Cyclo-cross fans have already marked the dates in their calendars across 2020 and 2021. Within two weeks, from Namur (December 20) and Dendermonde (December 27) in Belgium, to Hulst (January 3) in the Netherlands, the next three rounds of the UCI Cyclo-cross World Cup will attract the discipline’s elite. It will be a major opportunity to see who's on top of the game only a few weeks ahead of the UCI Cyclo-cross World Championships, to be held in Ostend (Belgium) on January 30 and 31.
Namur will be star-studded this weekend for one of the season’s most prestigious events at a venue with spectacular views around the castle. To add to the excitement, it will also be the first confrontation between Mathieu Van der Poel and Wout van Aert since their fantastic battle on the roads and cobbles of the Ronde van Vlaanderen, in October.
The Dutch and Belgian stars recently returned to competitive cyclo-cross with contrasting results. Van Aert claimed two podium spots in three races but he's yet to find an opening for victory. Van der Poel won the first cyclo-cross race in which he participated this season, in Antwerp.
The two rivals race with the same idea: they want to improve their condition and impress before the end of January, when they'll hit their peak fitness in search of their fourth rainbow jersey as the UCI Men Elite Cyclo-cross World Champion. “It's my goal”, Van der Poel highlighted in an interview with Wielerlits. “I don't have any overall classification to defend. But I'll repeat it: I start every cyclo-cross to win.”
In addition to the three-time Men Elite UCI World Champions, there are many other stars determined to shine. The Briton Tom Pidcock leads the charge after his victory last Sunday in Gavere... ahead of Mathieu Van der Poel! At 21 years old, the silver medallist in the 2020 UCI Cyclo-cross World Championships looks ready to come of age.
The fans will also set their eyes on the European Champion Eli Iserbyt and his Belgian compatriot Toon Aerts. They've been the most successful riders since the start of the season in Lokeren (September 26), with consistent results in their many outings.
Michael Vanthourenhout, winner of the first round of the UCI Cyclo-cross World Cup in Tábor (CZE), and the Belgian National Champion Laurens Sweeck, may have fallen back last weekend but they're still among the fiercest competitors lining up in Namur.
Who can challenge Lucinda Brand?
She's already claimed seven wins this season. And it's easy to imagine Lucinda Brand snatching more success in the coming events. The Dutchwoman leads every standing: the UCI Cyclo-cross World Cup, the Superprestige and the X2O Badkamers Trofee.
Denise Betsema got the better of Brand in Antwerp last Saturday, but the leader of the UCI Cyclo-cross World Cup returned to victory the very next day, on the demanding Gavere circuit. She's finished on the podium at 14 of the season’s 15 main events; Brand’s consistency and determination make her a natural favourite for the overall victory at the end of the campaign.
Even though the reigning Women Elite UCI World Champion Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado has struggled to keep up with Brand and Betsema's pace this season, she has still claimed four victories, including the European Championships. The rider from Alpecin-Fenix is looking for her first win since mid-November.
Behind this trio of Oranje stars, their Dutch compatriots Annemarie Worst and Yara Kastelijn will look for an opening. So will Sanne Cant, three-time UCI World Champion before Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado took the rainbow jersey: the Belgian showed signs of improving form last weekend with 4th in Antwerp and 6th in Gavere.
Namur's castle and new venues
With five rounds in the 2020-2021 UCI Cyclo-cross World Cup, every race will bring a very special flavour. After the Czech atmosphere of Tábor to open proceedings in November, the stars are lining up in Namur, one of cycling's main strongholds. Mathieu Van der Poel and Lucinda Brand both dominated the last two editions of the event born 11 years ago and whose winners record is a true Hall of Fame, including the likes of Belgians Niels Albert, Sven Nys and Wout van Aert, the Czech Zdeněk Štybar and the Netherlands’ Marianne Vos, seven times UCI World Champion in the discipline.
With its unique and extremely demanding route, up and down very steep sections, the cyclo-cross at Namur has become one of the season’s highlights. And if the weather is wet, anything can happen.
The following weekend, the best cyclo-cross experts will meet in Dendermonde, for the Ambiancecross, a new event featuring on the UCI World Cup calendar for the first time.
This third round won't be the only one to throw unprecedented challenges at the riders, heading to Hulst and the Vestingcross on January 3. The organisers had to change the venue due to the latest restrictions imposed in the Netherlands to control the Covid-19 pandemic. "The organisation will entail additional measures that can't be realised on the fortifications of Hulst," they announced in November.
So the world's greatest champions, youngsters and experienced stars alike, will discover new territory in two of the next three rounds, a thrilling turn of the year with the 2020-2021 UCI Cyclo-cross World Cup!