The UCI Patrick Cyclo-Cross World Cup series heads to Kalmthout in northern Belgium on Sunday, with the riders facing possible snow and freezing conditions as they fight for points in round five of the eight-race series.
Weather forecasts predict snow for Belgium before the riders get a chance to test the course and select their tyres on Saturday afternoon, with freezing temperatures expected for the Junior Men, Under 23 Men, Elite Women and Elite Men races on Sunday.
The 2.65km Kalmthout course includes a long section on a road but also dives in and out of the trees. If the ground is frozen, the racing will be fast but a slight thaw could turn it into a mud fight.
World champion and 2009 World Cup winner Zdenek Stybar (Telenet-Fidea) is still out of action due to his knee injury, meaning Niels Albert (BKCP-Powerplus) and Kevin Pauwels (Telenet-Fidea) have the opportunity to extend their lead in the overall standings. Albert leads the standings with 295 points, while Pauwels has 236 and Stybar 230 points.
Albert looked impressive when he won round four of the World Cup in the mud in Northern Spain two weeks ago. A puncture robbed him of victory at the recent Rouwmoer race in the Gazet van Antwerpen Trophy series but he will surely be out for revenge.
Pauwels will be especially motivated because Kalmthout is close to his home north of Antwerp. His vociferous supporters will surely be out to cheer him to victory and then celebrate together with a few beers.
As ever, Sven Nys (Landbouwkrediet) will also be a favourite, especially if the course is fast and ends with a sprint. The Belgian national champion will be looking to celebrate his expected contract extension with Landbouwkrediet and what better way than an eleventh victory of the season.
Nys has admitted he is wary of Lars Boom (Rabobank) as the Dutchman begins to crank up his 'cross season. Boom is focusing more and more on the road but the former world champion looked impressive in his early races.
Another name to watch for is Klaas Vantornout (Sunweb-Revor), who was a close second to Nys in the Rouwmoer Gazet van Antwerpen Trophy race.
The USA team looks strong, with Ryan Trebon, Jonathan Page, Brian Matter, Ryan Knapp, Mark Lalonde, Ryan Iddings and Sean Babcock on the official start list.
Trebon only arrived in Belgium after a difficult and delayed trip from the US but showed his ability in tough conditions with his second place at the US national championships. Page has been unlucky in recent races but has the form to fight for a top ten place.
In the absence of Stybar, Radomir Simunek will lead the Czech Republic team, while Bart Aernouts, Bart Wellens, Dieter Vanthourenhout, Tom Meeusen and Rob Peeters complete the Belgian team. Françis Mourey leads the French team which also includes professional road racers Steve Chainel and John Gadret. Ian Field is the only rider representing Great Britain.
Vos in action in women’s race
The multi-talented Marianne Vos tops the start list for the women’s race. She wears number one for the Netherlands, with Daphny van den Brand and Sanne van Paassen also in the team. Vos is the current world cyclo-cross champion, but this will be her first world cup of the year, as she took time to race the track world cup in Melbourne.
Van den Brand leads the women’s World Cup standings with 150 points, just five points more than teammate van Paassen. The USA’s Katie Compton is fourth with 120 points and leads the USA team for Kalmthout. Also in the USA team are Susan Butler, Meredith Miller and Christine Vardaros.
Helen Wyman leads the Great Britain team, with Nikki Harris and Gabriella Day completing the three-rider team. Hanka Kupfernagel leads the German team. She finished fifth in Aigle, the opening round of the World Cup and is a four-time cross world champion and the 2008-2009 World Cup winner. Sanne Cant will defend Belgian hopes and her fourth places in the World Cup standings.
Vincent Baestaens leads the Under 23 World Cup standings and is the leader of the Belgian Under 23 team. The Belgian Under 23 team could again dominate the podium at home.