While the cream of US cyclo-cross racing take part in the national championships in Lakewood, Washington, this weekend, it's business as usual for the European racers at the Hotondcross on Saturday and the Vlaamse Druivencross on Sunday – and potentially business as usual for Corendon-Circus rider Mathieu van der Poel, who makes his return to the discipline following a week at a team training camp in Spain.
Last weekend, in Van der Poel's absence at the Ethiascross in Essen and the Zonhoven Superprestige, Telenet Baloise Lions duo Quentin Hermans and Toon Aerts, respectively, dominated proceedings, and both riders will be looking to capitalise on that form this weekend.
Eli Iserbyt continues to lead his Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal teammate Michael Vanthourenhout in the men's overall standings for the DVV Trofee – calculated by overall time – by 2:10, but there have been chinks in the pair's relationship in recent weeks, which could open the door to third-placed Lars van der Haar (Telenet Baloise Lions), who sits a further 35 seconds back from Vanthourenhout.
Vanthourenhout calls Saturday's Hotondcross in Ronse "one of the toughest races of the season" on the DVV Trofee website, due to its regular short, sharp climbs, but says it's the kind of race he's best suited to.
Neither does he hold back when talking about trying to close the time gap on teammate Iserbyt with four rounds of the DVV Trofee still to go after this weekend: "Two minutes is a lot, but there are still a few 'crosses where the difference can be made. Saturday's race is one of those, and perhaps I can already try to make up some time there."
The women's DVV Trofee classification is much tighter at the top, with Annemarie Worst leading her 777 teammate Yara Kastelijn by just six seconds, while Ceylin del Carmen Alavarado (Corendon-Circus) is only another 1:16 back on the European champion.
Following Saturday's DVV Trofee races, most of the big names will have to dig deep again for the Vlaamse Druivencross in Overijse, just over an hour's drive away, south-east of Brussels, with the likes of Van der Poel, Hermans, Van der Haar, Iserbyt and last year's winner, Aerts, all down to ride in the men's event.
Alvarado, Kastelijn, Worst and world champion Sanne Cant (IKO-Crelan) are all set to ride the women's race, as well as Sunweb's Lucinda Brand (Sunweb), who won last year's race ahead of now-retired British rider Nikki Brammeier.
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