Words by Amy Jones | Photo by SWpix.com
Van der Poel and van Aert may be getting most of the headlines at the Cross Worlds, but Saturday’s women’s race will be just as enthralling with a new generation to the fore
This weekend, cyclocross fans will be tuning in to watch the head-to-head battle between two of the sport’s biggest names at the World Championships in Hoogerheide. It will be the first time in years that Mathieu van der Poel and Wout van Aert have come together at a CX World Championships, but the battle between the two men won’t be the only showdown between talented rivals this weekend.
In the elite women’s race, a changing of the guard is afoot. Current world champion Marianne Vos has struggled this winter and announced that she won’t be defending her title due to injury, while the woman she battled with in Fayetteville twelve months ago, Lucinda Brand, has been off the boil since fracturing her hand ahead of the Tabor round of the World Cup.
Last year, while the two titans of the elite race were fighting it out, over in the U23 category the three riders who would go on to be stars of this season made up the podium (pictured above): Puck Pieterse, Shirin van Anrooij, and Fem van Empel.
These names were not new to cyclocross World Cups. Van Empel had already won in Val di Sole and Flamanville – although with the caveat that Vos and Brand were absent – and Pieterse and van Anrooij had a handful of top-10s and podiums between them. But they certainly weren’t shaping the landscape in the way that they have this season.
One out of the trio of 20-year-old talents has won every single round of the UCI CX World Cup this season, with van Empel taking seven wins and securing the overall with one round to spare after Benidorm. With just a few exceptions, almost every round of the World Cup since October has featured a podium made up of the three, the rest of the field trailing behind.
While cyclocross stalwarts like Denise Betsema, Annemarie Worst, Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado, and, of course, Brand and Vos, have done their best to challenge the three prodigal talents, nobody has really come close this season.
Although she has gotten the better of the elite field throughout the season, van Anrooij has opted to race for the U23 title in Hoogerheide, perhaps aware that she trails her two compatriots slightly, but also cognisant of her young age and the limited time she has to race in the U23 ranks. “There are still many years to come in which I can fight for a podium place in the elites, while I want to close my period as a U23 in Hoogerheide. I choose to develop my career step by step and do not want to skip any steps,” she said of the decision.
Van Empel, who as of this season is now teammates with Vos at Jumbo Visma’s women’s team, edges slightly ahead of Pieterse as a favourite to win this weekend owing to a course that suits her speed. Pieterse, who’s bike-handling skills are unparalleled in the women’s field, would have preferred a more technical course, but it will undoubtedly be a close-fought battle regardless.
The first-ever women’s Cyclocross World Championship only took place in 2000, two years before Pieterse, van Empel, and van Anrooij were born, but now the sport belongs to them.