Belgian Niels Albert (BKCP-Powerplus) was very clear after winning the GVA Azencross in December, “I want the jersey more than the World Championship.” He was speaking about the driekleur jersey, the black, yellow and red jersey of the Belgian National Champion.
And he did, the 24-year old won his first Belgian Cyclocross Championship in January.
It’s not that Albert doesn’t want to win the Worlds, it’s just that he wanted the Belgian National title more this year.
Even though his name is mentioned as one of the three favorites – with fellow Belgian Sven Nys (Landbouwkrediet) and defending World Champion Zdenek Stybar (Telenet-Fidea) of the Czech Republic – to win the rainbow stripes on Sunday, Albert does not feel stressed.
“For me for the Worlds, I am very relaxed because I have the World Cup jersey, I have the Belgium jersey so I can go a little bit unstressed to the Worlds and we will see what happens there.” Albert said last Sunday after winning the Hoogerheide World Cup.
“On the Worlds, I don’t have to make my season good, my season for the moment is very nice I think and I’m very happy with the National Championship jersey. For me what happens at Worlds it’s always good.”
His season is very nice indeed even though it started off badly. A knee injury sustained during training in September followed by a stomach virus forced him to delay the start of his racing to mid-October. He finally scored back to back wins at two World Cups, the first in Koksijde at the end of November and then at Igorre. Albert was back.
He continued to do well and racked up a total of 7 UCI wins and the World Cup overall. He now stands atop the UCI Cross standings. And not only is he having a good season, but Albert has already won the World Championship in his first year as an Elite rider in 2009. No stress.
Last year, Albert came out swinging, winning early on but then it all went sour in January when he broke a rib after hitting a drunken spectator at the Belgian nationals. He started Worlds but was not in top form and did not finish the race.
With no stress and already a season that can be called a success, will Albert win the World title again?
Well if he does, that means that he will not be able to wear the Belgian jersey, a jersey that he was able to wear only at one race. Has he thought of that?
He smiled. “Yeah but I think when I have the Worlds jersey, I start one race in the National jersey but you don’t have to say to the UCI. And then when you’re at the start, and it’s two minutes [to go], you pull over [remove jacket] and you have some 2,000 Euros maybe in penalty but for the National jersey I will talk to my sponsor and he will pay it I think.” Another laugh.
Finally, I asked his predictions for the race on Sunday. His answer was surprising: an outsider with a tip to French Champion Francis Mourey (FDJ), a name that others have mentioned as a contender.
“I think they talked about three persons, Styby, Sven and me but I think every year we say Mourey or an outsider wins the race and I think this year, some guy, some outsider wins. Maybe this year it’s the year for Mourey but we will see what happens but I think this year it will be some outsider.”
But if Albert does win, don’t be surprised to see him in the Belgian jersey at one race, fines be damned.