Here at We Love Cycling, we cannot wait for the start and we want to give you a few things to look out for during the best weekend of the year in the cyclo-cross calendar.
A new men’s champion
Of all the 72 editions of the World Championships, only one has happened outside of Europe before this one – and also in the United States. Another rarity is that since Zdenek Stybar won the race in 2014, only Mathieu Van Der Poel or Wout Van Aert have been taking turns as winners and no one else. With both out either due to injury or a change of direction, a new champion is set to be crowned. The favourite is arguably Tom Pidcock. Although still slightly “undercooked” having started his season late, he has shown his qualities, winning two World Cup events along the way. He podiumed last year, and it could be time for him to go one up.
But there are many other riders going for gold. Conditions will play a part in the purpose-built course in Fayetteville. If it is muddy, Toon Aerts could be the one to take advantage. He has been consistent throughout the season and is great in boggy conditions. At the World Cup event in October, held on the same course, Quinten Hermans was the race winner on a day the riders were barely recognisable due to mud but his form has been inconsistent since then.
Others to look out for, especially on a dry day, which looks more likely according to long-range forecasts, are Eli Iserbyt, Lars van der Haar, and Michael Van Thournout – all of whom have won World Cup events this year. The men’s race may seem to be down on star power but it should make for a cracking one.
Back-to-back for brand?
Dominant. That’s the only word to describe Lucinda Brand’s season on the cyclo-cross bike. The current World Champion has been blistering, winning 16 races and topping the World Cup standings. Realistically, she has to be a huge favourite for the women’s elite race.
Something to watch, though, is how her Dutch teammates will race in the USA. It will be a surprise to no one to find out that they will be her biggest rivals, the likes of legend Marianne Vos, Denise Betsema and Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado will want to push Brand off her perch.
Away from the Dutch, Clara Hosinger could spring a surprise. The American is on home soil and raced well in Fayetteville earlier in the season, finishing on the podium. Someone else from the other side of the Atlantic who could be a dark horse is Maghalie Rochette. The Canadian has had a breakout season, performing well in Europe and will be backed by a strong Canadian contingent, no doubt.
The UCI always like to try something a little different at their championships and after trying it out at the Road Race World Champions, the mixed relay is welcomed to Fayetteville for the first time. It may be a test event but it is intriguing with six-person teams taking to the course for a lap each. Riders will be from different age categories too, meaning we could be set for spicy racing to kick the weekend off.
If Lucinda Brand has been dominant in women’s elite racing then Zoe Backstedt has been the same in the juniors’ category. She has been on a tear-up all season long and the next stop is Fayetteville. She has had Covid in the run-up to the race but she has been picked to ride, meaning you’d think she will be in top form in a week’s time. Elsewhere, David Haverdings will be the favourite for the men’s junior race – like Backstedt, he has been in almost perfect form, only beaten once by Aaron Dockx. Junior racing always provides good reading for future stars of the sport, so it is worth watching over the weekend.
A course for all
Fayetteville becomes the second US city to host a World Championship and it is on a course that has something for everyone.
Some technical sections, including tight, off-camber corners, one of the longest staircases to run in the season and a section of rocks that will see the riders off the bike once more. It has cooked up close finishes – especially this season. With a roaring crowd from all over the US, it is set for a party atmosphere over the three days, one you should not be missing.
In Europe, you can watch it on Eurosport/GCN+ where the time difference will see you watching it in the early evening, a perfect time to watch the best cyclo-cross riders in the world tear around Centennial Park.