Fifth round in Heusden-Zolder
The cyclo-cross peloton heads to the north-eastern part of Belgium on Saturday to contest the fifth round of the 2015-2016 UCI Cyclo-cross World Cup at the former F1 car racing circuit in Heusden-Zolder. The location holds more than just car racing history as several UCI World Championships for road (1969 and 2002) and cyclo-cross (1970 and 2002) have been organised at ‘Circuit Zolder’. In July the 2015 UCI BMX World Championships were organised on the same site. Two months after Saturday’s UCI World Cup round the same course will be used for the 2016 UCI Cyclo-cross World Championships. This fifth World Cup round features as a final rehearsal for the riders, trying to judge their chances of capturing the rainbow jersey at the end of January 2016.
The UCI World Cup round in Heusden-Zolder is also referred to as the GP Eric De Vlaeminck. The seven-time cyclo-cross UCI World Champion passed away on December 4.
The race organisers have designed a fast undulating course which includes a few steep drops and an off-camber climb. Depending on the weather conditions the course could be extremely fast or technical. Winter still hasn’t reached Belgium so it’s more likely that rain showers could turn the course into a muddy affair.
Elite riders Wout van Aert (Vastgoedservice-Golden Palace Continental Team) and Eva Lechner (Team Colnago SudTirol) will line up in their white UCI World Cup leader’s jerseys.
Comfortable lead for van Aert
Van Aert enjoys a comfortable lead over Sven Nys (Belgium) in the UCI World Cup standings. Nys didn’t have his best weekend last week and van Aert seems to be cruising to overall victory in the World Cup. Nys will hope to find last month’s splendid form in Heusden-Zolder. If not, three Dutch riders are ready to challenge van Aert in the Men Elite category. UCI World Champion Mathieu Van der Poel (BKCP-Corendon) will be keen to repeat last week’s spectacular victory of the UCI World Cup’s fourth round in Namur. Lars van der Haar (Team Giant-Alpecin) won the UCI World Cup round in Heusden-Zolder in 2013 and 2014. Van der Haar’s performance in Namur, however, was slightly below par with a fifth place. The 24-year-old will be trying to bounce back to clock up a unique three-in-a-row. The third Dutch rider is Lars Boom (Astana Pro Team). The Treviso 2008 UCI Cyclo-cross World Champion had to call off his much-anticipated participation at the UCI World Cup in Namur due to a persistent stomach flu. He’s now expected to make his brief cyclo-cross comeback in Heusden-Zolder where he won the UCI World Cup round in 2010 shortly after switching focus to the road discipline.
Van Aert’s compatriot Kevin Pauwels (Sunweb-Napoleon Games Cycling Team) displayed great form in Namur and he’s a double winner at Circuit Zolder back in 2009 and 2011. Last year he was a strong runner-up behind the impressive solo winner, Lars van der Haar. Last year Van der Poel and van Aert were racing in the Men Under-23 category. Surprisingly enough they were beaten by Laurens Sweeck (Era Real Estate – Murprotec). Maybe the Belgian rider can build on last year’s performance and surprise the big names again on Saturday afternoon.
The Lechner-Cant battle
In the Women’s category anything can still happen for the overall victory in the UCI World Cup. Cant took over the lead from Lechner at the third round in the sand dunes of Koksijde. Lechner regained the lead last week in Namur as Cant had an off-day. Entering the fifth round, Lechner is 17 points ahead of Belgian Champion Cant. The duo will hopefully make a great race within the race once again. The podium of this year’s edition will be completely different to that from last year as the top 3 from 2014 will be absent. Last year Marianne Vos took her fifth victory in Zolder, but after a road season marred by injuries she has opted to skip the 2015-2016 cyclo-cross season. Meanwhile, 2014 runner-up Katerina Nash (Luna Pro Team) and injured UCI World Champion Pauline Ferrand-Prévot (Rabo Liv-Giant) also skip Heusden-Zolder. Due to the dominance of Marianne Vos there will be only one other rider at the start with winning experiences at the Heusden-Zolder World Cup round: Katherine Compton was victorious in 2010 and 2013. Last weekend the spectators in Namur witnessed the rise to the top of winner Nikki Harris (Great-Britain) and surprising runner-up Caroline Mani (France). The delighted duo offered themselves a fantastic Christmas present and they will surely aim to crack the podium again in Heusden-Zolder.
In the youth categories Eli Iserbyt (Belgium) comfortably tops the UCI World Cup standings after two victories in three rounds. The first chasers in the standings Clément Russo (France) and Gioele Bertolini (Italy) will be hoping that they fare better on the fast course in Zolder than their young Belgian rival. In the Men Junior category Jappe Jaspers (Belgium) and Jens Dekker (Netherlands) seem to be on a level of their own. Last weekend, Jaspers fought back to bring an end to Dekker’s long solo effort and grab a deserved victory. The duo might be in for a new duel on Saturday.
The Elite races will be broadcast live on tv.uci.ch.