The 2022 UCI Cyclocross World Championships will be held in Fayetteville, Arkansas, USA, just the second time the event will take place outside of Europe since its inception in 1950.
The men's elite race is on Sunday 30 January at Centennial Park, a purpose-built cyclocross venue that includes gradients reaching 17 per cent. Riders have been accumulating World Cup points and mud-soaked skinsuits in preparation for the World Championships, but two formidable names will be missing from the start line.
Wout Van Aert and Mathieu van der Poel have dominated in recent years, winning the seven last titles between them. Van der Poel triumphed in 2015, 2019, 2020 and 2021, while Van Aert has three world championship titles after winning in 2016, 2017 and 2018.
Their duopoly will end in Fayetteville though, with Van Aert prioritising his road season to try and be successful in winning a Monument in the spring. Meanwhile, Dutchman Van der Poel is suffering from a longstanding back injury that he is currently trying to recover from.
As a result, there are a variety of contenders desperate to capitalise on this opportunity and pull on the rainbow bands.
But who is the favourite heading into the Cyclocross World Championships on Sunday?
The bookmakers have picked Tom Pidcock as the favourite to cross the finish line first, with Oddschecker showing the Briton's best odds at 4/6.
Pidcock has produced some strong performances since starting his cyclocross season at the beginning of December, winning three out of the 12 races he competed in, finishing on the podium a further six times.
However, his final race before heading America saw him finish third at Hoogerheide, behind event winner Eli Iserbyt, who is also the bookies' second-favourite for World Championship victory.
At 9/2, Iserbyt's price is understandable when bearing in mind he has won 14 'cross races in total this season.
Statistically the best cyclocross rider in the world at the moment, Iserbyt won the World Cup and is currently top of the Superprestige standings. The 24-year-old will also revel in Van Aert's absence, considering he has failed to win a race in which the Belgian competed in this season.
Iserbyt's World Cup win at Hoogerheide will also provide him with plenty of confidence to once again lead the field at the World Championships.
Third on the bookmakers' list is the man who has finished third at the last three World Championships, Toon Aerts, at 11/2. The 28-year-old has won three races so far this season but has largely come up second-best to compatriot Iserbyt most of the time.
Regardless, Aerts is a consistent rider who will undoubtedly feature at the sharp end of the race, highlighted by his failure to finish outside of the top-10 at any of the 31 races he has competed in this season.
Ranked number two in the world and a third-place overall finish in the World Cup further demonstrates his ability, definitely making him one to watch in Arkansas.
At 9/1, Belgian Michael Vanthourenhout is an outside shout for the rider to don the rainbow stripes. He finished second to Wout Van Aert at the 2018 edition of the Worlds and secured second on the World Cup rankings this season too.
Despite only winning one World Cup race, at Namur, Vanthourenhout has repeatedly finished on the podium this season, including a third-place finish at the European Championships in November. Ranked third in the world, the 28-year-old will expect to at least challenge the leaders on Sunday.
Completing the top-five favourites to win the Cyclocross World Championships is Lars Van Der Haar, with odds of 12/1. The Dutchman tasted success at the European Championships back in November and will hope to emulate that same form come Sunday.
Van Der Haar also has previous experience of finishing on the podium at the worlds too, showcased by his second in 2016, and third-places in 2015 and 2013, respectively. A World Cup win earlier in the season at Tábor also indicates he has the potential to win a one-off race.
The final rider with odds under 100/1 is another Belgian rider, Lauren Sweeck, at 33/1. After Iserbyt, Sweeck is the second-most recent race winner, following his triumph at Flandriencross. Though large odds, the 28-year-old is ranked sixth in the world and could surprise many.
Cyclocross World Championships 2022 winner odds (Oddschecker)
Tom Pidcock (GBR) - 4/6
Eli Iserbyt (Bel) - 9/2
Toon Aerts (Bel) - 11/2
Michael Vanthourenhout (Bel) - 9/1
Lars Van Der Haar (Ned) - 12/1
Laurens Sweeck (Bel) - 33/1
All odds correct at the time of publication
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