Catching up with 'cross ahead of worlds [ESPN]

Sven Nys, Niels AlbertDavid Stockman/AFP/Getty ImagesIs Belgian Niels Albert, right, on the verge of closing the gap on dominant countryman Sven Nys?
BRUSSELS -- The UCI elite cyclocross world championships open one month from today in Louisville, Ky., and with two weeks of non-stop Kerstperiode racing in the books, the road to the Ohio River is becoming clearer every day. 

Nys stumbles, Albert, Pauwels step up

Two weeks and eight races ago -- though it might seem like much longer for anyone who has watched them all -- Sven Nys (Crelan-Euphony) was all but invincible. The Belgian champion had won eight of 12 races and had not finished off the podium since October. He extended his run of good results in the past two weeks during Belgium's ultra-intense Kerstperiode with wins in C2 races in Sint-Niklaas and Bredene, a World Cup win in Zolder and a second-place finish in Namur.

But even Nys couldn't maintain his perfect record through the last two grueling weeks. He finished fifth in Essen on Dec. 22, seventh in Diegem on Sunday, and abandoned his race in Loenhout shortly after leaving the course mid-race toadmonish a spectator for repeatedly splashing beer on him as he rode past. Nys spent Tuesday, the day of his namesake race, in bed with an apparently serious case of bronchitis. Before missing the 14th edition of the GP Sven Nys, he had racked up 11 wins in Baal, his hometown, and had never finished worse than second. But the massively popular Nys is apparently human once again. 

[Keep reading at ESPN]