The Christmas meal has been eaten, some grilled turkey and a sprout shake? Presents exchanged- a multi tool perhaps? And Christmas songs sung… “We three Kings of Orient are, one by bike and one by car…” of course. And that’s it- Christmas is already almost over- but for all ‘Cross fans the most wonderful time of the year is about to start!
Heusden-Zolder is where the world’s best ‘crossers will re-engage in their battle to win the UCI World Cup. This is the first race in a busy period dubbed Holy Week. It will give a good indication of who is on form for the packed calendar of races leading up to the National Championships, and who hit the Christmas pies too hard (guilty as charged).
The parcours is viewed as one of the fastest on the circuit, due to several long and flat sections. There is a tricky stairs section, followed by a tough uphill at the back end of the lap: a double whammy of pain to balance the course out. It can also be seen as a dry run for the Cyclocross World Championships, which will be held on the same course at the end of January.
A couple of course facts (weetjes)
– The race is named Grand Prix Erik de Vlaeminck in honour of the 7 time ‘Cross World Champ, who recently passed away.
– Heusden-Zolder is also home to motor sport, with Belgian endurance car racing being held there next year.
As mentioned elsewhere on moto3, there has been a small
shift in the women’s scene. Sanne Cant is clearly still suffering from her injuries sustained earlier in the
month, although Heusden-Zolder is a little less punishing than Namur and Cant has a decent record here with two 3rds in three years here. She will hope to get onto a higher step on the podium, despite her injuries. The Brit Nikki Harris is on a real run of form and finally managed to convert a series of 2nd and 3rd places at World Cup rounds into a win at the Citadel. Nikki should be able to push on, with compatriot and ever popular Helen Wyman. 2013 winner Katie Compton will no doubt continue her strong run of recent form, but I feel this is not selective enough for World Cup leader Eva Lechner. All the women will be happy Marianne Vos is not racing, especially given the fact Vos has won here several times since 2008. The young British girls Hannah Payton and Amira Mellor will hope to continue their progression at elite level and can Caroline Mani follow up her impressive 2nd place from last week?
Check out the women’s race here from 12.30.
The usual suspects will line out in the men’s race; Nijs, Van Aerts and Van der Poel will be on the prowl as you would expect. VdP may have won at Namur, but the Aertful Dodger claimed he was the stronger man at the finish since he was still standing, like a taller, more Belgian Elton John. His tongue may have been in his cheek. Mind you, maybe Matty boy left it all in the field!
Expect to see Klaas Vantornout continue to improve, alongside teammate, if not best pal, Kevin Pauwels. And will Lars Boom explode onto the scene (see what I did there?) leaving his namesake and fellow countryman Lars van der Haar in the shade? Both have known succes here, with Boom winning here a few years back and Van der Haar winning 2013&2014. Can he grab a hat trick?
Naturally the British cx fans among us will be on the lookout for perennial favourite Ian Field. Another Brit in the lineup is James Spragg, who likes to mix up his racing, by travelling to Swiss and Luxembourgish races, as well as the popular Belgian ones.
Check out the men’s race here from 14.00.
And enjoy Boxing Day!