Hot on the heels of historic CrossVegas World Cup, the second round of the UCI Cyclocross World Cup heads to the land of the classics and the Cauberg climb at the Valkenburg World Cup, taking place in the Netherlands this Sunday.
While there are two noticeable absences: Katerina Nash (Luna Pro Team) in the Elite Women’s race, and Mathieu van der Poel (BKCP-Corendon) in the Elite Men’s race, the competition will be fierce as racers take to the hilly parcours and fight for the World Cup leader’s jersey.
Elite Women: Nash’s Absence Opens Up Field for New World Cup Leader
Nash won the CrossVegas World Cup in commanding fashion, but will not be starting at Valkenburg. In an interview with Cyclocross Magazine, she talks about foregoing World Cups for an early mountain bike season next year. This leaves the door open for many of her strong contenders to capitalize on her absence.
Italian Eva Lechner (Team Colnago-SudTirol) is well-positioned to take over the World Cup leaders jersey, with her second place performance at CrossVegas. Along with her cyclocross success, Lechner recently won the cross country mountain bike race at the Rio de Janeiro Olympic test event, so there should be no doubts about her form.
Victorious at Superprestige Gieten and third place finisher at CrossVegas, Sanne Cant (Enertherm-BKCP) is a perennial threat: can she improve on her result to take the World Cup leader’s jersey?
Pavla Havlikova (MRM-Avalon) is fresh off a victory at last weekend’s BPost Bank Trofee race at Ronse. The hilly course at Valkenburg is similar to the terrain at Ronse, and in turn suits her ability to go uphill well, so she’ll be one to watch.
Last year’s Valkenburg World Cup winner Katie Compton (Trek Factory Racing) is off to a slower start this year than in years prior. Compton is not one to be discounted, as her fitness is building as the season progresses, with an uptick in results to match. Can her dominating win from last year be repeated?
Along with Compton, the United States is fielding a deep women’s team. Katie Antonneau (Cannondale p/b Cyclocrossworld.com) is fresh off a C1 victory at day one of the Trek CXC Cup in Wisconsin, with Crystal Anthony (Boulder Cycle Sport / YogaGlo) winning day two. Amanda Miller (Boulder Cycle Sport / YogaGlo) has earned some early season success with victories both days of Nittany CX, and a close second in a sprint finish to Antonneau at day one of the Trek CXC Cup.
Rounding out the United States’ squad is Courtenay McFadden (GE Capital/American Classic), Arley Kemmerer (Level Eleven Racing p/b PB2) and longtime Cyclocross Magazine contributor Christina Vardaros (STEVENS Cycling Team).
Watch a recap of Katie Compton’s victory at the 2014 Valkenburg World Cup
Elite Men: All Eyes on Van Aert
Without a doubt, Wout Van Aert (Vastgoedservice-Golden Palace) comes into Valkenbug as a favorite. With a five-win streak to start the season, he is the man to beat.
Van Aert’s commanding performance at Cross Vegas World Cup, soloing away from chasers Sven Nys (Crelan-AA Drink) and Michael Vanthourenhout (Sunweb-Napoleon Games) to victory, set the tone for an early season of dominance. Since that victory he hasn’t let up, notching wins at the GP Neerpelt, Steenbergcross, Superprestige Gieten and the BPost Bank Trofee at Ronse.
A worthy adversary to Van Aert the last few races, Kevin Pauwels (Sunweb-Napoleon Games) hopes to repeat as World Cup overall winner. With a fourth place finish at Cross Vegas, and a pair of seconds at the GP Neerpelt and the BPost Bank Trofee at Ronse, Pauwels could play the spoiler at Valkenburg.
Two-time Valkenburg World Cup winner, Lars van der Haar (Giant-Alpecin) looks to make it a trifecta. Van der Haar’s fourth place finish at CrossVegas shows that his early season fitness is where it needs to be. With a quick start, Van der Haar is capable of stringing out the race early. Although keeping the pace when other racers eventually bridge up has been problematic in the past weeks, he has turned in a strong series of results after leading early, with a second place at Superprestige Gieten and a third at the BPost Bank Trofee at Ronse.
Never one to be discounted, Sven Nys has not been as dominant at the start of this season as years past, but he has put together a respectable string of results, with a strong second-place finish at the CrossVegas World Cup, and just missing the podium with fourth place finishes at Superprestige Gieten and the BPost Bank Trofee at Ronse. The wily veteran has a bag of tricks deeper than most, so keep an eye on him to be well positioned at the finish.
Jeremy Powers (Aspire Racing) is fresh off a career result at Cross Vegas, finishing in 6th place, the best Elite Men’s finish by an American in history. He has been nothing but dominating in his performance stateside, collecting C1 victories at Ellison Park Cyclocross p/b Full Moon Vista, Gran Prix of Gloucester Days One and Two, KMC Cyclo-cross Festival Day Two and day one of the Trek CXC Cup. Brian Matter (KS Energy Services) completes out the United States’ Elite Men’s squad.
Van der Poel remains sidelined with a knee injury.
Watch Lars van der Haar’s win at the 2014 Valkenburg World Cup
Keep an eye on cxmagazine.com on Sunday for race results, photos an an in-depth race report. The UCI’s YouTube channel will be providing live video coverage, albeit blocked to those in the U.S. (or without a VPN).
Who do you think will come out on top in Valkenburg? Any upsets or surprises? Make your predictions in the comments!