A few weeks ago, we had the world's best cyclocross race. The week after we had the world's best cyclocross race. And now, on Sunday, comes another world's best cyclocross race. (And no, it isn't Hasselt, which I'm basically going to ignore and pray TGS never sees this, on account of it being demoted to Soudal Classics, and being the day before Koksijde)The Duinencross in Koksijde (do your sniggering here) is held mainly on sand close to the Belgian coast, with some mud and forests thrown in too, just so they wouldn't feel left out, I suppose. Duinencross' (dune cross, geddit) sand sections are difficult to negotiate, as some are thin and difficult, and others are uphill. There's nothing so perilous as Zonhoven's pit though.
As the graphic on that map does not fail to tell you, this is a UCI World Cup event. Wout Van Aert, winner in Vegas and last year's Koksijde champion, leads the standings by a scant ten points from Valkenburg victor Van der Haar.
The weather can play a part in the race, and there's a good chance of rain, with the temperature forecast at a toasty six degrees.
Who's going to win? Well, I can tell you that after weeks of Wout Van Aert monotony, there's a new challenger, back from a knee injury, and up to face his rival, clad in the rainbow jersey. That's right, it's Mathieu Van der Poel!
After hurting his right knee in a crash, he overtrained and overcompensated, his left knee taking the brunt of the damage. He needed surgery on it, and make Koksijde his comeback aim. He's been on schedule, he is back, and has been training for weeks. His last race was in February, in Middelkerke, where he snaffled the Superprestige title, after taking the Dutch championships, Hoogerheide, Hoogstraten, Krawatencross and of course the world championships in Tabor all in the space of a month. While this year he is too far behind to take any of the series, starting later could give him an advantage later in the season. In the nearer future however, he says his aims for Sunday are a top ten, and he will be disappointed to achieve less. My money's on a top five position, a couple of minutes behind the winner.
But who will that winner be? Well, as for every Sunday since mid-September, the chances are it'll be Wout Van Aert, who despite "losing" the European championships two weeks ago, and then "losing" in Ruddervoorde, won in Gavere without too much difficulty. He will also be wearing a special white (hah!) jersey for the race, but it won't be rainbow bands emblazoned on the front, but the World Cup logo.
Second in the world cup, and in his own blue jersey, will be Lars van der Haar, who usually is at his best in World Cups. A victory will see him take over the lead in the standings. Sven Nys can also take the lead if things go his way, and he is looking more and more like his old self as the races go on - he might have won in Ruddervoorde if not for his early crash. Kevin Pauwels looks even better.
Other possibilities are Klaas Vantornout and Tom Meeusen. If Meeusen makes it through the first lap without crashing, he might actually do something.
On the women's side of things, it's looking to me like Sanne Cant versus Eva Lechner. Lechner is only targeting the World Cups, and that's paid off, with second place in CrossVegas neatly followed by a victory in Valkenburg. I'm not sure of her prowess on sand however, and if you haven't seen Cant's winning attack last year, it's worth watching.
I'd suggest, that despite Cant's lack of form in the previous month, her last fortnight has shown that she's back to her best and will deliver in Koksijde on Sunday.