After a frigid December and a big snowfall this month, the conditions for the Dutch cyclo-cross championships should provide plenty of drama in Heerlen.
The top favourite in the men's field has to be Rabobank's Gerben de Knegt, who has made a steady climb to form over the past few weeks. He took a strong fourth in the Zolder World Cup, and three more near-podium finishes in Diegem, Loenhout and Baal before finally climbing on to the second step at Sint Michielsgestel last weekend.
Yet all eyes will be on the defending champion Lars Boom, who has skipped the vast majority of the 'cross season in order to focus on his road career with Rabobank. His performance in Sint Michielsgestel was forgettable, but one can never count out the former World Champion.
While strength will certainly be a factor, luck will also play its usual role when the conditions get tough. Thijs Al hasn't had a brilliant season to date, but pulled off a fine third place in the Netherlands last weekend, and is clearly coming into form just in time for the championship.
Thijs Van Amerongen and Eddy van IJzendoorn are also expected to battle for the podium.
The women's race could prove to be the closest fought event of the weekend, with the Dutch having three of the top ten riders in the world at the moment.
World Champion Marianne Vos has never managed to win the title at the elite level, and the way she ridden in the past few weeks gives every indication that she is gunning for the championship.
She can expect tough competition from the #2 ranked rider in the world, Daphny Van Den Brand who is something of an expert at her national event, having claimed that title seven times in her career.
Yet neither can count out Sanne van Paassen, the 22-year-old phenom who claimed her first World Cup podium place in Nommay last fall.
In the under-23's, expect to see Tijmen Eising battle with Micki Van Empel and Mitchell Huenders for the top step. In the junior men's race, it will be a close call between David van der Poel, son of the great Ardie van der Poel, Mike Teunissen, Danny van Poppel, Gert-Jan Bosman and Michiel van der Heijden.
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