After several chilly races in Belgium the cyclo-cross circus heads south for the penultimate round of the UCI Cyclo-cross World Cup in Rome, Italy on Sunday. After riding bikes on a car racing circuit during the previous World Cup round in Zolder, Belgium, the riders will now be racing on the Capannelle hippodrome, southeast of Roma.
Dutch champion Lars van der Haar (Rabobank Development Team) and American champion Katherine Compton (Trek Cyclocross Collective) are both comfortably leading the World Cup after five rounds. They will be keen on consolidating that position during the so-called GP Memorial Romano Scotti. Last year racing in sunny Rome had been blistering fast. This time around there’ll be temperatures slightly above 10° Celsius but also a lot of rain and a gentle breeze from the south. It’ll make for completely different race circumstances.
Last year Kevin Pauwels (Sunweb-Napoleon Games) was victorious in the Elite Men category ahead of then World Cup leader Niels Albert (BKCP-Powerplus). Pauwels won but the most passionate ride surely came from local hero Marco Aurelio Fontana (Cannondale Factory Racing). The Italian champion fought himself from a distant back-row start position to the podium, partly helped by the late mechanical from Klaas Vantornout (Sunweb-Napoleon Games). The latter has been struggling with illness and more bad luck lately and the Belgian champion announced on Friday that he skips the Italian World Cup round. Bart Wellens (Telenet-Fidea) takes over his spot in the Belgian selection.
Top favorite for the win on Sunday will be world champion Sven Nys (Crelan-AA Drink). Nys has been showing splendid form this season but he hasn’t been able to turn that into a single World Cup victory just yet. In the overall standings the Belgian is a distant ninth and out of contention for the overall victory. Maybe Nys’ much-discussed new bike will provide enough motivation to grab his fiftieth World Cup victory. Since Nys is out of contention in the overall standings, World Cup leader Van der Haar will be keeping an eye on his closest rival, the German champion Philipp Walsleben (BKCP-Powerplus).
In the Women category the overall victory of Katherine Compton seems to be in the pocket. The American champion leads the competition by 65 points over British champion Nikki Harris (Young Telenet-Fidea) which is more than the points at stake in Rome on Sunday afternoon. Italian champion Eva Lechner (Centro Sportivo Esercito) will be the favorite of the home crowd. The mountain bike specialist showed with a fourth place at the World Cup round in Namur that she’s got the potential to fight for the podium. The two final World Cup rounds are also rehearsals for the world championships race in Hoogerheide in February.
For now those seem to come down on a duel between Compton and world champion Marianne Vos (Rabo Liv Women Cycling Team). Vos took a break from racing and only restarted her cyclo-cross campaign in Namur two weeks ago. Compton had the upper hand in recent races but Rome will be a good indicator of Vos’ form curve.