Cyclocross

Christmas ‘cross is coming, and all ‘three kings’ will be there

Van der Poel, van Aert, Pidcock to clash multiple times this 'kerstperiode' – here's who's racing when, and what to expect.

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Christmas is good, but this year, the cyclocross “kerstperiode” will be better.

Mathieu van der PoelWout van Aert, and Tom Pidcock will race through a packed festive schedule that will see these “three kings” clashing three times. Two of the trio of supertalents will also face-off at a further three races in the coming weeks.

It’s a Christmas gift that sure beats a pair of socks and a box of chocs.

The “kerstperiode” – literally translated as “Christ period” – is the jam-packed block of ‘crosses from December 26 through New Year’s Day. It’s a prestigious and lucrative week where everyone wants to win. And this year, Wout, Mathieu, and Tom up the stakes in the men’s races even further.

Here’s all you need to know before the “big three” first come together in Dendermonde on December 26:

Who, where, and when:

  • Dec 26: World Cup Dendermonde: MvdP, WvA, Pidcock
  • Dec 27: Superprestige Heusden-Zolder: MvdP, WvA, Pidcock
  • Dec 30: X20 Trofee Loenhout: MvdP, WvA
  • Jan 1: X2o Trofee Baal GP Sven Nys: WvA, Pidcock
  • Jan 2: World Cup Hulst: MvdP, WvA, Pidcock
  • Jan 5: X20 Trofee Herentals: MvdP, WvA

The lay of the land: Mathieu van der Poel

Van der Poel may be without racing, but he owns all those rainbow jerseys for a reason. (Photo: Luc Claessen/Getty Images)

Also read: Van der Poel season debut derailed by injury

In theory, Mathieu van der Poel “shouldn’t” win this festive season. But van der Poel sometimes defies logic.

The four-time world champ hasn’t raced yet this winter after a training accident and injury delayed his pre-planned debut. It makes for another setback in a late-season stalked by back pain and rehab sessions.

Unlike van Aert and Pidcock, “MvdP” is yet to get his race-legs turning and will only be starting his ‘cross calendar when all three come together for the first time on December 26.

But even a rusty van der Poel is a very good van der Poel.

Mathieu’s father Adrie is tamping down expectations ahead of his son’s return to racing.

“Daddy vdP” suggested last weekend that his son may need time to be back at his full bombastic best after hurting his knee in training and missing two races and the start of a team camp.

“If you have to stay at home for a few days when your teammates leave on camp, that shows the seriousness of the matter,” Adrie told Sporza.

“He’s been riding the woods in recent days. I think Mathieu is feeling good. If Mathieu is good, then only a place around the top five should be feasible in Dendermonde. From ‘cross four he will be ready to race for the victory.”

Van der Poel has just five weeks and nine races to hit top gear for his title defense in Fayetteville in late January and will be wanting to make up lost time.

With archrival van Aert to chase after this “kerstperiode,” don’t be surprised if “MvdP” is punching onto the podium earlier than Adrie may have you believe.

Wout van Aert

Wout van Aert: Leader of the pack? (Photo: Luc Claessen/Getty Images)

Also read: Van Aert plays down crushing ‘cross hat-trick

Wout van Aert has got a clean sheet to keep prestine this “kerstperiode.”

Van Aert plowed through Belgian mud and Alpine snow to haul a spectacular hat trick at the start of the month, amassing a huge five-and-a-half-minute winning margin over three races.

The Belgian champ ducked out of last weekend’s racing while he topped up his tan on a road camp in Spain with Jumbo-Visma, and will return to a ‘cross scene with a different complexion in Dendermonde on December 26.

Childhood foe van der Poel is back, Pidcock has hit his stride, and both have got points to prove. It will be ‘cross crunch time for van Aert. He already hinted that his 100 percent record will be under serious threat when van der Poel returns.

“It’s going better than I could have imagined, and I hope there’s more, but Mathieu [van der Poel] has yet to join, to name him first. And someone like Pidcock only gets better,” van Aert said after making it three-from-three in Val di Sole. “I think it will get interesting.”

One wrinkle in the festive three-up is van Aert’s motivations.

While Pidcock and van der Poel want to hit worlds-winning form in the coming weeks, the Belgian baller is looking further down the road to the “opening weekend” of the classics, and it’s unlikely he’ll be heading to Fayetteville in January.

Van Aert and his trainers have said they want a slow and steady build in the coming weeks – but as van Aert showed with his spectacular hat-trick, reeling in a racing instinct ain’t easy. The sight of archrival van der Poel sure won’t help.

Tom Pidcock

Pidcock has the skills and the swagger but lacks the experience of the others. (Photo: Luc Claessen/Getty Images)

Also read: Pidcock takes crushing confidence into 21-22 season

Tom Pidcock is going places, fast.

The young Brit scored a stunning first elite World Cup win in Rucphen last weekend and looked set to double-up in Namur only for crashes and lost cool to leave him coming in second.

Pidcock has got the skills, he’s got the confidence, but is he still learning the savvy needed to top his two illustrious rivals?

“Maybe I was just going a bit too fast and I was just pushing a bit too hard. And then it all caught up with me a little bit,” he said of his crash-riddled disappointment in Namur.

“In some ways, I think it’s good that I finished second – it shows I still have quite a lot of work to do. It shows I can’t back-up two days yet.”

Pidcock’s confidence may have taken a taste of the mud in Namur on Sunday, but the 22-year-old likely won’t be feeling sorry for himself for long. He’s on a mission to beat van Aert and van der Poel wherever he can, and he wants to win his first elite rainbow jersey in Arkansas.

Pidcock lit up last weekend of racing while van Aert and van der Poel watched from the sofa. He’s going to have to turn it up one notch further when the big boys are back in Dendermonde.

Eli Iserbyt, Toon Aerts, Michael Vanthourenhout

Iserbyt has dominated all season – but can he and the committed ‘crossers take it to the ‘three kings?’ (Photo: Luc Claessen/Getty Images)

Spare a thought for the stalwarts.

Committed ‘crossers Eli Iserbyt, Michael Vanthourenhout, and Toon Aerts have been on the podium week-in-week-out since the season began early October. They won’t just be rolling out the red carpet for van der Poel and Co. in the coming weeks.

Iserbyt and Aerts both have series leads to defend in the World Cup, Superprestige, and X20 Trofee series, and the winter is where they earn their contracts and pay their bills. Riders like van der Poel are racing with an eye on the worlds, but for these guys, every race counts.

Vanthourenhout showed in Namur that riders like Pidcock won’t have it all their own way this winter. Let’s see if they can throw a few wrenches into the wheels of the “three kings” this “kerstperiode.”