Are the leafs a-crunching below your feet yet? No? Then you might be fooled into thinking it's still summer and, therefore, road cycling season. But, you're as wrong as wrong can be. Say goodbye to asphalt, and welcome the mud.
This weekend sees the first two televised Belgian cross races in Neerpelt and Kalmthout. Both are warm-up races - the first series' race is next week's Ruddervoorde Superprestige leg - but it'll be a good way to check who is in what shape. Also, more cx is always better.
First on Saturday is Neerpelt's Soudal Classic - that's the new name for the Fidea Classics - which will be on Sporza at 17.15 CET, which means you can just keep watching your Lombardia stream. Isn't that awesome? I think that's awesome.
All your bigs will be there: Sven Nys, Kevin Pauwels, Niels Albert, Tom Meeusen, Klaas Vantornout, Rob Peeters... There's even a few foreigners. Like Bart Aernouts. No Lars Van Der Haar though. There's a women's race too, but it's sadly not televised. Hopefully we'll get a recap.
The day after we're off to Kalmthout, also known as K-Pow's hometown. Kalmthout used to be a world cup race, and they're pretty peeved off that they're not anymore so their website is still 'world cup cyclocross dot be'. If you're feeling sorry for them, just remember that Kalmthout was replaced with Namur, which is way more than 50 shades of awesome.
Again, the bigs on the startlist, and Lars VDH is there too. The Kalmthout circuit is 2.910 metres long, which is 765 metres asphalt, 180 metres meadow and 1.965 metres forest. There are four categorised hills: Bosduinheuvel, Helleberg, Peiniger-Brug and Berkenpas. They are, in order, 5, 4, 3 and 2 metres high. God, I love cyclocross.
So, there you have it. Let the games begin!
PS - I have more previews up my sleeve, so if you don't know what cross is, or what the important races are, or who to cheer for, don't worry: I've got you covered.
Oh, by the way, to make it easier to recognise the riders, all the cx guys who race for Belgian teams will have fixed race numbers in all races but the world cup. So, every time you see number 2 winning a non-World Cup race, you'll know it's Sven Nys (he'll win the world cup races too, though).
1. Niels Albert
2. Sven Nys
3. Kevin Pauwels
4. Tom Meeusen
5. Klaas Vantornout
6. Rob Peeters
7. Radomir Simunek (Cze)
8. Bart Wellens
9. Dieter Vanthourenhout
10. Wietse Bosmans
11. Sven Vanthourenhout
12. Philipp Walsleben (Ger)
13. Arnaud Jouffroy (Fra)
14.Tijmen Eising (Hol)
15. Vincent Bastaens
16. Joeri Adams
17. Jim Aernouts
The picture is not Neerpelt or Kalmthout at all, but I figured I'd ease you in with some roadies doing cross. Bram Tankink at Tom Boonen's charity race. Picture by me.