Lille - in the province of Antwerp - has some 16.000 inhabitants, including not only Wout van Aert and Sanne Cant but also Erwin Vervecken and Paul Herygers. Which means that 1 in every 4.000 Krawaten is a cyclocross hero. Cause that's what the inhabitants of Lille are called, Krawaten. During the weird and wobbly course that is linguistic history, somehow krawaat morphed from its original meaning 'Croatian soldier' to 'naughty boy'.
Suiting, then, that the Krawatencross will Sunday determine who gets to call him- and herself the messiah of muddy Belgian cycling for another 360 days or so. It's a fun race, too. No special gimmicks, but it rarely disappoints. The race is around a small lake, a pond if you will, and they skirt the water so closely one of these days one of 'em is 'bout to go swimming. They then turn to the forest, where it's twisty and hilly. Good times for all.
It's not exactly the same as in normal years though. Instead it's been revised to look more like the nats in 2004, where Bart Wellens won. Remember Wellens? He's just had back surgery. Remember 2004? It was the year Facebook got started, when the bombings in Madrid marked what still is the biggest modern day terrorist attack in Europe, when gmail got started, when Marco Pantani died, when 385 people were killed in the Beslan school siege, when the Burj Kalifa got started, when the Christmas tsunami utterly destroyed Southeast Asia, and when Oscar Freire and Judith Arndt won the road worlds. Feel old now? Yeah, I know.
By the way, Roman Kreuziger and Marianne Vos were juniors at those worlds. Bet you feel really old now.
Anyway. We were talking mud. And we were talking adaptations to the Krawatencross. "It's more than just a sand race", says Paul Herygers about it. "Especially the pond - which they circle completely Sunday - is very swampy. And they're predicting more rain."
It's a quite technical race, with a lot of twisty turns and a natural washboard. But, no beams. Sven Nys mourns.
And as far as the favourites are concerned, I can be quite short. Sunday, they will be racing on champions' home soil.