Roundtable: We pick favorites and dark horses for ‘cross worlds
The UCI Cyclocross World Championships, in all its muddy glory, kicks off Saturday. The elite women race that day, followed by the elite men on Sunday in Bogense, Denmark. It is a tricky race to predict. Riders have an hour (or less) to prove themselves for a rainbow jersey, and the winter weather conditions can be unpredictable. Who will be crowned champion? Let’s roundtable!
What storyline are you most excited to follow this weekend at cyclocross worlds?
Fred Dreier, @freddreier: Every year I get sucked into the same storyline at CX worlds: Katie Compton and the elusive quest for gold. I realize that this story is more than a decade old and that Compton has not been at her best this season. Still, I can’t NOT watch and cheer her on. Last year’s battle between Compton and Sanne Cant was pure drama. I watched the whole thing on my phone in a hotel lobby, and let out a deep groan when Compton was finally distanced on the final lap. I can guarantee you that I would not react that way to a showdown between Wout van Aert and Mathieu van der Poel.
Spencer Powlison, @spino_powerlegs: It has been five years since Marianne Vos won her last of seven (seven!) ‘cross world championships. The riders agree that this is the strongest women’s field ever. So can she reclaim the rainbow jersey that she essentially owned through the first half of her career? Not only that but if she wins the title, people have already started talking about her odds to pull off the ‘cross and road worlds double. The 2019 championships in Yorkshire would suit her, and don’t forget, she won gold at the London Olympics.
Chris Case, @chrisjustincase: The women’s field has been so incredibly wide open this year that it is the least predictable of the races. There are upward of 10 legitimate contenders, none of whom has been able to put together a long winning streak. So, while Lucinda Brand won the last World Cup in Hoogerheide, she is no bigger a favorite than Marianne Vos, Sanne Cant, or several others. Who will take this opportunity by the horns? That is the question.
Who are your favorites to win the men’s and women’s elite races, and why?
Fred: The men’s race is another battle between Mathieu van der Poel and the unknown. Last year MvdP crushed everyone all season, only to have a bad day at the worlds. This year we’ve seen a similar dynamic. He’s crushed Wout and Toon Aerts and the other men all season long. Logic suggests that the worlds title is his. So, will it happen? The women’s race has far too many potential winners to list. Here is my shortest list: Sanne Cant, Marianne Vos, Lucinda Brand, Denise Betsema, and Katie Compton.
Spencer: Mathieu Van der Poel must be viewed as the outright favorite, despite his relatively less-dominant win at Hoogerheide. The only guy who can beat Mathieu is Mathieu. Lucinda Brand should be the top favorite in the women’s race, given how she has won on a variety of courses all season long.
Chris: There was a moment when Mathieu van der Poel started to fall off the pace of Toon Aerts at the Hoogerheide World Cup when I thought, “And just like clockwork, after utterly dominating all year, MvdP is falling off a cliff just in time for worlds.” And then he turned it around, came back to win, and all was right in the world again. If he doesn’t win in Bogense, I will streak at the Super Bowl. As for the women, see question 1. But if I have to, then I’m going with Vos. No, wait, Brand. No, wait, Cant. No, wait, Compton!
Pick a dark horse for either the men’s or women’s elite race. What needs to happen for them to win?
Fred: You can’t call MvdP, Wout, or Toon Aerts a true dark horse since each man has won major races this year. Looking down the list, I’ll pick Laurens Sweeck. For him to win, MvdP, Wout, and Toon Aerts all need to get lost on the drive to the venue and miss the race. On the women’s end, I think a true dark horse pick is Nikki Brammeier. She’s been inside the top 10 at so many major international races this year with just one victory, the British national championships. For her to win, she needs to start fast, build a decent lead, and then hope that Vos and Sanne Cant are simply off of their game that day.
Spencer: My dark horse pick is also my wishful thinking pick. I really, really want to see Katie Compton win a rainbow jersey. She looked solid at Hoogerheide. There is a chance of rain, snow, and slop Saturday. If it gets heavy and some of the favorites misfire, this might be her year.
Chris: While he is probably the second-best rider in the world right now, Toon Aerts is still a dark horse given how dominant MvdP has been. Aerts could win if he goes out hard and fast like he did last weekend and refuses to fade. That, and van der Poel would have to be off his game. As we’ve seen in the past few years, worlds is actually the one race where van der Poel is less than automatic. In the women’s race, I’d keep an eye on Denise Betsema. She has had a breakthrough season, took a first World Cup win in Koksijde, and the pressure is not squarely on her shoulders like it is on several of the other bigger names.
Name an up-and-coming junior or U23 rider to follow this weekend and in the future.
Fred: I have my eyes on Clara Honsinger, the current U23 U.S. national champion. She rode away from everyone in the mud at U.S. cyclocross nationals. We have a tradition of graduating U.S. women to the top echelon of the sport, and it seems like she’s the next great talent to step into that realm.
Spencer: A young Belgian has been blowing up social media this ‘cross season with impossible bunny-hops up stairs and blazing speed. His name is Thibau Nys … Sound familiar? Yes, he is the son of cyclocross legend Sven Nys. Will he be able to live up to dad’s legacy? I hope so, or at the very least, I want him to keep posting those jaw-dropping skills videos.
Chris: I’m excited to see what Gage Hecht can do in the U23 race after taking a bronze medal in his first appearance at U.S. elite nationals in December. He was seventh at Hoogerheide.