For all intents and purposes, Hoogerheide is just another of those ubiquitous small European towns with roots dating back to the fourteenth century but not a lot else going on. It has a touch over 9,000 residents and the monastery which used to reside there is now gone and replaced by houses. There is nothing exceptional about this small municipality in the southwestern corner of the Netherlands a mere stone's throw from Belgium. But, every year since 2007 we have tuned into Hoogerheide in late January or early February, all in the name of cyclocross.
Perhaps the most important thing to know about Hoogerheide - if you are on this site, at least - is that Adrie van der Poel is from here. Van der Poel won seemingly everything short of stage races at least once, taking wins in the Clásica San Sebastian, Tour of Flanders, Amstel Gold, and Liége-Bastogne-Liége over the span of his career. Oh, and there was that cyclocross world championship win in 1996 that was preceded by six times to the podium at worlds. Five of those were as runner up.
As his career progressed, van der Poel turned increasingly towards the dark side, forgoing the road for the muddy tracks of fall and winter. He won the Superprestige series in 1997 and landed on the podium at Worlds once more in 1999. So what does a cyclocross stud like van der Poel do after his retirement? Why, of course, he organizes a race.
The GP Adri van der Poel had been around for some time before van der Poel's retirement - the first race was held in 1988. And really, can you blame a small town for wanting to name its race after their boy who won all those classics plus two Tour de France stages? But after van der Poel retired, the race really took off under his management. It first appeared on the World Cup in January 2007 and has not left the World Cup since, except for that time it hosted the World Championships in 2009. Then, Hoogerheide was the coming out party for one 22 year old Niels Albert in his first year in the elite ranks. And this year, Worlds return to Hoogerheide for a second time with races this Saturday and Sunday.
In all honesty, the venue is pretty bland, its stubborn presence at the highest levels of the sport more a product of its organization than the course. The track is the sort which makes true purists go "meh" at the lack of technical features. The course is split between a boggy field and a small plateau that overlooks it and has changed little over the years, though there are rumors it has become more technical this year. Please, cross your fingers with me that it is true! Every now and then the course hops up onto the plateau via a power climb or run-up, then drops back down after some time up top. Perhaps the best idea of what this weekend may look like comes from the 2011 World Cup race, which we have video from below.
It has been raining this week and heavy rain is forecast for Saturday, so it should be heavy in spots. That said, former cross world champ and budding classics stud Zdeneck Stybar said it won't be a mud race even if it rains lots on Saturday. Without pictures or video of the course, it's hard to say exactly what to expect. But expect rain Friday-Saturday and temps hovering around 7-8 Celsius (45 Fahrenheit) each day.
For the first time, the Elite Women will race as Saturday's headlining event rather than as a prequel to the Elite Men's race on Sunday. The full schedule is below, and all races will be streamed with commentary on the UCI Youtube page. Unless you're in the United States, of course, because if the UCI made sense we'd run out of jokes. For the unlucky saps on this side of the Atlantic, you can either use a VPN to get past the georestrictions or find a pirated Sporza feed. You know the drill!
11:00 Junior Men
15:00 Elite Women
11:00 U-23 Men
15:00 Elite Men
Over the next days we will be running down the major contenders for each race. Sarah started us off with a great interview with British podium hopeful Helen Wyman that includes discussion of the course and how the women's field should stack up. Later, we'll touch on the U-23 men battle between Matthieu van der Poel (yep, Adrie's son!) and Wout van Aert and the Elite Men's field that got deeper today when Zdeneck Stybar announced he'd be joining the party. Check back into the Café early and often!