The highlight of the 2013-2014 cyclo-cross season gets underway this weekend. The best cyclo-cross riders from 21 nations are headed to Hoogerheide, the Netherlands, to contest the UCI Cyclo-cross World Championships. On Saturday the Women and Junior Men categories are racing for the rainbow jersey, on Sunday itâ€™s time for the Men Under 23 and Elite Men categories.
For many riders the race location is common terrain as Hoogerheide already hosted the 2009 UCI Cyclo-cross World Championships and in addition often features on the UCI Cyclo-cross World Cup calendar. In contrast to the fast circumstances of 2009 when the frozen course was hard and dry this edition promises to be muddier. Thereâ€™s a lot of water on the meadows around Hoogerheide and for Saturday morning more rain has been forecast.
Elite Men: 15 years separate two of the favourites
In the Elite Menâ€™s category riders from 21 nations will be racing for the rainbow jersey. Last year at the Louisville World Championships Sven Nys captured his second world title, eight years after his first World victory in Sankt-Wendel, Germany. The 37-year-old Belgian rider is considered to be the top favourite in Hoogerheide after showing great form in his latest races, including a splendid one-man show at the Belgian National Championships in Waregem three weeks ago.
Last week, Nys skipped the final World Cup round in Nommay, France, in order to prepare Sundayâ€™s race in which he will ride for a third world title. The other favourite is young home rider Lars van der Haar (Rabobank Development Team) who clinched the overall win in the UCI Cyclo-cross World Cup last weekend. The 22 year-old Dutchman also tops the UCI Cyclo-cross rankings ahead of Nys and Niels Albert (BKCP-Powerplus). Despite his young age Van der Haar already featured on the podium at the 2013 World Championships in Louisville.
Albert, 27 years old and a compatriot of Nys, moved himself into an outsider role for these World Championships, recently missing the form and punch to clinch the big wins. However, he is surely a force to be reckoned with, having already two world titles to his name: won in Hoogerheide in 2009, and in Koksijde in 2012. Besides Nys and Albert, almost every rider in the Belgian selection could â€“ on a given day - ride to the world title on Sunday afternoon. French champion Francis Mourey (FDJ.fr) is another favourite for the win. Mourey captured an impressive win at the Namur World Cup round and at the age of 33 the Frenchman holds the experience to finally claim his first rainbow jersey. If one has to name a dark horse then that has to be Zdenek Stybar (Omega Pharma - Quick-Step Cycling Team). The Czech cycling star is focused on his career on the road but loves the cyclo-cross discipline too. He rode one World Cup round in Zolder and finished third. Stybar checked out the course on Thursday before deciding finally to be at the start on Sunday.
Elite women: Compton versus Vos
In the Womenâ€™s category there are two clear favourites with defending champion Marianne Vos and World Cup winner Katherine Compton (Trek Cyclocross Collective). Last week Compton had a setback when she had to pull out of the final World Cup round â€“ won by Vos - due to an asthmatic reaction caused by a pollen allergy. At the age of 35 the US Champion is longing for her first ever cyclo-cross world title and coming into the Nommay World Cup round she was in for a seemingly perfect build-up to the World Championships. Compton won five out of the first six World Cup rounds, only being beaten by Vos in the first round. Vos from her side is collecting rainbow jerseys. If she wins on Saturday afternoon itâ€™ll be her sixth consecutive â€˜cross worlds win and her seventh ever - all that at the tender age of 26. Vos can also rely on the support of the home crowd to pursue her seventh title. The rest of the pack â€“ coming from 14 nations - has to hope for an off-day for Vos and Compton to chase down the win. Third place is their realistic goal and thatâ€™ll be the target of European and British Champion Helen Wyman (Kona Factory Team), Italian Champion Eva Lechner (Centro Sportivo Esercito) and Belgian Champion Sanne Cant (Enertherm-BKCP).
Mathieu van der Poel (the Netherlands) is the big favourite for the win in the Men Under-23 category on Sunday morning. Despite his young age Van der Poel has already beaten all his older rivals on several occasions this season and secured the World Cup title. The Belgian selection features several strong riders too, with Wout Van Aert being Ven der Poelâ€™s biggest challenger. Van Aert has beaten Van der Poel twice in the World Cup this season, including last weekend in Nommay. On Saturday morning the Junior Men kick off the racing action in Hoogerheide with World Cup winner Adam Toupalik (Czech Republic) a big favourite for the win. Last year he already captured the bronze medal and this time he eyes nothing but gold. Yannick Peeters (Belgium) won the European Championships and finished as runner-up to Toupalik in the World Cup.