As in the last two seasons, the UCI Cyclo-cross World Cup kicks off this weekend in the USA, on the Waterloo circuit. The season will come to a close three and a half months later, with round 14 in Hoogerheide (Netherlands).
Who will succeed Laurens Sweeck (BEL) and Fem van Empel, winners of the 2022-2023 UCI Cyclo-cross World Cup in the Men Elite and Women Elite categories? Last year, they got off to a very good start in the USA, before continuing their success with consistently strong performances in Europe.
The flagship cyclo-cross series has 14 rounds on the programme this season, to which some changes have been made. The rounds in Fayetteville (USA), Tábor (Czech Republic, host of the 2024 UCI Cyclo-Cross World Championships), Beekse Bergen (Netherlands), Overijse (Belgium) and Besançon (France) have been replaced by Dendermonde (Belgium), Troyes (France), Flamanville (France), Namur (Belgium) and Hoogerheide (Netherlands).
2023-2024 UCI Cyclo-cross World Cup calendar:
15 October 2023: Waterloo (USA)
29 October 2023: Maasmechelen (Belgium)
12 November 2023: Dendermonde (Belgium)
19 November 2023: Troyes (France)
26 November 2022: Dublin (Ireland)
3 December 2023: Flamanville (France)
10 December 2023: Val di Sole (Italy)
17 December 2022: Namur (Belgium)
23 December 2022: Antwerp (Belgium)
26 December 2023: Gavere (Belgium)
30 December 2023: Hulst (Netherlands)
7 January 2024: Zonhoven (Belgium)
21 January 2024: Benidorm (Spain)
28 January 2024: Hoogerheide (Netherlands)
All these venues will host both Men Elite and Women Elite events. Six of them (Troyes, Dublin, Namur, Antwerp, Benidorm and Hoogerheide) will also host events for Men U23, Men Junior and Women Junior.
The 2002 generation dominating the women’s races?
The 2022-2023 season marked a generational change at the top of the world hierarchy. Fem van Empel and her Dutch compatriots Puck Pieterse and Shirin van Anrooij, all born in 2002, won the 14 UCI Cyclo-cross World Cup rounds between them. As a result, they also took the first three places in the overall standings, in that same order.
Having lit up the last cyclo-cross season before taking their talent to other fields in 2023, the three Dutch riders will be eagerly awaited once again this year. Among their elders, Marianne Vos (NED), UCI Cyclo-Cross World Champion for the eighth time in 2022, is recovering from an operation on her iliac artery. Her Dutch compatriot Lucinda Brand also underwent surgery recently, and Italy's Silvia Persico has expressed that she wants to reduce her winter programme in order to focus on the road preparation.
After completing top 5 last year, Dutch riders Ceylin Alvarado (2020 UCI World Champion, Women Elite) and Inge van der Heijden will be dark horses. And there's plenty of new names, starting with the all-round talent Zoe Bäckstedt (GBR), who has racked up wins in the youth categories. At just 19, she looks ready to challenge her elders, as demonstrated by her top-5 finish in the Elite category in Besançon last year, in the final round of the 2022-2023 UCI Cyclo-cross World Cup.
The progress of Lauren Molengraaf, winner of the 2022-2023 UCI World Cup, Women Junior, should also be exciting to watch. The 18-year-old Dutch rider has just signed an unprecedented contract with teams Circus-Reuz-Technord, FDJ-SUEZ and Lapierre-Mavic Unity, enabling her to shine in cyclo-cross, road and mountain bike events.
Van der Haar against the Belgians?
Multi-discipline stars Mathieu van der Poel (NED), Wout van Aert (BEL) and Tom Pidcock (GBR) are yet to announce a date for their return to cyclo-cross, after a long and demanding year performing on all terrains (cyclo-cross, road, gravel and mountain bike). They could miss the first rounds of the UCI Cyclo-cross World Cup and start the season with a points deficit, as they did last year.
In this context, the main favourites are Laurens Sweeck (BEL), Michael Vanthourenhout (BEL), Eli Iserbyt (BEL) and Lars van der Haar (NED), the top-4 finishers in the 2022-2023 season. Iserbyt got off to the best start but crashed out in Val di Sole. Laurens Sweeck, the more consistent rider, finally took the overall classification, with two wins and thirteen top-5 finishes during the 14 rounds. Vanthourenhout, Belgian and European champion, finished between his two compatriots.
Mathieu van der Poel wins in Benidorm ☀ after a long sprint with Wout van Aert. 🥵 Eli Iserbyt 🥉 takes the final place on the podium. With a 4️⃣th place, Sweeck is the overall winner of the #CXWorldCup. 🏆 pic.twitter.com/H7rizeWYpj— UCI Cyclo-cross World Cup (@UCIcyclocrossWC) January 22, 2023
Fourth-placed Van der Haar (NED) won the overall classification of the 2013-2014 UCI Cyclo-cross World Cup. He will certainly be hoping to repeat that performance ten years later.
Young talents in the discipline, such as Gerben Kuypers (BEL), Cameron Mason (GBR), Niels Vandeputte (BEL), Timo Kielich (BEL), Toon Vandebosch (BEL), Witse Meeussen (BEL), Joran Wyseure (BEL) and Pim Ronhaar (NED) will also be interesting to watch.
Belgian Thibau Nys (UCI Cyclo-cross World Champion, Men U23), Tibor del Grosso (NED), Emiel Verstrynge (BEL), Jente Michels (BEL) and David Haverdings (NED) are the riders to watch in the Men U23 category. Frenchman Léo Bisiaux (UCI Cyclo-cross World Champion, Men Junior) has now moved into the U23 category, while Senna Remijn (runner-up at the UCI World Championships) remains in the Men Junior category.