Yes, while cyclocross is synonymous with Belgium, everyone else has got to have its own race. Crazy, right? Much like road cycling, cyclocross national championships are mostly held on the same day, unless you count Australia, which you mustn't feel obliged to. While TGS focuses on the Belgian championships in Lille (not the French one), I'm concentrating on the other ones, major and minor.
The Dutch championships will take place in Hellendoorn, next to what as far as I can tell is a large theme park. So there's something for everyone, I suppose. Get bored of standing in the rain? Hop on a big yellow rollercoaster. Alternatively, people who planned to go to the theme park will possibly stumble upon the beer tent and stick around. But I digress. Mathieu van der Poel is the defending champion, and although he only wore it once, is spending the fortnight before the race training for it. Shame really, he's probably not going to have a chance to wear it.
"This is a good map", the organisers must have said. "How can we make it...just a bit more difficult to understand?"
And here's a video, which reveals a course that to me seems extremely narrow.
The course's defining feature seems to be that little "sandbox" where dismounting and running up the steep bank seems mandatory. Other than that, most of the course seems to be mainly mud, with a large amount of slippery tarmac.
Rain is expected all week long, so the course should be very slick and muddy.
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 it out for third place. While Lars Boom has raced recently, he doesn't appear on the startlist.
Mathieu van der Poel is the overwhelming favourite for this race. He's the world champion, the reigning Dutch champion, and all in all is the fastest guy on knobbly tyres right now. However, his biggest challenge goes by the name of Lars van der Haar, who is also on quite a streak of form at the minute. While Van der Haar also has his own jersey, winning the November's European championships in Huijbergen. But who is on the better form of the two of them? They fought for the win in Zolder and Diegem, where Van der Haar stuck with his compatriot everywhere...bar one run-up in Zolder where Van der Poel could crush him every lap. In Diegem, it was a similar story. Van der Haar was Van der Poel's equal for the entire race...until the final corner, where the world champion managed to overpower him. In my opinion, the course suits Van der Poel more as well, there are two or three forced dismounts, and Van der Poel's taller stature will hand him the advantage there, along with the difficult final portion of the lap, leaving a chance for what is fast becoming the world champion's signature move this season - an all out attack in the final metres. In reality, these are the only two proper contenders for the title, but third place will probably go to Corné van Kessel, who recently took his first ever win on the pro scene in Surhuisterveen, or Van der Poel's older brother David. A shame really. It's one of the nicest jerseys in the sport and it probably won't be worn for the whole season.
This is a unique Dutch championship in that it will be the first time since 2010 that Marianne Vos will not come home with the jersey, and the first time since 1997 (!) that none of Vos, Daphny van den Brand or Mirjam Melchers- van Poppel will not win.
And who's coming into form just at the right time? Well, Sophie de Boer is. De Boer's 2015-16 season has been less successful than her previous season, but beating Sanne Cant in Leuven has put her back on track. She's performed well on sand before, so she's my pick to win, in Vos' absence. However, Sabrina Stultiens will provide a challenge. She has also been less prolific this season, but having placed third thrice in a row, will certainly be one of the favourites. Also riding are some names we know better from the road circuit, such as Lucinda Brand and Anna Van der Breggen. They placed fifth and sixth last year, and are outsiders for podium places, but I think third will go to Sanne van Passen or Thalita de Jong. Maud Kaptheijns is also not to be discounted.
The men's championships (AKA Ian Field Crowning Ceremony) have been won by Field four times in a row. Barring multiple disasters, he will make it five, but that doesn't matter, because most people will have lost interest by that stage, as the proper race will have taken place an hour earlier, between Helen Wyman and Nikki Harris. Unfortunately, while Harris had been having the better season of the two...she got sick. Leaving Wyman in pole position, although Harris will have had plenty of time to rest before the race.
Francis Mourey won an EKZ Tour race last week, so he's in sufficient form to take the title. The defending champion has retired. Ferrand-Prevot and Chainel-Lefevre aren't racing the women's leaving the way open for Caroline Mani, who rode very well in the last two World Cups.
Philipp Walsleben has won the German National Championships five times in the last seven years, losing last year to Marcel Meisen. Neither of them have done well at all this season, but if one of them has to take the victor's laurels it's be Walsleben, who showed a glimmer of his 2013 form in Surhuisterveen, beating Meisen by a minute.
I have been really impressed by one particular Czech rider this season - Radomir Simunek. Stybar, of course, isn't riding, so Simunek should win pretty much unopposed. Havlikova has also done very well this season - Ronse springs to mind, and as Katerina Nash is mysteriously absent - she'd sweep the races if she actually rode them - will take the women's jersey.