World Championships Preview: It’s Going To Be “Gnarly”


Staged On Netherland’s Most Infamous Climb

Riders will wage battle on the slopes of the infamous Cauberg in the town of Valkenburg in the Netherlands. Perhaps best known as the finishing climb of the road racing classic, Amstel Gold, the Dutch hill has also been featured in multiple UCI Road World Championships as well as stages of the Tour de France.

Adri van der Poel, father of outright men’s elite favorite Mathieu van der Poel, is the designer of the course. The Valkenburg cyclocross venue has featured as a UCI World Cup event the last four seasons, and though the elder Van der Poel has made slight alterations to the course, it remains a hard and hilly ordeal.

The 2016 World Cup edition had a reported 2,300 feet of elevation gain throughout the 65-minute long men’s race. The hilly course favors punchy explosive riders, but the ability to finesse the bicycle down fast off camber descents is where the race will be won or lost.

Slip'n Slide Imminent

The normally grassy sides of the Cauberg are currently saturated, as a spell of rain in the southern Netherlands primes the course for what cyclocross fans across the world love to see — mud! A quick glance at rider’s social media accounts reveals properly slippery conditions, as pre-rides have transformed the grass into mud.

The women’s championship races on Saturday may see the rain turn to snow as temperatures drop.

On Sunday, the men will tackle a thoroughly abused hillside with overnight freezing temperatures potentially creating hard, icy ruts along the treacherously slippery descents of the Cauberg.

Van Der Haar King Of The Cauberg

Lars van der Haar has proven himself a force to be reckoned with on the slopes of the Cauberg. The Dutchman has secured three consecutive victories in the Valkenburg World Cup race — only to be bested by Mathieu van der Poel in the most recent edition. Look for a strong start from Van der Haar on Sunday as the relentlessly punchy course suits his explosive riding style.

American fans can take note that Jeremy Powers is also familiar with the course, having secured a top-10 finish in 2014.

Of the four Valkenburg World Cups, Marianne Vos, Katie Compton, Eva Lechner, and Thalita de Jong have each won on the Cauberg. All four of those women have a legitimate shot at victory on Saturday.

Home Field Advantage For The Dutch

Defending champion Sanne Cant will face an armada of Dutch women, including former world champions Marianne Vos and Thalita de Jong. American Champion Katie Compton poses a major threat to the title as well. Compton is a previous winner at Valkenburg and has finished on the podium of the world championships no less than four times.

Despite a crash in Hoogerheide last weekend, former world champion Pauline Ferrand Prevot has confirmed that she too will contest the World Championship.

And, let's not forget the World Cup overall runner-up, American Kaitie Keough, as well as Maud Kaptheijns, Lucinda Brand, Nikki Brammeier, Helen Wyman, Ellen Noble, and Katerina Nash, all of whom could all potentially win the elite women’s race.

Mathieu van der Poel comes to Valkenburg as the outright favorite following a season of utter dominance. Fellow Dutch rider and Valkenburg master Lars van der Haar offers a tangible challenge to the crown, if not a strong ally to van der Poel.

The big question is whether or not Belgium has any tricks up its sleeve? Defending champion Wout Van Aert poses the biggest threat to van der Poel. Armed with six teammates to Van der Poel’s four, Belgium has many cards to play including Laurens Sweeck and Michael Vanthournout, both of whom appear to be on particularly good form.

While van der Poel has been dominant this season, the conditions on the Cauberg are — in the words of Jeremy Powers — “gnarly.” With the relentlessly slick mud and ever growing ruts, avoiding mechanicals and minimizing errors will be paramount.

In that respect, Belgium has power in numbers.

By Michael Sheehan

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