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New rules make for interesting rivalries

The picture of the favorites going into worlds is as murky as it has ever been due to new rules

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Editor’s Note: Check back for more previews of the women’s race and the favorites for the win

BRUSSELS, Belgium (VN) — Women’s cyclocross took a huge leap forward this year when the UCI amended its Rule 5.1.004, which now requires organizers of C1 international events to include a women’s race. Though North American promoters have featured women’s races essentially forever, some European organizers — most notably the Superprestige series, but several independent promoters as well — continued to exclude women from their events.

The new rule means that women now race alongside men in all major events, but says nothing about when they race. So, adhering to the letter of the law but perhaps not its spirit, some promoters have added women’s races to their lineup only to bury them at undesirable times, often early in the morning before most fans arrive and hours before the Elite men race.

As a result, participation in women’s races has been scattershot compared to men’s events. Some of the sport’s top stars have bypassed events they see as still hostile to women’s cycling, so there have been only a few opportunities to see how favorites for the world championships really stack up against one another in competition.

World Cup winner Daphny Van Den Brand opted out of major races in Ruddervoorde, Gavere, and Overijse, while countrywoman Sanne Van Paassen bypassed nearly half the calendar. Marianne Vos, meanwhile, skipped most of the early season in order to focus on preparation for a bid for Olympic gold on the road in 2012.

So while the new rules represent a step in the right direction for cyclocross as a whole, they have simultaneously rendered the picture of the favorites going into worlds as murky as it has ever been.

Nonetheless, this much is sure: no one headed for worlds is under pressure like Belgian champion Sanne Cant. While Belgium has more or less owned the podium in men’s cyclocross since the mid-1990s, since the first women’s world championships in 2000, not a single Belgian woman has ever won a world championship medal.

So Belgium pins its hopes to end the long drought on the 21-year-old, who herself has never cracked the top five in a world championships. The question Cant must answer, however, is whether a relatively young and inexperienced racer can hold off three of the most accomplished women’s cyclists in history and claim her country’s first world championship victory ever, and do it on home soil.

Check back for the second half of our preview highlighting the favorites for the win Sunday

Cyclocross world championships preview: Men

Gallery: Women’s cyclocross season recap