The middle of the winter can make enjoyable summer cycling feel like a distant dream. Thank goodness cyclocross is here to save us! As the 2023 Cyclocross World Championships at Hoogerheide approach, the start lists become increasingly interesting. Who is racing, who is skipping the race to focus on the Classics, and who is peaking at the right time? Some of our favorites are lining up to make this an amazing year to watch.
[Clara Honsinger - Getty Images]
The Women's Elite should be an amazing showdown between the Dutch and... the Dutch. They are the New York Yankees of women's cyclocross with the top ten on Pro Cycling stats being exclusively from the Netherlands. The rest of the top 20 could make it interesting, but expect a grand showdown between Lucinda Brand, Fem Van Empel, Puck Pieterse, and Denise Betsema. The defending champ, Marianne Vos, has not been on her best form, though she always manages to deliver an amazing performance when it counts. From the best of the rest, look for Zoe Backstedt (GBR), local rider Clara Honsinger (USA), and Belgian favorites Sanne Cant and Marion Norbert Riberolle to play the roles of long-shot upsets - if they get a good start and can handle the incredible skills of the Dutch women.
As the defending 2022 champion, Tom Pidcock, has elected not to defend his title, the Elite Men come down to two riders, really. But you simply could not ask for a more dominant pair of riders to watch. Mathieu Van der Poel (NDL) and Wout Van Aert (BEL) are both expected to battle it out for the rainbow jersey. They're both healthy and eager to take the title. The names should be familiar to those who follow professional road racing, as both put on amazing displays in last year's Tour de France, but cyclocross is where these two developed their power and bike handling skills, not to mention their intense rivalry.
[Wout Van Aert / Jumbo Visma]
Wout has had the edge in recent races over the holiday season, but Mathieu has been competitive in all but one. Expect Mathieu to try and break Wout early with an incredible power output, but if it remains close over the first three to four laps, Wout's stamina and running speed will likely make the difference. It has come down to the smallest of errors or mechanical issues to separate these two and this should be a race for the ages. There are a number of potential spoilers who might leave it all out there to try and hold the wheel of the two princes, but all odds are on one of the two to be crowned king of the mud. Hoogerheide is in the Netherlands, but only just over the border from Belgium. It is in Wout's backyard, so despite the Dutch locale, expect the crowds to be roaring for both of these amazing champions of the sport.