velcro-like grass did nothing to slow down Lechner, so expect her to return with a vengeance.
Sanne Cant (Belgium) – Cant rounded out the CrossVegas podium in 2016 with her 3rd place finish. She charged hard through the 2016 season taking the European Champion title and the overall World Cup series title, but fell short at the World Championships with a third place finish. Her stated goal this season is to capture the one jersey that has eluded her – the rainbow jersey of World Champion. Her sprint finish at the Geraardsbergen race this past week shows her form is good.
Catherine Pendrel (Canada) – A relative newcomer to cross who shared the 2013 CrossVegas podium with her Luna teammate Nash. Coming from a season of mountain bike racing, you can expect a lot of power from her diminutive build.
Caroline Mani (France) – The French rider with the American Clement-Raleigh squad finished her 2016 season with a well-earned Silver medal at the World Championships. Never count out Mani in a tough race like CrossVegas.
Katie Compton (USA) – Winner of the World Cup title two times, the top gun of America’s cross scene returns to CrossVegas. Expect her to return to her usual dominating style, especially if she gains a length or two on the others.
Katie Antonneau (USA) – Often called “the other Katie,” this one is from new crop of US cross racers. Fresh off a win in the season-opening race in Rochester NY, expect this young blood from the talent rich Cannondale – Cyclocross World Team to make her mark.
Maghalie Rochette (Canada) – Another Luna pro who has come on strong in a relatively short cross career who comes straight from a long mountain bike season. If her form carries through to CrossVegas, you can expect a strong finish.
Georgia Gould (USA) – No stranger to CrossVegas or the CrossVegas podium, you can expect both fireworks and a knack for making every race a fun event from Georgia.
Elle Anderson (USA) – The latest American rider to make the commitment to a European-based season, CrossVegas is one of her last races before departing for Europe. That means going out with a bang to score valuable points and prove to the Europeans she’s one to watch.
Handicapping the women’s field has to include making a note of the “No-Shows” like World Champion Thalita De Jong of the Netherlands, who has a road season to complete before joining the cyclocross ranks. Also absent is Great Britain’s Helen Wyman, who is resting before kicking off her campaign. These strong riders will be missed but don’t expect the action to be any calmer once the start light goes green.
Photo – Courtesy CrossVegas.com