There’s something missing from the course at Hoogerheide and I can’t quite put my finger on it.
It has all usual attributes of a World Championship course; the flyover bridge, stretches of tarmac, sharp drop-offs followed by steep inclines. There is no sand, but we are nowhere near the coast, so that is fair enough.
But sand is not the issue here. Something else is missing. Oh yes.
There is a distinct lack of the sticky stuff in Hoogerheide. The ground is decidedly firm and – if the weather forecast is correct – likely to get firmer. Any rider hoping for a gloop-fest will be sorely disappointed. By the time the elite men take to the start line on Sunday afternoon, the sun may have softened the going slightly, but it will still be fast and furious.
From taking a stroll around the 3,000m course, there appears little to split up the leading bunch. Expect a very tactical race and all the main men to be with a shout until near the end. Reigning World Champion Lars Boom is going to love it, especially in front of the home crowd, but will need a cool head and great legs not be crowded out by the massed ranks of Belgians.
British women Helen Wyman and Gabby Day checked out the course during the Friday afternoon practise session, along with the juniors and under-23’s warming up for Saturday’s races, while Nikki Harris, and elite men Jody Crawforth, Paul Oldham and Ian Field, gave it a miss having attended the Thursday session.
GB coach Phil Dixon is looking after David Fletcher and Jonny McEvoy in the under-23 race and reckons the fast course will suit them well. The duo have performed well in continental races over the Christmas period when the going has been firm, but struggled in the mud against the older (and stronger) riders, according to Dixon. Look out for those two on Saturday.
The town is humming already with a day to go before the first races. Hundreds of spectators and gaggles of autograph-hunting schoolkids were here today. Any rider inside a camper van with their name emblazoned down the side was fair game. Wyman and Day were well prepared with boxes of postcards. Boom stayed well away from his van for fear of starting a stampede.
Reigning women’s World Champion Hanka Kupfernagel has an incongruous set of images adorning her van: mostly cycling poses in her team kit, except for one where she models a skimpy all-white outfit and appears to be auditioning for a job as a pole dancer. She didn’t get the job, in case you were wondering.
The GB women, however, are full of admiration for Kupfernagel and won’t hear a word against her. Fair enough. She looks great, then. What do I know?
Anyway, roll on Saturday. The weekend starts here.
2009 CYCLO-CROSS WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS: LINKS
Elite men: Solo victory for Albert in Holland
Elite women: Wyman crashes while Vos wins
Under-23 men: Fletcher shows promise
Juniors: Dutchman takes gold
World cross champs: blog from Hoogerheide