It's National Championship time in the Cyclocross world. The action starts... any moment now.
A lot of very nice jerseys (and a few more troubling ones) will be handed out over the next several days to men and women, even some kids, most of whom will be spackled with mud. Yep, it's Nats Week all across the cyclocross world. Which of course brings us back to Belgium. When you place the top seven finishers at the world championship, it's safe to say your national champs race has to count as one of the biggest days of the year. In fact, some might even call it the biggest day, given that the worlds are overseas at a venue that won't ever be confused with Namur or Koksijde. I don't doubt Belgium has its share of purists who will think of this Sunday as the more truthful day than the World Championships.
So yeah, the Belgian nats will be an interesting affair. But I'm going to leave coverage of that event to the Belgians. It's beyond my capacity to cover all the rest of the national championship races, but I'll peck out a few and leave y'all to supplement our coverage in the comments.
The Dutch championships, hosted by the Royal Dutch Cycling Union (KNWU), are Saturday and Sunday in Tilburg, near Eindhoven and the Belgian border. The course looks pretty flat and uninteresting, frankly -- more of a power course for, oh, I dunno, Lars Boom?
Boom, you may recall, has had some success in the Dutch cyclocross championships. He hasn't raced a trade team event without a national champions kit in eleven years. OK, that may not technically be true, since he's moved up from juniors to Beloften (U23) to senior ranks during that run, and you can only wear a champion's kit in the ranking where you won it. But if there were gaps in his coverage, they didn't last long.
Boom is back to defend his crown, and there will be plenty of intrigue surrounding his work. This year he's scaled back what had already become a pretty paltry CX calendar for the former world champion-turned-roadie, with only two official events under his belt, neither of them overly impressive. That alone is enough reason to think Boom will finally give up his title, at long last.
He should find himself in a two-man duel with young Lars van der Haar, himself a three-time Dutch champion and reigning double-World Champion (U23), and a guy who's ridden much closer to the front of the elite men's pack of late, taking podium finishes in Tabor and Hamme-Zogge this year while learning the ropes a bit more. At age 21, he's nearly the prodigy Boom was eight years ago. Not quite a fair comparison just yet, but a victory over the country's standard-bearer would be a big moment for young Lars.
Oh, and van der Haar will have none other than elite World Champion Niels Albert rooting for him. Albert chided Boom for saying that Sven Nys's competitors needed to train harder; Albert's retort being that Cross needs full-time riders to succeed over the carpetbaggers. Frankly, I find all of this bittersweet. If Boom were still a full-time Crosser, the Belgian-Dutch border war would be hotter than New Year's Day in Darwin. [Oh, and finally, Boom and van der Haar will be breaking out the Blanco kits. One more reason to watch.]
Program is here. Hopefully there will be some live pictures, but I can't tell.
The United States national CX championships are back in Madison, Wisconsin, where things should be a bit on the weird side, weather-wise. Apparently they're calling for rain, then snow, then cold by Sunday. So look for a snowy, icy strip at least until the sun rises high enough.
And by "look for" I mean watch, live. This should be a really fun event, with a nice, twisty course including sand and a run-up. Jeremy Powers and Katie Compton will be favorites to hold their titles from 2012, but with Louisville on the horizon a lot of people are vying for space on the Worlds team. This should be a war.
I'll add more tomorrow, unless you guys add them first.