There's a certain temptation that strikes when writing about CX national championships. There are just so many races, and the fields of most of them are so thin, that there is a part of me that just wants to preview them as follows:
Country 1: Name of Winner
Country 2: Name of Winner
Country 3: Sven Nys
Country 4: Zombie Maurice Garin
But I will not do that, as cyclocross deserves more. How much more? We'll discover the answer to that question on Sunday. In Belgium, for example, it looks like I could very easily just write down a pair of names and leave it at that, but you'll see an interesting race on the horizon if you look past that. I asked TGS to enlighten me about the course:
The Belgian nats are in Oostende, by the coast, and are - to use Wout's words - a mix between Koksijde and Ruddervoorde. The Koksijde bit is raced on beachsands, skirting the water. There was some typical cx-like controversy this week surrounding a particularly nasty sandy running stretch which was shortened after Danny De Bie, Marlux-Napoleon Games (Yoah, KVT) teamleader, deemed it "too difficult".
The Ruddervoorde bit is grasslands in the Oostende hippodrome, made all the more difficult because it's been absolutely freezing and snowing in Belgium on Saturday. It'll be a wee bit warmer on Sunday, but it'll still be slipping and sliding galore. There's hills and corners everywhere, and hardly a straight bit in sight.
The two are joined by a long, steep (50m at 21%), nasty bridge, which not everyone will survive intact.
PS: the debutant race turned out a familiarly named winner: Thibau Nys, son of. If the pressure was high before, it's on big time now...
As for who will win, in both races it seems very clear. Wout van Aert and Sanne Cant are the overwhelming favourites. Toon Aerts outrode Van Aert in Baal, but that's basically it for Belgians beating the world champion this season. Kevin Pauwels has come close to challenging him in a few races, but in an all-out race with Van Aert, I can't imagine him being a huge challenge. Van Aert is great on sand, is a powerful runner, and most importantly, Mathieu van der Poel isn't Belgian. Notably, Eli Iserbyt, under-23 world champion at the age of nineteen, and the next Belgian cyclocross prospect, is riding the professional race tomorrow. It will be interesting to see how high he can finish against the older opposition.
Sanne Cant will have an even easier ride than Van Aert. Ellen Van Loy and Jolien Verschueren will be her only challengers, and while Verschueren could probably beat the defending champ on the Koppenberg or - you know - a race that's not at sea level, she won't be able to cope with all that running on the sand. Sanne Cant is assured the Belgian champion's jersey, I don't doubt it.
Meanwhile, in the Netherlands, a circuitous course awaits the riders in St. Michielsgestel, where Richard Groenendaal won his 2000 world championship. It's reportedly narrow and full of twists and turns — or in other words, Mathieu van der Poel's dream. It will be his first race since his serious-looking crash in Loenhout, but he says that he is good to go for his title defence. Personally, I'm willing to believe him, if only because defending his title shouldn't be the most difficult thing to do. Lars van der Haar, who nearly had the beating of him last year, is still not to one hundred (or even ninety) per cent of his usual strength, Lars Boom is only there or thereabouts, and Corné van Kessel...is Corné van Kessel. So Van der Poel, 100% or not, should come home with his third consecutive Dutch jersey.
Harder to predict is the women's race. Marianne Vos won in Surhuisterveen and Baal — to be honest, she's won most things in the last three weeks. However, she's hardly going to cruise to her fifth championship. Lucinda Brand, Thalita de Jong and Sophie de Boer are all having good seasons, and will challenge Vos for the title. De Jong's November form would certainly have been a challenge for Vos, but in recent races, she hasn't been very close to beating her former team mate. Neither Brand nor De Boer are any closer. Vos has the form and the skills to win, and probably will.
Elsewhere, we have the British championships in Bradford. Liam Killeen and Ian Field will fight for the men's championship, and I haven't watched enough British cyclocross to tell you which will win. Helen Wyman is back for the women's race, but Nikki Brammeier, who has ridden a much more comprehensive season, should be enough to dispatch of her.
In Germany, I expect Marcel Meisen, who has scored a top ten or two recently, to beat out closest challengers Philipp Walsleben and Sascha Weber in the town with the lovely name of Quiedersbach. There's not that much of a women's scene in Germany recently, so don’t expect to see the German jersey in women's races. In the French race in Brittany, I would expect Clement Venturini to beat out a close field including Francis Mourey, John Gadret and roadie Arnold Jeannesson. Caroline Mani should outclass all in the women's event.
And now, we do a Columbus, by which I mean finally get to America. I'm not that qualified on American cyclocross — I know enough to make fun of the amount of UCI points Jeremy Powers gets, and that's about it, but it's apparently been snowing around the course in Hartford, Connecticut. Powers should fight for the win with Stephen Hyde. Katie Compton and Kaitlin Antonneau should duke it out in the women's race.
You can catch a live stream of the US race, the Belgian championships are on Sporza, the Dutch are on television, so a stream should be available, and any other feeds would be greatly appreciated.