As the European cyclo-cross championships in Lucca, Italy approach, it is clear that the Dutch have the top favorites in all three categories which will race on Sunday: elite women, and espoir and junior men.
Mathieu van der Poel and his compatriot Lars van der Haar (Rabobank - Giant-Offroad) currently lead the junior and under 23 World Cup after claiming victories in Tabor, and the reigning espoir world champion Van der Haar has shown himself to be a level above the rest with an elite win in Las Vegas and a sprint victory in the Koppenbergcross.
Van der Poel, too, has so far dominated the international races, taking four wins of six starts in the UCI circuit, with a fourth in Koppenbergcross his lowest finish of the year.
For the women's race, Sanne van Paassen (Brainwash) is the top favorite since the 23-year-old Dutch rider showed great form, racking up two wins in only three days. She won the Superprestige round in Zonhoven on Sunday and then the Koppenbergcross on Tuesday.
Outsiders are Helen Wyman (Kona) and veteran Daphny van den Brand (AA Drink/Leontien.nl) since German Hanka Kupfernagel (Stevens) has dropped out with illness.
Third in the past two European championships, Wyman hopes to repeat or improve these results. "Sanne [Van Paassen] has a bit more speed at the minute. I did hear that the course in Lucca is flat and it might become a bit muddy so I'm all up for that," Wyman said after the Koppenbergcross on Tuesday.
There's still no start list available so it's unclear whether someone like Lucie Chainel-Lefevre (France) will be at the start. For Van Paassen there were two names in her mind. "[Katerina] Nash is very strong and never count out Daphny [Van den Brand]," Van Paassen referred to her compatriot.
While Van den Brand is a triple European champion it's highly questionable whether Nash is heading to Italy at all. The Czech-born rider resides in the USA and on Saturday November 5 she's expected to be leading a cyclo-cross clinic in Northampton, Massachusetts.
According to Van Paassen the course in Lucca is quite entertaining. "We're riding through the historical centre and the course goes up and down the city walls. That should provide for great racing," Van Paassen said.