The fifth and final round of the 2020 - 2021 UCI Cyclocross World Cup will descend upon the rutted and rooted slopes of Overijse this Sunday January 24th.
Overijse is a new acquisition by the World Cup series after being organized for many years as a standalone race under the name Vlaamse Druivencross.
Despite traditionally not being part of a major series, Overijse has always drawn top contenders thanks in part to a 12,500 Euro prize to any rider who can win the event three times in five years, a feat most recently accomplished by Mathieu Van Der Poel. While the prize money has proven an attractive draw to the race, the real reason Overijse has enjoyed over 60 years of success on the cyclocross calendar is because the course is madness.
A Rutted, Rooted and Treacherous Course
The start grid lies at the base of a steep climb, which leaves the rider’s legs stinging as they begin to snake back down the large sloping hillside that the course is built on.
Overijse, much like the Namur World Cup, needs not rely on man-made obstacles to challenge the riders. The course’s natural elevation profile provides difficult climbs and harrowing, descents riddled with roots and ruts.
Combine those features with the mud that reliably awaits riders on a nearly yearly basis, and it's clear why Overijse is considered one of the most epic cyclocross courses on the calendar.
Slick, Muddy and Freezing Conditions Await
The 2021 edition of Overijse will almost certainly provide muddy conditions once again. The Flemish course has been absorbing rain all week, with patchy rain expected to continue through the weekend.
Race day conditions look particularly grim for the riders, with near freezing temperatures expected. The cold rain, combined with a course that has proven treacherous time and time again, will challenge riders tasked with staying healthy and safe just one week out from the 2021 UCI Cyclocross World Championships.
Final Battle For World Championship Contenders
Lucinda Brand enters Overijse with an insurmountable lead in the UCI World Cup standings. Overijse has been a particularly challenging course for Brand throughout her transition from a road racer to the cyclocross star that she is today. Brand’s sheer strength on the heavy Overijse course earned her a victory in 2018 and a second place in 2019, despite the many crashes that she suffered en route to those results. With the world championships one week away, safety must be Brand’s first priority this weekend.
Denise Betsema will challenge Brand in Overijse, as Betsema asserts herself as a favorite for the upcoming World Championships. Ceylin Del Carmen Alvarado has struggled to stamp her authority on the field in the same way she did last season, but remains a top contender.
Clara Honsinger is another favorite for the title in Overijse after demonstrating her strength in similar conditions at Namur. If Honsinger can stick with Brand up the opening climb, the American will find herself in the lead group on a course that suits her talents quite nicely.
Wout Van Aert has only raced Overijse once, in 2016 where he finished second to Mathieu Van Der Poel. Van der Poel enters as the defending champion, but not the clear favorite. Van der Poel and Wout van Aert have appeared rather evenly matched this season, and while the Dutchman may have a slight edge on a course like Overijse, expect to see a real battle between the two stars both this weekend and next.
Van der Poel does enter the weekend with the outside chance of winning the 2020 - 2021 World Cup overall, but it would involve beating Van Aert by a number of places. The World Cup standings will be a secondary priority to the World Championships. This focus on the weekend ahead may even provide an opportunity for riders willing to take more risks on the descents to escape the grasp of Van der Poel and Van Aert in Overijse.
Overijse never fails to produce a spectacle, and in 2021 the final round of the World Cup will be a high stakes battle before the riders line up in Ostend.