The European cyclo-cross season begins Sunday with the first round of the Brico series in Geraardsbergen, Belgium, home to the cobbled climb made famous by the Belgian Classics and especially the Tour of Flanders.
World champion Wout van Aert wears number one in the elite men’s race, but his biggest rival, Mathieu van der Poel, has opted to delay his season to recover from his road racing and mountain bike racing.
Sanne Cant, Helen Wyman, Nikki Brammeier and Eva Lechner will all make their season debuts in the Geraardsbergen.
Val der Poel will also miss the two World Cup races in the US in Waterloo on September 23 and in Iowa City on September 29 and only make his cyclo-cross debut at the Berencross on October 6 after a much-needed break following a summer of racing.
The 23-year-old Dutchman finished third in the mountain bike world championships last weekend in Lenzerheide, Switzerland. He raced a programme of road races, winning the Boucles de la Mayenne, the Ronde van Limburg, the Dutch road race title and most recently two stages and the overall classification at the Race of Norway.
The regular clashes between van Aert and van der Poel have become the biggest draw of the European cyclo-cross season. Van der Poel dominated for much of last winter, but van Aert managed to peak for the world championships to take a third rainbow jersey. The two are expected to clash in the Superprestige, World Cup and Brico series races during this winter, fueling the rivalry between Belgium and the Netherlands.
Van Aert is due to increase his goals on the road in 2020 when he joins the LottoNL-Jumbo team. He is contracted to ride for the Roompot-Crelan team following the merger with the Dutch team but is keen to leave the transformed team in the hope of joining LottoNL-Jumbo in 2019.
Van Aert won the Geraardsbergen race when it opened the 2016 European cyclo-cross season.