The 2011-2012 Patrick UCI Cyclo-cross World Cup series kicks off on Sunday with races for the Elite Men and the Women's category in Plzen, Czech Republic. Last yearâ€™s overall winners Niels Albert (BKCP-Powerplus) and Sanne van Paassen (Netherlands) will be looking to defend their overall titles in the series, which this year sees eight rounds running from this weekend to the end of January 2012.
Czech rider and 2010 World Champion Zdenek Stybar (Quickstep Cycling Team) is pegged as a favourite on his home turf, with a strong Belgian team expected to give him stiff competition. In particular Belge rider Sven Nys (Landbouwkrediet) and compatriot Niels Albert are a force to be reckoned with. Also in top form is Jeremy Powers (Jelly Belly Cycling) who leads the US-team. In contrast to the European riders they have had a number of races this season and have already found their Cyclo-cross legs. French riders Francis Mourey (FDJ) and Steve Chainel (FDJ) feature as outsiders for the win on Sunday afternoon.
While Van Paassen won her sole World Cup round last year in Plzen she'll have to be at her best on Sunday to repeat that performance. The Dutch rider will be up against a strong field this year, starting with Katherine Compton (Rabobank-Giant Offroad). The US-champion skipped two World Cup rounds last year, Plzen and Pont-ChÃ¢teau, but won all the other World Cup rounds, missing out on the overall World Cup win by only 10 points. Czech rider Katerina Nash (Luna Pro Team) will give the home crowd a possible winner to cheer for. Nash showed in the USA recently that she's capable of beating Compton. British champion Helen Wyman (Kona) is also in the running for a win. Finally, one of the strongest contenders will be 37 year-old Hanka Kupfernagel (Germany).
Seven more rounds follow on from Plzen. The cyclo-cross peloton stays in the Czech Republic next week moving to Tabor on October 23. On that occasion the youth categories commence their World Cup. November sees the series stop off in Koksijde, Belgium just a few weeks ahead of the UCI Cyclo-cross World Championships which will take place there in January. Igorre, Spain, hosts the World Cup round at the beginning of December before the series returns to Belgium stopping initially in Namur, then Heusden-Zolder. The series wraps up in January with two events firstly LiÃ©vin, France concluding, true to tradition, in Hoogerheide, Netherlands.
Photo: 2010-2011 World Cup in Plzen - Start of the race