When we think CX championships, we immediately think of Belgium, but it's not all there, oh no. The Netherlands has their fair share of 'cross riders, who want to win just as much, and there are a lot of other countries with some muddy fields and riders mad enough to ride their bikes on them.
The Dutch championships will take place in Veldhoven, a town in the South of The Netherlands. The course has been described as "incredibly tough." There is a mud section, and some sand, and the course has been made exclusively for cyclo-cross. Lars Van der Haar will be going there in the hope of retaining his title, with other expected protagonists being 19-year-old Mathieu Van der Poel and Fidea rider Corné Van Kessel.
As far as I can tell from the map, the race starts on just a little more tarmac than necessary and turns onto a long sand section right beside the lake, reminiscent of the Zilvermeer course in Mol, where the Belgian Van Aert won. It then turns on to a grassy section and into the pits before a zigzag of grass and sand. The riders will then go on to a forest section before another short stint on the sand, when they will take on a few technical grass corners, and back onto the tarmac for the finish.
The riders will face run-ups such as this, and a "mini-Mont Ventoux," according to this article by Omroep Brabant. Very tough, it seems.
There will also be some very difficult weather, with a 100% chance of rain near Veldhoven on Sunday.
So? Who will this boggy, sandy, tough course suit? Anyone who's anyone in Dutch cyclo-cross will be riding, including Lars Van der Haar and Mathieu Van der Poel. Other riders to note are Van der Poel's team-mate and brother David, and Corné Van Kessel, who will probably fight out third place. There are no notable exceptions unless you count Lars Boom.
Mathieu Van der Poel: Van der Poel is the Dutch under-23 champion who will be looking to step up. He won on Sunday in Leuven with an attack on the finishing straight with three laps to go, never looking back. His performances on sand in Gieten, and Zonhoven were incredible, he rode all the way up the pit in Zonhoven. All of it. His recent performances have been better than almost anyone else's, coming second in Loenhout.
(David Stockman, Getty)
Lars Van der Haar: Van der Haar is defending champion of the Netherlands after he won last year in Gasselte. He has worn the red, white and blue to two World Cup victories. He also won recently in Surhuisterveen. He won his under-23 world title on the sands of Koksijde, so is no slouch beside lakes. He is not perhaps quite so good as Van der Poel on sand but his strong sprint could lend him an advantage - Van der Poel must drop him to win. However, maybe he can. It will be close, that's for sure.
Corné Van Kessel: Van Kessel has history in the Dutch championships, second last year and under-23 champion in 2010. It's unlikely that he can beat either of Van der Haar or Van der Poel, but will be standing behind them in case of a mishap. He's had a decent season, with two World Cup podiums, interestingly in the two races Van der Haar has won, Valkenburg and Zolder.
David Van der Poel: The brother of Mathieu Van der Poel would be asking a lot to win here, but it's not impossible, he has won a lot of races in Switzerland recently, along with a good race in Zolder. However, it's more likely that he will be scrapping for the podium with Van Kessel, a scrap which he will likely lose.
That's about it, unless you count Thijs Van Amerongen, which you mustn't feel obliged to, he's been invisible this season.
The Dutch National championships have been dominated recently by one woman - Marianne Vos. That seems set to continue, as no one except Katerina Nash has beaten Vos recently. Nash is notable in this instance for not being Dutch.
Marianne Vos: As I said, since her return to cyclo-cross on December 21, the only person who has beaten Vos is not Dutch. She should take the Dutch jersey at a canter. I'm perilously close to giving her five stars, but no, I never do that.
Sabrina Stultiens: Sabrina Stultiens has had a great season, finishing on the podium in Koksijde and getting close in a lot of other World Cups. Notably, she has shown herself in great form, winning the race in Leuven on Sunday. Vos' team mate should secure the podium, with a chance of victory. She has a podium in the Dutch nats, last year.
Sophie de Boer: It all started off so well for Sophie de Boer. She had brilliant victories in Oudenaarde and Ronse, right at the start of the year, and took the world cup lead. But then things went downhill with shoulder struggles flaring up. However, with a victory in Essen three weeks ago, she showed some of the brilliance which she undoubtedly possesses, if she shows it again, she should challenge, she was second last year.
Not exactly sure about live video, but there might be something.
I won't waste more than two words for the men's: Ian Field. The women's race is much more interesting, with a head on battle between Helen Wyman and Nikki Harris. While Wyman is the defending champion, she has not had the best season after her worlds podium in Hoogerheide. However, after a great November for Harris, winning a Superprestige, she got tendinitis, and has been out of form as well. Despite this, the race should be interesting.
Mourey should win the mens' unless he has an off day and is beaten by Fabian Canal. Pauline Ferrand-Prevot should win the womens' from Chainel-Lefevre.
Philipp Walsleben has won the German National Championships five times in the last six years. He is favourite to win again, but may face trouble from Champion System's Sascha Weber, who has a few top tens in big races. However, the BKCP rider should manage to take the jersey for a sixth time. Hanka Kumpfernagel is the defending women's champion.
For some reason, the women's championships were held in December and were won by Katerina Nash. The Mens' is currently held by Martin Bina. He will probably be just about the favourite, but will be challenged by Radomir Simunek. No Stybar. Again.