While the World Championships are held in September in most disciplines, the pinnacle of the cyclo-cross season will be this Sunday in the small but wealthy Belgian seaside town of Koksijde. If you have no idea what cyclo-cross is, check out our introduction to cyclo-cross from last year. And if you know what cyclo-cross is then you are probably aware of the magnitude of event on Sunday.
First of all, it’s the Worlds, the winners will get the most coveted jersey in the sport, the rainbow jersey so the races over the course of the two days will be as fierce as they come. But it’s just half of the picture that the riders gathered from all corners of the world. The other factor why this weekend will be truly epic is that it will be held in Belgium. Belgium is the de facto home of cyclo-cross, a country that follows this elsewhere obscure sport with so much enthusiasm that it sometimes eclipses even football.
In the build-up to the weekend, all media outlets covered every tiny bit of the preparations of the national team, how they trained, how they testrode the course or whom they shared their rooms with. The selection of the national team was also a much debated issue, Sven Nys was upset to learn that none of his trade-team mates, especially Sven Vantourenhout made the selection, but by the end of the week everybody agreed that there must be a Belgian winner on Sunday and that they will whatever it takes to make that happen. The most likely to do that is Kevin Pauwels, the young Sunweb-Revor rider, him and Nys won 80% of the races this season.
The only non-Belgian rider who can spoil the fun on Sunday is the Czech Zdenek Stybar. He has been wearing the rainbow jersey since 2010, when he won the Worlds on home soil in Tabor. He joined OmegaPharma-Quickstep last year, after winning his second World Champion title in Sankt Wendel and the long road season didn’t do much good on him: his struggled through the cross season and his tally counts only two big wins so far. Though he is a strong contender, it would be a suprise to see him win.
While there will be the races of the juniors, the U23 and the women on Saturday and Sunday morning, all these races have a clear favourite who dominated the entire season. The junior Matthieu Van Der Poel has won almost all the races he entered and the same applies to the equally dominant U23 rider, Lars Van Der Haar, the incumbent World Champion. Marianne Vos only started her season in November but she was beaten only once, back in November on her first race, ever since no one could even get close to her. That being said, the World Championships is always a special race and anything can happen.
And just so you have a vague idea what the venue will look like: 50 000 tickets had been sold in advance and they closed ticket sales as that’s the maximum capacity of the venue. The popular spots, the really sandy and technical spots will be extremely busy and the crowd will try to consume all 20 000 litres of beer that has been stocked for the event.
If you can, follow the races on one of the various live feeds, pop a bottle of Belgian beer open, have some ‘frites’ with it and enjoy the biggest race race of the season!
Photos by cyclephotos.co.uk