Remember this place?
Of course you do. It's the Cauberg, a lump of limestone that makes the short-list of iconic BeNeLux cycling locales. The road version of it is a pretty good hump, tending to decide the Amstel Gold Race as well as the odd World Champion. And if I know my Ardennes, or Valkenburg Bergs, I'd say that the grassy parts are nice and steep too. Right?
This is a bear of a course, by World Cup standards, at least when the rains come and muddy it up nicely. Which it might.
Here's your parcours:
Apart from telling us where Theo Bos will be standing, there isn't much to glean from this spaghetti bowl. But from the video further up, you can see that the course contains some definite inclination, even some run-ups, as well as some nasty off-camber turning action. UCI courses outside of Belgium range from decent to dull. This one is decent.
What the UCI does far better is put on a broad show, with multiple categories and deep lineups, and Sunday's lineup includes the Juniors, U23 men, and Elite Women all before the Sven Experience gets underway. I should mention, Martin Bina and Ellen van Looy were the winners the last time this race was run, just eight months ago, as the Caubergcross was a late-season, non-World Cup event. This race marks their entrance onto the big stage, in place of the Plzen event, which is now out. That alone makes for an upgrade, even if Valkenburg is bone dry all weekend.
A race in the Netherlands is bound to be stacked against all comers outside the Elite Men category, but Belgium might have the upper hand here. Several top juniors, including dominant Mathieu van der Poel, have graduated to the U23 ranks, leaving Belgium's Yannick Peeters as the top-ranked holdover. Now, kids this young aren't especially predictable, even if I knew much about them. But you should know that Peeters, Ian Iserbyt, and Dutch rival Matt Gulickx have all racked up victories recently. Thijs Aerts should be watched as well (and his U23 brother Toon too).
The intrigue thickens considerably, with holdover World Champion Mike Teunissen joined on the Dutch side by both David and Mathieu van der Poel, the elder David being a top-ten rider last year while younger Mathieu the junior World Champion, and a rider on such a high level that he moves straight into the contenders' circle despite the age gap. So too has the top American junior from last year, Logan Owen, moved up. Belgium retains two of its top three U23 riders from last season, Wout Van Aert and Gianni Vermeersch. Not sure where Quentin Hermans is at the moment. I suspect he's either not fit or coming off his road season? Curtis White, another top-10 American talent from last year's Juniors category, starts his U23 baptism. Look for some period of adjustment out of White and Owen, it's only fair. But fairness doesn't extend to van der Poel.
Marianne is racing. Any questions?
OK, besides the indomitable Vos, for whom we've run out of adjectives, and who is four days away from her planned break (and back surgery), there are plenty of subplots. A strong American contingent will be led by Katie Compton (Trek), of course, as well as Meredith Miller (Cal Giant) and motivated by the memory of their departed friend Amy Dombroski. But that's a bit of media drama to suggest -- it's a small community, and Dombroski's Young Fidea-Telnet teammates and friends on other squads will also open the world cup with her memory in their hearts. So while emotions will be running high, they won't necessarily favor one rider over all others.
Sophie de Boer, Pavla Havlikova and Nikki Harris lead the Young Telnet-Fidea onslaught. Helen Wyman paces Kona. A strong French lineup includes Lucie Chainel-Lefevre and Christel Ferrier-Bruneau. Sanne Cant leads Enertherm-BKCP and the Belgian contingent. Should be a battle, for either first or second.
Everyone who's anyone makes the startlist here. The usual list of Belgians, including a very fit Klaas Vantournout, come in as the favorites, with locals Lars van der Haar (pictured above) the top-rated non-Belgie. Francis Mouray, last seen giving everyone a scare in Louisville, is here, as are some sleepers like Philip Walsleben and non-sleeper sleeper Martin Bina. Jon Page is the only American on scene.
See youse Sunday!