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The Young 'Uns: Who Will Win the Juniors and the Under-23s?

As well as the Elite races, the rising stars of CX will duke it out, the juniors on Saturday, the under-23 on Sunday.

The U23 jersey has been won by many CX champions, including Larske.
The U23 jersey has been won by many CX champions, including Larske.
Patrick Verhoest

The Juniors!

Let's start with Eli Iserbyt. The Belgian Junior Champion has won, quite simply, everything. Except Namur. Not that. It's the only race he's lost. And it's not as though he's slacked off and only done a couple of races! He's won every Superprestige, the World Cup, has not raced much of the BPost, but still won Ronse. Whoever tunes in to a sporza stream 10 minutes before a race will almost always be greeted with the same sight. A mud-splattered Iserbyt, in his National Jersey, crossing the line with his hands in the air, with no one else in the picture. He has won 4 races by over a minute, and almost all the rest by over 30 seconds. If I were to place a bet on a winner at the weekend, it would no doubt be him. His strengths? Well, that's arguable. He has won by over two minutes on tough courses, but the only time he was beaten was on the toughest course of them all. He can also win on fast courses. To be quite honest, I don't know how he sprints, because he's never had occasion to. He'll win, anyway.

Where he'll finish: 

I don't pretend to know too much about Roel Van der Stegen. He's mostly a mountainbiker, apparently. He appears to have started his season with a win in Essen, came second in the Dutch junior nats, and second in Hoogerheide ahead of most of the main protagonists. This makes him second favourite, not that I think he'll beat Iserbyt.

Where he'll finish: 

Jappe Jaspers seems to be that guy who finishes second. He got second in Diegem, Belgium, Gavere and Europe, never beating, or even coming particularly close to, Iserbyt. Despite this he is more than a match for most of the contenders.

Where he'll finish:  or

Now. Johan Jacobs is the only person to beat Iserbyt this year, by 26" in Namur. While he has not got consistent second places, he has won a couple of other races, Koppenberg and Baal. He's not so good at fast courses, like Tabor.

Where he'll finish: 4th, or maybe  if the conditions are bad.

Gage Hecht: What the Hech, I'm throwing him in the mix. Gage Hecht managed third in Hoogerheide, won  (the Non World Cup) Koksijde, and is the hope for the future of American cyclo-cross. While he may not win, a podium is, with luck, in his reach.

Where he'll finish:  , 5th (more likely) or 6th.

The juniors will be shown at 10:00 GMT on Saturday Morning.

The Under-23s!

Of course, the under-23 race would have a different complexion indeed if Van Aert and Van der Poel, the two big favourites for the Elite race were riding it, but they aren't leaving the field open for Laurens Sweeck. Despite some allegations that originally prevented him from racing, the Belgian Federation declared that he "must ride." Sweeck has had an impressive season, with a great weekend in mid-December, coming second in Elite Scheldecross and Zilvermeer, to Van der Poel and Van Aert. He also had a great race in Leuven at the beginning of January, finishing fourth. However, more so than Van der Poel and Van Aert, opted to ride under-23 races, understandably. He has been very successful, winning almost every race that they have not been involved in, and some they have, Zolder being a case in point. Sweeck is the undisputed favourite for the title, but his sprint is not so good if it comes to that on the fast Czech course.

Where he'll finish: 

The Eternal Second of under-23 races, Michael Vanthourenhout always manages to plug away to a decent position, most impressively beating Van Aert in Valkenburg. He won three big under-23 races in the early part of the season (Ronse, Valkenburg and Koppenberg. However, after November the results dried up, with only one other win, in Diegem. Of the twenty races Sweeck and Vanthourenhout have ridden together, Sweeck has won 14, Vanthourenhout 6. Most of his wins came in October and November, however, and Sweeck has easily held the edge in Hoogerheide.

Where he'll finish: 

There seems to be no pattern of third places, but the most likely perhaps is Laurens' brother Diether Sweeck, who is the only person in the race to beat both of the favourites at the same time, unless you count Van Aert and Van der Poel, which just seems unfair, in Hasselt. Sweeck is a little smaller than his brother, and is slightly less talented, but can hold his own with the rest, with fourth in Hoogerheide.

Where he'll finish:  - 4th

Third and fifth in Hoogerheide were two Frenchmen, or Francis Mourey's replacements if you like. The first of these is Cofidis rider Clément Venturini. He has some decent results, including second in the French nats, ahead of Mourey, winning some Swiss races, and third in Diegem, ahead of Sweeck, impressively. However, in Hoogerheide, he was behind his compatriot Fabian Doubey, who has more erratic palmares, but rode very impressively in Hoogerheide.

Where they'll finish:

Venturini: 4th

Doubey: 5th

Toon Aerts is the next best Belgian, finishing second in the nats, and has some good results this year. He is good in terrible conditions, beating Vanthourenhout often when there are puddles and mudbaths. He specializes in mid top-10s.

Where he'll finish: 6th.

Dutch under-23 champ Stan Godrie has also been quite erratic this year, with second place in Diegem and top 10 placings in some under-23 World Cups. But in Hoogerheide he was down in 15th, three minutes behind Sweeck. He is the top Dutchman.

Where he'll finish: 7th-10th

Czech champion Adam Toupalik is on home soil, and could spring a surprise. He is the very young to be the champion of his country, at 18 years of age.

Where he'll finish: 8th to 10th, but could spring a surprise.

You can watch the under-23 race at 10 GMT on Sunday, as an appetiser to the Elites.