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Pre-Worlds CX Season Recap: What an Odd Year, and Is Dominance Here to Stay?

The world championships are next weekend, and let's face it, our tolerance for races with a tarmac allergy is waning, so I'm not going to be bothered to do much CX stuff after the rainbow bands are doled out. So I'm doing it now. Most of this is me thinking out life without the young guns.

Patrick Verhoest

The big news before the cyclocross season began was all in connection with Mathieu van der Poel. While training for the first World Cup in Las Vegas, he hurt his knee, he kept training, and badly aggravating the other one, eliminating him from racing for two months, leaving the door wide open for Wout Van Aert, who capitalised on his rival's misfortune as ruthlessly as anyone could possibly imagine. In the fourteen races between CrossVegas and Koksijde, he won nine and came second in the other five, basically putting one hand on every single series crown. He didn't just win the races, he dominated them, with his most comprehensive victory coming in Zonhoven. There, he won by over a minute, and in second place? His own team mate. The only people who could stand up to him were Nys, Pauwels and Van der Haar, all of whom won at least one race in this period, but for the first two months of the season, cyclocross was the Wout Van Aert show.

However, Koksijde heralded a change. For the first time all season, rainbow stripes appeared on the start line. Van der Poel led the race for the first lap, and while Van Aert rode a great race, the master, Sven Nys was in contact whatever he tried, and when it came down to it, was stronger. This was the first chink in Van Aert's armour.

Koksijde World Cup... Thru Patrick's Lens!

(Patrick Verhoest)

That was period of dominance one. RIP period of dominance one. (16/09/15 - 13/12/15) Almost immediately after, Van der Poel got into a bit of form, and the "1"s beside Van Aert's name on results sheets disappeared for a few races. It was in Namur when the Dutchman really got back into his stride, that was the first time he beat Van Aert all season, with a frantic last lap victory.

Van der Poel has gone from strength to strength afterwards, winning every single World Cup from Namur onwards, his own national championships, and Diegem. This was and remains period of dominance two (20/12/15 -) Van der Poel has dominated almost every race he's started from this point on, almost never looking in danger of losing, and taking Zolder (the location of the worlds) by over a minute.

Women's cyclocross has not had it much better. The startlists have been sparse, since the arguably best three riders haven't been riding. Vos is injured, Nash is focussing on mountain biking and American races, and Ferrand-Prevot also got injured, about two weeks before she was due to start her season. This all leaves the door open for one Sanne Cant, who has capitalised, basically dominating the season, having already sewn up the World Cup, the BPost Bank Trofée (in all but name) and is leading the Superprestige by one point. She has won more than half of the races she's ridden.

Koksijde World Cup... Thru Patrick's Lens!

Streets ahead - a common place for Cant to be this season. (Patrick Verhoest)

The one thing I can say for the women's season is that at least it hasn't been split up into just a couple of period's of dominance. Cant's dominance has been broken through intermittently, at least, by Verschueren in Oudenaarde, Havlikova in Ronse, Wyman in Hamme, Harris in Namen, and De Boer only yesterday.

I suppose my overall point is: Sure, we have all this amazing talent riding through the stomping grounds of Belgium this winter, but is it really that much of an improvement when the races are boring? I can respect Van der Poel tearing everyone to pieces, and thrashing through deep mud like it's not even there, but is it entertainment? I'd like to point out that my three favourite races of the season were Leuven - a race neither Van Aert nor Van der Poel competed in, Loenhout - a race won by Tom Meeusen in defiance of Van Aert and Van der Poel, and Diegem - which in fairness was won by Van der Poel, but it was a proper race, involving  Pauwels, Van der Haar, and a technical corner.

That's what I've got to say. I love watching a guy wade through mud at the head of a race, but I'd just rather there was a rival beside him.