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The startlists for the cyclocross world championships are looking a lot slimmer Tuesday.
Leading Dutch riders Denise Betsema and Annemarie Worst are headline names from a swath of riders that will not be traveling to Arkansas from Europe in the coming days.
British rider Anna Kay and half the Italian squad have also been forced to abandon plans to race this weekend’s worlds as coronavirus and other illnesses torpedo world title dreams.
The news comes the day after Belgian riders Quentin Hermans and Xaydee Van Sinaey tested positive for COVID as Europe continues to struggle with the highly infectious Omicron coronavirus.
The absence of podium contenders Worst and Betsema will have a significant impact on the women’s race. Worst, twice a silver medallist at the worlds, has tested positive for COVID-19, while Betsema has fallen ill and will not travel as a precaution.
Betsema has challenged season standout Lucinda Brand throughout the winter and looked poised to play a major role in the world championships Saturday.
“We’ve got some sad news: we’ll be missing Denise Betsema during Worlds in Fayetteville,” read a statement from Betsema’s Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal squad. “Denise got sick yesterday (no Covid-19 luckily), so we decided not to travel to the States.”
We’ve got some sad news: we’ll be missing Denise Betsema during Worlds in Fayetteville 😔 Denise got sick yesterday (no Covid-19 luckily), so we decided not to travel to the States. Get well, @Deniesoverseas 🍀
— Pauwels Sauzen – Bingoal (@PS_BG_CT) January 25, 2022
Even without Betsema and Worst, the Dutch women’s squad seems destined for the medals this weekend. Brand and Marianne Vos have steamrollered the season and head to Arkansas as red-hot favorites for the rainbow bands.
“We had and have several irons in the fire with the elite women, but I did count Annemarie and Denise among the contenders for a medal. It is a hard blow for us and them that they cannot be there,” national coach Gerben de Knegt told Dutch media.
The Italian squad has felt the full impact of the surging Omicron variant and the protocol around close contacts.
The Italian federation stated Monday that six of 12 racers bound for Fayetteville have been forced to stay in Europe after one of their number contracted COVID and the remainder were named as close contacts. Eva Lechner, Silvia Presico, and four U23 and junior riders have been cleared to race this weekend.
Kay is out of action due to concussion following a crash during her pre-ride at the Hoogerheide World Cup this weekend.