The European cyclocross seasons kicks off on Sunday in Geraardsbergen, with many of the European riders testing their form before travelling to the USA for the Trek CXC Cup (Sept 17-18) and then the CrossVegas (Sept 21) and Jingle Cross (Sept 24) World Cup events.
In recent days the leading Belgian men's teams have presented their rosters for the 2016-2017 season, with Sven Nys now team manager at the Telenet-Fidea team, and Bart Wellens managing the smaller new Steylaerts-Verona squad after their retirements.
World champion Wout van Aert will be in action at the weekend after extending his contract with the Crelan-Vastgoedservice team and putting off any plans to move across to road racing. The Belgian is a likely favourite for an opening victory due to the absence of big rivals Lars van der Haar and Mathieu van der Poel (Beobank Corendon).
Van de Haar is struggling with a hamstring injury after racing on the road, while van der Poel was forced to undergo surgery on his knees after problems during the summer. Both are expected to return early in October but will not travel to the USA.
Nys proudly unveiled his training centre and the Telenet-Fidea team at the weekend. He dubbed his riders the Telenet-Fidea Lions, with Tom Meeusen, Jim Aernouts, Toon Aerts, Daan Soete, Thijs Van Amerongen and Corné van Kessel in the black and yellow colours.
Van der Haar will ride for the team from January when his contract with Giant-Alpecin ends. The women's squad includes Ellen Loy, Jolien Verschueren, Loes Sels and Fleur Nagengest.
"I'm incredibly excited about this new challenge and I feel really for it," Nys said, looking fit despite hanging up his wheels last winter. "The adrenaline is still there like during my racing career. I'm ready and I have some good people around me. We decided to call the team the Telenet-Fidea Lions because we think it's a strong animal. We want to like lions and dive into the race. It's time for something new."
Kevin Pauwels will lead the new look Marlux-Napoleon Games squad, which again will race in sky blue and white colours. Alongside Pauwels are Klaas Vantornout and Belgian under 23 world champion Eli Iserbyt.
"We have a strong core and I believe in Kevin Pauwels who is our absolute leader," team manager Jurgen Mettepenningen said during the presentation of the team. “Michael Vanthournhout is our leader second, Klaas Vantornout is still strong, as is Dieter Vanthourenhout.
"I realize that we have to compete with against two phenomena in Wout van Aert and Mathieu van der Poel but you have to try. Last season we won three televised 'cross races and that was too little. However, we stood on the podium 24 times and that is ultimately what counts for our sponsors: name recognition."
Bart Wellens will manage the new Steylaerts-Verona squad created during the summer. Steylaerts deals in bathroom products, while Verona is a window and door brand. The team includes Gianni Vermeersch, German Marcel Meisen and Braam Merlier.
"I'm so grateful to Steylaerts, Verona and all the other partners for allowing me to be part of this story. I'm just as nervous now as when I was raced myself," Wellens said "We'll have a competitive team at the start of the season."