The first cyclo-cross World Cup of the season takes place in Aigle, Switzerland in just over a week, and the fight for selection on Belgium's elite men's squad is already underway.
Each year, Belgian national team coach Rudy de Bie faces tough choices over which riders to select for the eight-man team once the obvious choices of the top men have been made.
This Sunday's Superprestige round will serve as the final proving ground for riders behind Sven Nys, Klaas Vantornout, Kevin Pauwels, Bart Aernouts, Bart Wellens and Dieter Vanthourenhout, says Sport.be. With Niels Albert looking to make his return to competition in Ruddervoorde, that likely leaves just one more place on the roster.
It is expected that Tom Meeusen, Sven Vanthourenhout and Rob Peeters will be the ones battling for the final spots. Meeusen looks to be the top candidate - the young Fidea teammate of Pauwels and Wellens scored a fifth and sixth place in the first two races in Belgium - but Vanthourenhout is motivated to make the team after last year being left off the team for the world championships.
Vanthourenhout said his first three races of the season didn't go well due to mechanicals. "In Namen I had three flats in the first two laps," he said to Gazet van Antwerpen.
With Ruddervoorde as his local course, Vanthourenhout hopes to demonstrate to De Bie that he has the form to warrant selection for Aigle. "Last year my condition in Ruddervoorde was worthless, but I dragged myself to fourth place. This year, the motivation is the same, but the condition is much better, so I can expect a lot more."
Ruddervoorde will see the return of the sand pit to the course for Sunday's race after a rules change this year allowing artificial sand sections, provided they fall within the parameters set by the UCI. The cobbled section with a 90-degree bend that was added to spice up the course after the sand was eliminated last year will also remain, making a challenging course on which the Belgian men can show their worth.