Cyclocross World Championships Will Settle Score For Van der Poel, Van Aert

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The 2021 UCI Cyclocross World Championships will take place on the coast of the North Sea in Ostend, Belgium, January 30-31. Here's everything you need to know about the dynamic and challenging parcours and the contenders in both the elite women's and men's fields.

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Racing Amid A Worsening Pandemic

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the 2021 world championships will not host the junior championship races. The U23 and elite categories will race without fans on Saturday and Sunday in a championship weekend that will look very different than any before.

The Ostend municipality has worked closely with the UCI to protect the health and safety of the community while allowing the most important weekend of the cyclocross season to proceed. Local police will be tasked with keeping the public away from the race course.

Sand, So Much Sand

The course in Ostend may be unfamiliar to international cyclocross fans, but it has been used for the Belgian National Championships in the past. The course features two distinct sections joined by a towering 26 foot tall pedestrian bridge with 21% grade ramps on either side. 

On one side of the bridge, the race will snake through a technical and undulating ribbon of tape on the infield of a horse racing track.

On the other side of the bridge lies the defining feature of the Ostend course. A 565 meter beach loop which necessitates excellent sand riding from any hopeful world champion. 

Man-made obstacles include two flyovers and five sets of planks, the last of which arrive just meters before the finishing straight.

Cold And Damp Cyclocross On The North Sea

Temperatures will drop throughout the weekend with precipitation likely. While never dipping below freezing, the cold wind from the North Sea combined with wintery conditions will make for bleak riding weather, also known as classic cyclocross conditions.

The damp ground may in fact be welcomed by the riders as their tires search for traction along the beach. 

The Two Horse Race We've All Been Waiting For

The women’s field will be headlined by Lucinda Brand, who dominated the World Cup. Brand is however by no means a runaway favorite for the title. Denise Betsema, who lives on one of Holland’s northern islands is well acquainted with sand riding, a point she proved with her 2018 Koksijde victory. Betsema was a key challenger in the 2020-2021 World Cup, winning the fourth round in Hulst.

Another former winner in Koksijde, which is just 30 kilometers down the beach from Ostend, is defending world champion Ceylin Del Carmen Alvarado. Alvarado was not as dominant in this cyclocross season as she was last year, however her win in last weekend’s Overijse World Cup suggests that she has timed the arrival of her form to perfection.

The men’s race on paper appears to be a two horse race. Mathieu Van Der Poel and Wout Van Aert are the undisputed class of the field despite a plethora of worthy challengers on the start line. 

Van der Poel and Van Aert traded first and second places in the last four rounds of the World Cup, with neither managing to assert themselves as a clear favorite for the title this weekend.

Van Aert and Van der Poel both have three elite cyclocross world championships to their name, having collectively won the past six editions. The 2021 Cyclocross World Championships will serve as a high stakes tie-breaker. Both riders appear to be on peak cyclocross form, while eyeing increased investment in other cycling disciplines in the years ahead. The duo will face-off at the Tour of Flanders and Tour de France in 2021.

The battle between Van der Poel and Van Aert in Overijse was a perfect preview for how deep the two are prepared to go to come out on top in the 2021 UCI Cyclocross World Championships.

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