With two under-23 Worlds medals to her name, as well as a win in the senior World Cup at Namur this season, Evie Richards is arguably the biggest slam dunk for a title at Valkenburg this weekend. With few obvious competitors in the category, only sickness, mechanical, or some inexplicable slip ‘twixt cup and lip should come between the 20-year old from Malvern and a second rainbow jersey.
Behind Richards, interest comes from Chiara Teocchi (ITA) and Laura Verdonschot (BEL), who fought a close European Championships in Tabor in 2017. Whilst Verdonschot has been more consistent in the senior World Cup rounds, Teocchi raises her game for the big occasions (Europeans, home World Cup… Worlds?) so the battle for second place should provide intrigue. Emma White (USA) will also be a challenger, but we can’t see past Richards for the title, particularly given the mountain-biker friendly course.
Race start: Saturday, 1300 local time (1200 GMT)
Skip the club run for this one, you can ride Zwift later.
Eli Iserbyt (BEL) and Tom Pidcock (GBR) resume their shoulder-to-shoulder battle after Iserbyt came out on top in the European championships. The Belgian has the title and the extra years in his legs, but in the Europeans Pidcock had done everything he could to lose and was still only edged by the Belgian’s totally straight sprint for the line.
Pidcock famously doesn’t train on his ‘cross bike much, but perhaps he should as his crash in the start straight at Hoogerheide meant he lost to his Belgian rival once again in what could have been a timely (if unnecessary) boost to his confidence.
Sorry for ruining so many peoples races 😬 my bad 🙋🏻♂️. Reminds me of 2 years ago as a junior from the back to 2nd, just this time from the bottom of that pile 👇 Can’t complain that performance. Fortunately no injuries https://t.co/jscaGm59cg
— Tom Pidcock (@Tompid) January 28, 2018
Last to second though? I’d rather be in the Brit’s shoes on Sunday morning. Iserbyt’s comment this week that the pair are “not best friends” states the obvious and puts pressure on nobody but himself.
Last year’s World Champion Joris Niewenhuis is returning to his old form after a disastrous early season. A runaway winner in Bieles in 2017, Niewenhuis appeared to struggle with the intensity of cyclocross after a late finish to his road season until going on training camp in December. If the race came a few weeks later he might be able to push Iserbyt and Pidcock for gold, but it would be a surprise to see him on top of the podium on Sunday morning.
Behind the big three, Belgium and the Netherlands provide the challengers and any of Thijs Aerts, Toon Vandenbosch, Yannick Pieters or Jens Dekker could find themselves on the podium.
Race start time: Sunday, 1100 local time (1000 GMT).
After her success in calling the results of Piccolo Lombardia and Paris-Tours Espoirs within a week of each other at the end of last season, my Irish Grandmother reports that she had a lovely Christmas, and thanks for asking.
She later called back to add that she’s backing Pidcock by a nose and Richards by a furlong. If you’ve got any idea what that means, you should watch less Channel Four.