The days are getting shorter, and there's a chill in the air as the low sun filters through leaves of red, orange and yellow. The roadies are calling an end to their season, but that doesn't mean that cycling fans have to find another sport to watch - because the mud is calling, the beer is flowing, the frites are frying and cyclo-cross season is upon us!
In the USA, the top 'cross racers have already had their first big races of the year: CrossVegas and the first round of the US Gran Prix of Cyclo-cross in Wisconsin. But it isn't until the Belgians get fully underway that it can be said that 'cross season has started.
This weekend is the first C1 race in Belgium at the Vlaamse Industrieprijs Bosduin in Kalmthout on Sunday, which means four full fields of competitors for the junior, under 23, elite women and elite men. The men and women will also compete on Saturday at the C2-ranked Fidea Cross in Neerpelt.
Who will be on top? Last season Niels Albert came out swinging under the hot sun, his victory here presaged his world championship victory four months later. Sven Nys will be returning from holiday to face Albert and Kevin Pauwels, who also had a strong start in the previous year.
Women's world champion Marianne Vos will again delay her 'cross season in order to wind down from her extraordinarily successful road season, in which she won the Olympic and world titles.
In order to whet your appetites for 'cross season, Cyclingnews has compiled a huge gallery of images from past races, courtesy of AFP.