Preview: UCI cyclocross worlds 2022-23 – The contenders, course, narratives to know

The Van Empel-Pieterse and Van Aert-Van der Poel duels, the specialists looking to surprise, the Hoogerheide circuit, and more.

Photo: Getty Images

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The cyclocross season reaches its mud-splattered crescendo this weekend.

The 2022-23 cyclocross world championships arrives Friday in Hoogerheide, the Netherlands, for a program of races that will award a fresh set of new rainbow jerseys for the coming year.

The first championships on Dutch soil since 2018 expect more than 30,000 spectators per day, and home riders will be front and center for the beer-sodden masses.

After Friday’s curtain-raising mixed relay event, the 20-year-old phenoms Puck Pieterse and Fem van Empel clip in for an all-Dutch duel in the women’s race Saturday. Home hero Mathieu van der Poel resumes his rich world title rivalry with Belgian foe Wout van Aert in the men’s the day after.

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With reigning champions Marianne Vos and Tom Pidcock both on the sidelines, two fresh champions will be crowned in the elite races.

Recent world champions:

  • 2021-22: Fayetteville, USA: Marianne Vos, Tom Pidcock
  • 2020-21: Oostende, Belgium: Lucinda Brand, Mathieu van der Poel
  • 2019-20: Dübendorf, Switzerland: Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado, Mathieu van der Poel
  • 2018-19: Bogense, Denmark: Sanne Cant, Mathieu van der Poel
  • 2017-18: Valkenburg, Netherlands: Sanne Cant, Wout van Aert

Here’s all you need to know about the elite 2022-23 races, from the contenders and the course to the weather and how to watch:

The contenders: The ‘titans’, the 20-year-olds, the specialists

Van der Poel vs Van Aert – a sporting rivaly for the ages.

Both the elite men’s and women’s races will center on a clash between two super talents.

No surprise – Van der Poel and Van Aert headline the men’s race in what will be a new chapter in modern cycling’s richest rivalry.

Like almost every year since the 2014-15 season, the sport’s “two titans” dominated the winter. They claimed 15 victories between them as they put Pidcock in the rearview and left the specialists swinging.

Van Aert had a half-percent over Van der Poel this winter and stands six-four up in head-to-head battles.

Yet Van der Poel carries home advantage into Hoogerheide. The Hoogerheide “GP Adrie van der Poel” is a race where Mathieu claimed five elite victories on a course co-created by his father Adrie. The twisting grass track might as well have “VdP” written all over it.

One interesting wrinkle?

Van Aert beat the Dutchman in Hoogerheide on the way to the 2014 U23 world title. The Belgian baller also won the last Dutch worlds when he beat Michael Vanthourenhout and Van der Poel in Valkenburg.

Van Empel (left) and Pieterse (right) will give home fans double-hope Saturday.

The Jumbo-Visma vs Alpecin-Deceuninck dynamic carries into the battle of the two Dutch wunderkinds in the women’s race.

The 20-year-old super talents Van Empel and outgoing U23 champion Pieterse blitzed this season so far.

Van Empel won 13 times in 21 races. Pieterse chased a half-inch behind with nine in 18. Shirin van Anrooij was the only rider within a wheel length of the two dominators this winter but made the call to race U23 level this coming weekend.

And as if the home hopes weren’t strong enough already, Dutchwomen flood the second-tier contenders for Saturday’s race.

Former world champion Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado is back to her best after a 2021-22 downturn, Lucinda Brand is never far back, and specialists Annemarie Worst and Denise Betsema can’t be counted out.

Elsewhere, look to Oregon-native and U.S. champ Clara Honsinger, rising Italian talent Silvia Persico, or Belgian veteran Sanne Cant to disrupt the Dutch dominance.

French ace Pauline Ferrand-Prévot is out with injury while British phenom Zoe Bäckstedt faces off against Van Anrooij in the U23s.

Clara Honsinger won the U.S. national title last year
Multiple national champ Honsinger leads U.S. hopes this weekend. (Photo: Luc Claessen/Getty Images)

And the disruptors in the men’s race?

European champion Michael Vanthourenhout carries the strongest hopes of the ‘cross specialists into Sunday’s race. His fellow Belgians Laurens Sweeck – winner of the World Cup – and multiple U23 champion Eli Iserbyt won’t be far behind.

Also watch out for the Dutch runner-up from last year’s worlds, Lars van der Haar.

The Steve Tilford Foundation racer Curtis White is the only U.S. male slated for the elites.

Expect Belgian and Dutch jerseys to dominate the frame all through this weekend. National teamwork will mean little after trade-team tensions, feuds, and no-gifts racing all winter.

The course

Stairs take center stage at the ‘GP Adrie van der Poel’, Hoogerheide.

The historic Hoogerheide circuit is likely to be well-known by most of the peloton.

The grassy Dutch track hosted the World Cup-level “GP Adrie van der Poel” through recent years on a circuit characterized by the “stairway to heaven” stack of steps and a now-iconic 180-degree bend around a tree.

And yes, “VDP senior” helps design the course, making for a veritable fortress for the four-time champion Mathieu.

Officials this year tweaked the circuit from the traditional World Cup track to ensure maximum visibility for the public and extra speed for the racers.

If – as expected – the weather remains dry, races will be fast and taken in the pedals.  But after a wet and wild winter in the Netherlands, any possible precipitation could turn the championships into a footrace.

The last elite winners in Hoogerheide?

Zdeněk Štybar and Marianne Vos claimed their third and fifth elite titles there in February 2014.

The Hoogerheide worlds course map, if you can decipher it.

Race program:

Friday 3 February 2023 (all times shown in CET)

  • 12:30: Team Relay

Saturday 4 February 2023 (all times shown in CET)

  • 11:00: Women Junior
  • 13:00: Men U23
  • 15:00: Women Elite

Sunday 5 February 2023 (all times shown in CET)

  • 11:00: Men Junior
  • 13:00: Women U23
  • 15:00: Men Elite

How to watch:

Eurosport / GCN will cover the races for those in Europe and the UK.

FloBikes will show racing live and on-demand for those in the U.S.

In previous years, the UCI streamed the entire event on its site, but this year it seems only highlights will be available on its YouTube channel.

An American in France

What’s it like to be an American cyclist living in France? Watch to get professional road cyclist Joe Dombrowski’s view.