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Sunday, Sandy Sunday

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And the battle’s yet begun... to claim the victory Sven has won...

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

If you were very rude and used some sort of forceful threat on a Belgian citizen to get them to name the one cyclocross race they would never miss, it would be the Duinencross , an annual World Cup (and occasional world championship) course located in the West Flanders seaside town of Koksijde. You should not be rude, especially to the Belgian people, who are some of the friendliest people you will ever meet (unless you are Belgian, then they are probably a mixed bag, like any other society). But you should definitely tune in for what promises to be a memorable round of the Duinencross this Sunday.

What’s the Duinencross? I could inundate you with information, or I could just post a video. Basically, it’s “dune cross,” as in sand, and it has lots of tricky spots that require the rider to exercise extreme caution and... ah, hell, here’s a video.

Pretty awesome. And now add a sandy run-up, because ... it wasn’t already difficult enough?

Yes, the course has changed, for once! Here is this year’s course map:

Koksijde duinencross 2016 map

The sole difference from past years occurs where the course crossing #1 is indicated. If you look at the run-up photo, you can see that building in the background. In past years the course went past the building, rather than making a right turn up the dune, and swung around to rejoin the course where that sharp corner is right before crossing #2. Otherwise, it’s standard Duinencross fare.

Sven Nys is the God of Duinencross, with no fewer than seven career wins here. But do they name a dune after him? Nooooo... though you can find spots called “Herygersduin” and “NielsAlbertduin” because those are the names — Paul Herygers and Niels Albert — of the two Belgian athletes who won world championships on this course, in 1994 and 2012 respectively.

And so it was that Nys made his last stand at Koksijde — not literally, but as far as his record-setting feats in UCI World Cup events go, 2015 Koksijde was his 50th and final win. He took a nail-biter from his successor Wout Van Aert:

So now Van Aert should win... right? Ah, maybe, but while the 20-year-old Van Aert won spectacularly in 2014, this is one event where we can’t quite rate his chances against his arch-rival Mathieu van der Poel. Twice MvdP has finished third here, including last season when it was his first big event of the year coming off a knee issue. So yes, there is no evidence he should overcome his contemporary rainbow-clad adversary. But there may be by Sunday. Lots and lots of other interesting riders will be there and will be worth watching, including my old fave Kevin Pauwels, whose technical excellence has put him on the podium a few times. But let’s face it, the two kids are unbeatable right now; van der Haar is injured; and the rest of the field is only there in case the kids falter.

On the women’s side, Sanne Cant is moving into the driver’s seat these days, and no course has been kinder to the Belgian champion seven years running than Koksijde. After winning the bronze medal at the 2012 Koksijde Worlds, Cant got up to third place at the Duinencross later in 2012, second in 2013, and won the next two runnings. That shook the grip that American Katie Compton had held on the race, with four victories in six years, but Compton is still firing away at age 39 and is coming off third last year to give it another try. Compton scored early wins in the American CX events in Las Vegas and Iowa, while Dutch star Thalita de Jongh won in Valkenberg. So there’s a short list of your top competition for Sunday.

Oh, and for more images, see Patrick Verhoest’s awesome gallery from Koksijde last year!