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Belgian nationals: when the going gets tough

Debate regarding the cx nationals runs fierce in this country. This year though, it all comes down to two questions: ‘is anyone capable of beating Wout Van Aert?’ and ‘Isn’t this race too tough?’.

‘Too tough’, you say? Yes, even cyclocross has its limits apparently. The course in Erpe-Mere isn’t new to the Belgian peloton: there’s an early season race there every year, and though it isn’t televised many of the bigs show up to test their September legs. Lars van der Haar has previously called it ‘one of the hardest on the calendar’, and Belgian winter weather hasn’t improved its conditions. The last couple of days have been typically Belgium-in-January: grey, temperatures just above zero degrees Celsius and pouring rain. Cx-conclusion: every night the ground freezes into a slippery block of ice, every morning it slowly defrosts, every midday soaking rain turns it into a mud bath, every evening the mud bath freezes into a slippery block of ice. Lather, rinse, repeat til Sunday.

The Sporza recap divides the race into four parts: stairs, wacky forest, MUUUUUUUUUUD, finish.

  • Stairs: well, yeah. There are stairs, and they're gonna be the first obstacle that's gonna separate the men from the bo I just realized our prime contender isn't of legal drinking age in America. Ok, the stairs are gonna separate the good from the bad. They'll all be caked in mud at the end anyway, so the ugly won't have to worry.
  • The wacky forest: Ok, we're probably not talking Pan's Labyrinth here, but the Erpe-Mere forest still has some tricks up its sleeves. It starts with a sweeping descent - think Namur or Asper-Gavere, then a climb, then another descent. The gutsy will fly down these hills, but the mud might take the gutsy down a notch or two. There's definite skill in descents like these, but there's also some luck involved. You can be skilful eight times, but you only need to be unlucky once for your plan to go to hell.
  • MUUUUUUUUUUD: next up, some flat muddy forest bits. The weathergods will decide how ridable these stretches will be by Sunday.
  • Finish: Not too much asphalt, so not a long sprint. Plus, probably slippery with mud everywhere. Best to have a gap before the final turn I'd say.

As far as contenders go: it's all Wout all the time in cx land these days. The kid's on fire. But Albert was the overwhelming favourite last year - he fell down more than once, quit mid-race and Sven took the jersey home. So you know, reality doesn't always follow punters' predictions. Thank god for that. As for Wout's contenders: Meeusen and Pauwels are the most likely candidates. In any other season I'd add Klaas Vantornout and Sven Nys to that list. KVT loves a good old slugfest and I'm pretty sure he won his legs from a flamingo in a prenatal bet, so he'd be great at this. But he's been battling illness since before Holy Cx Week. And you know all about Sven. It will depend mostly on how much of the Great Slump of 14-15 is in his head, and how much of it is in his legs. He managed to pump himself up for his hometown race in Baal on newyear's day, so it can't all be physical. Maybe the fight for his jersey will be enough to lure the real Sven Nys from the shadows.

We'll see, come Sunday afternoon.