It’s that time of the year when the Northern Hemisphere starts to feel a nip in the air and the evenings are suddenly not so long and light. This can only mean one thing: it’s time for ’Cross! The 2019-2020 Telenet UCI Cyclo-cross World Cup is upon us with the nine-round series starting this weekend in the USA.
After the now traditional double-header start in America followed by a four-week break, the European rounds take a familiar shape echoing the 2018-2019 fixtures in Switzerland, France and the Czech Republic, along with three rounds in Belgium. The UCI World Cup season culminates in the Netherlands with the Hoogerheide Provincie Noord-Brabant. And this is all ahead of the 2020 World Championships, to be held in Dübendorf near Zurich in Switzerland on the first weekend in February.
The USA races
In a reverse of last year’s opening two fixtures, Telenet UCI Cyclo-cross World Cup Round 1 is in Iowa City: part of the broader three-day Jingle Cross Festival which includes races for many age groups as well as a gravel race. The Men’s UCI World Cup race is at 3pm (CST) on Saturday 14 September and is followed by the Women Elite World Cup race at around 4.45pm. The varied and challenging track includes features such as the Mt Krumpit climb, the technical Luge Run descent, the “Grinch’s Lair” sandpit and a pair of leg- and lung-sapping flyovers. The predicted temperature for Saturday is 30 degrees Celsius with partly muddy conditions after thunderstorms earlier in the week. 2018 winners in Iowa were Toon Aerts (BEL) and Kaitlin Keough (USA) - who was fourth overall in the 2018-2019 campaign and second the previous year.
Round 2 is in Waterloo, Wisconsin. It’s also part of a wider set of events, including the Trek CX Cup (the venue is right next to the bicycle brand’s headquarters). The Men’s World Cup race is at 1.30pm (CST) on Saturday 22 September and is followed by the Women Elite World Cup race at around 3pm. It’s the third UCI World Cup race on this course that has multiple features including three flyovers, a set of stairs and a set of barriers, climbs and wooded sections on its 3,100m laps. Last year’s winners were Aerts again, and Marianne Vos (NED) – who both went on to win their respective 2018-2019 UCI World Cups overall. Aerts’ double in the USA matched his rival Mathieu van der Poel’s (NED) double the previous year, on his way to the World Cup overall.
It’s Men Elite and Women Elite only for the first two rounds in the USA, with the Under-23s and Junior Men starting their campaigns in late October in Bern (SUI). American and Canadian riders will make the most of racing close to home: watch for the American men Curtis White, his Cannondale team-mate Stephen Hyde, Kerry Werner and the young rider Gage Hecht. Amongst the American women, look out for another great ride from Keough, the multi-disciplinary 23-year-old Ellen Noble, and 15-time USA national champion Katherine Compton.
Racing returns to Europe from Round 3 onwards, and the deep talent pool in each category will ensure exciting racing all season.
The men to watch
In the Elite Men category, we’ve seen a domination by Belgian and Dutch riders – with all top-ten riders coming from these two nations in both 2018-2019 and 2017-2018, and an all-Belgian top-five in 2016-2017. It’s up to the rest to make the challenge, and that appears to be coming through the Under-23 ranks where the 2018-2019 top three were Great Britain’s Tom Pidcock taking first overall (four wins), from Eli Iserbyt (BEL) and Antoine Benoist of France. Italy’s Jakob Dorigoni and Switzerland’s Loris Rouiller also made the top ten.
The Junior Men had a familiar feel last season with a Belgian 1-2-3 of Witse Meeussen, Ryan Cortjens and Thibau Nys (son of Sven, six-time UCI World Cup overall winner). The three young athletes won all but one round between them.
In the Elite Men category, look out for last year’s top five overall, starting with 25-year-old Toon Aerts, the 2018-2019 UCI World Cup overall winner, Belgian national champion and 2016 European Champion. Then there’s his 24-year-old compatriot Wout van Aert – 2016-2017 UCI World Cup overall winner, triple UCI World Champion despite his tender years, now riding with UCI WorldTeam Jumbo-Visma, for whom he won a stage at the Tour de France this year before sustaining a leg injury in a crash: “I still hope that I can ride some cyclo-cross races this winter. If only in preparation for the spring,” he said in August.
In a similar position is the exceptionally talented Mathieu Van der Poel: 2017-2018 UCI World Cup overall winner, double UCI World Champion, double European Champion and quadruple Dutch national champion – who is also focusing on road racing and aiming for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games in mountain bike. Fourth overall last year was the Netherlands’ highly consistent Corné van Kessel. Fifth was 24-year-old Belgian Quinten Hermans.
The women to watch
In the Elite Women’s competition, four different nations were represented in the 2018-2019 UCI World Cup overall top-ten and six the previous year.
The runaway 2018-2019 UCI World Cup Overall winner was the irrepressible Marianne Vos – the Dutch rider is seven-time UCI World Champion in the discipline and triple UCI Road World Champion. The three-time UCI Cyclo-cross World Cup winner Sanne Cant was second last year and wants to make it four; the 28-year-old Belgian is also triple – and reigning – UCI World Champion.
One of the Netherlands’ upcoming talents, 23-year-old Annemarie Worst, 2018 European Champion, was third overall last year, thanks to consistent finishes including four consecutive podiums. The USA’s Kaitlin Keough is another incredibly consistent rider, with four top-ten finishes last year, never lower than 21st, and seven top-ten finishes in 2017-2018. Expect results from the experienced pair of Loes Sels (BEL) and Eva Lechner (ITA).
Looking at women aged Under 23, the first four of the 2018-2019 top-10 were from the Netherlands: Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado, Fleur Nagengast, Inge van der Heijden and Manon Bakker. The other six were all from different nations: Evie Richards of the UK, the USA’s Clara Honsinger, Marion Norbert-Riberolle of France, the Czech Republic’s Jana Czeczinkarová, Belgian Marthe Truyen and Swiss Nicole Koller.
2019-2020 Telenet UCI Cyclo-cross World Cup schedule
Round 1 - 14 September: Iowa City, USA
Round 2 - 22 September: Waterloo, Wisconsin, USA
Round 3 - 22 October 22: Bern, Switzerland
Round 4 - 16 November: Tabor, Czech Republic
Round 5 - 24 November: Koksijde, Belgium
Round 6 - 22 December: Namur, Belgium
Round 7 - 26 December: Heusden-Zolder, Belgium
Round 8 - 19 January 2020: Nommay-Pays de Montbéliard, FranceRound 9 - 26 January: Hoogerheide-Provincie Noord-Brabant, Netherlands