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For the first time in the 64-year history of the UCI Cyclo-cross World Championships, the racing will take place outside of Europe, in the genteel southern town of Louisville, Kentucky.
Because of the complexities and expense of travel, the start lists will be shorter than normal, with most countries failing to fill out their allotment of riders. The USA and Canada will benefit from their proximity in having a full complement of riders on the line. The home team has the most riders present – 22 Americans over the four races – two more than ‘cross powerhouse Belgium.
That probably won’t stop the Belgians from dominating the Elite men’s race as they have for years. The defending World Champion Niels Albert has been riding well this season, and if the fast and straightforward course fails to suit him, it could well fall into the hands of Kevin Pauwels, winner on similarly fast courses in this year’s Tabor and Rome World Cup rounds, and a rider who isn’t afraid to employ tactics to get his way. Sven Nys is also keen to add a second rainbow jersey to his collection, and while he missed a few days of training over the holidays due to illness, expect him to be full strength come Sunday.
The Louisville course is a bit similar to the Hamme-Zogge Superprestige course where Nys proved victorious this season. Nys is not expecting heavy course conditions after his first inspection of the venue. "I know now already that it will be a fast race. The weather will decide how the course will end up but no matter the amount of rain that will fall out of the sky, it will never become a mud cross,” he said. “Based on the course difficulty, you can compare it with Hamme-Zogge, Rome, or Tabor but mostly with Tabor. The course is not very selective but that doesn't discourage me."
Tactics within the Belgian team have always played a role in the outcome at Worlds: Albert rode away unchecked in Koksijde last year as his countrymen stacked the group behind and refused to give chase.
Should a quick-sprinting rider like Dutchman Lars van der Haar, Italian champion Marco Fontana or even American Jeremy Powers end up in the front group, expect a reshuffling at the hands of the Belgians.
The USA and Canada may throw a wild card into the mix: Geoff Kabush has pulled amazing performances off in the USGP races, while any of Jonathan Page, Tim Johnson, Jamey Driscoll, Ryan Trebon and Danny Summerhill can handle the pressure, the pushing and the fast pace which will be expected on Sunday.
The Swiss are also bringing a full squad, headed by Julien Taramarcaz who has been having good rides in the latter part of the year.
US champion Katie Compton, the winner of the World Cup overall and one of the main favourites for the elite women’s race, also compared the course with Tabor.
The weather forecast is currently calling for snow on Saturday but clear skies and warmer temperatures for Sunday’s elite races. It’s expected that the snow will not stick, and the course should be tacky and fast.
Any condition seems to suit Marianne Vos, who has won the ‘cross world title for the past four straight years.
Czech rider Katerina Nash rode onto the podium in the 2011 world championships, while her teammate Georgia Gould scored an Olympic bronze in the mountain bike events, and can dig deep into her reserves to pull out special performances. Helen Wyman, Lucie Chainel-Lefevere, Sanne Cant and Sanne van Paassen each have strengths which could give them an edge on race day, depending on conditions and tactics.
The U23 and Junior men’s races will be a very different scenario, as the winter weather is predicted to fall during their races.
The star of the opening day will certainly be Mathieu van der Poel, son of the legend Adri van der Poel, and one who has been undefeated in all the major competitions this season. American champion Logan Owen hopes to give van der Poel a run for his money, but will face strong challenges from the strong Dutch and Belgian teams. He will have at his side Curtis White, who had some solid results in the team’s trip to Europe in December.
Belgium will look to dominate again in the U23 races, where Wietse Bosmans is the world’s top rider. Wout van Aert (Belgium) and Dutch riders Corne van Kessel and Mike Teunissen are also riders to watch in the espoirs field. The top American, Zach McDonald excels in terrible conditions and could use bad weather to his advantage.
If you can’t make it to Louisville to watch the races in person, be sure to tune to Cyclingnews.com, where we will be hosting a live stream of the race. The Junior Men and U23 Men on Saturday race at 11AM and 2:30PM respectively.
The elite women race at 11AM (local time) on Sunday, while the elite men take to the course at 2:30PM on Sunday.