Road cycling has its Belgian week of celebration each spring, culminating with the Ronde van Vlaanderen. The same goes for cyclo-cross during the end-of-year holiday season, when thousands of enthusiasts rush to the races for a full-on cyclo-cross experience: excited crowds roar as they witness thrilling competition and fight off the challenging weather conditions with their collective warmth.
It’s a unique moment in the cycling year and the passing from 2019 to 2020 shall be no different, with two Telenet UCI Cyclo-cross World Cup rounds to be held in Belgium this late December, in Namur (December 22nd) and Heusden-Zolder (December 26th), along with many other events filling an extremely rich calendar. Elite Women and Men as well as the youngsters – everyone is poised for action. The holiday season is in full swing, so is the cyclo-cross season!
The Namur Citadelcross is a most prestigious event. The course was designed by the Belgian icon Roland Liboton (four-time Elite UCI World Champion in the early 1980s) and features one of the most difficult circuits cyclo-crossers tackle during the winter. The list of winners is star-studded, including UCI Elite World Champions such as the Dutchwomen Daphny van den Brand and Marianne Vos, as well as their male counterparts Dutchman Mathieu Van der Poel, Belgians Wout van Aert, Sven Nys and Niels Albert, and the Czech Republic’s Zedenek Stybar.
Last winter, Van der Poel (Corendon-Circus) claimed a record third victory in the Men’s race, ahead of local stars van Aert and Toon Aerts. Lucinda Brand offered another display of talent and versatility as the Team Sunweb road captain took her second UCI World Cup win of the season, one month after her maiden victory in Tábor (Czech Republic).
Heusden-Zolder, home of the Dutch?
A few days after the Citadelcross, the cyclo-cross stars head a few dozen kilometres north for another major highlight of the winter, the Grand Prix Eric De Vlaeminck (named after the Belgian record holder for the most Elite wins in the UCI Cyclo-cross World Championships: seven), held annually in Heusden-Zolder and part of the UCI World Cup since 2008.
Early editions of the event were held in the summer, but the race has successfully been moved to the 26th December. Dutch riders are used to shining in this Belgian event. Vos has claimed seven wins in Heusden-Zolder, including last year’s edition ahead of her compatriot Brand. In the Men’s race, Van der Poel claimed his third victory last year, matching Sven Nys’ record, one win ahead of another Dutch cyclo-crosser, Lars van der Haar.
The incredibly versatile Dutch talent is also looking for his third UCI World Cup win this season. He missed the first three rounds of the season, as he was focusing on his road racing, and then went on to win in Tábor and Koksijde (Belgium) last month. MVDP appeared unbeatable but the Belgian Aerts (Telenet Fidea Lions) managed to put an end to a run of 35 victories as he won mid-December in Renaix (Belgium), as part of the DVV Trophy series. Eli Iserbyt (Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal), who still leads the UCI World Cup overall standings after dominating the first three rounds, was second and will look for more success on home soil with the two coming Belgian rounds.
Van Aert’s come-back
This season, the end-of-year racing will see a much-awaited appearance, in three-time UCI World Champion Wout van Aert making his return to racing six months after crashing out of the Tour de France.
The Belgian star from Team Jumbo-Visma recently shared images from his struggle and recovery on social media. The countdown to his return is on – WVA targets the Azencross raced in Loenhout (Belgium) on December 27th, and says he wants to race eight crosses by the end of the winter.
After the Azencross, the season will still offer van Aert and his rivals many racing opportunities. Among them, the Grand Prix Sven Nys is held annually on 1st January. In 2019, Van der Poel had to fight his way back to the front after an early crash and then survived a spectacular near-miss on his way to his first win of the year. Another extremely versatile talent won the women's race, as the Swiss Jolanda Neff edged out the Belgian UCI World Champion Sanne Cant. It’s the holiday season and the cyclo-cross show goes on!