Wout van Aert and Mathieu van der Poel could face each other at just six cyclo-cross races this season, with both riders' initial schedules published.
The pair are the two biggest names in the CX world, having shared nine out of the last ten World Championships between them, and have been head and shoulders above the rest of the field for most of that time.
Earlier in December, Van der Poel released his calendar for this cyclo-cross season; the Dutchman will not race until 22 December. Now, Van Aert has published his schedule for the season, with his first race the Exact Cross at Essen on 9 December,
While Van der Poel has 15 races down on his schedule, Van Aert has just six at the moment; it is unlikely that the World Championships in Tabor on 4 February will be added into the mix, but his Jumbo-Visma team said that his participation in the Zonhoven and Benidorm World Cups in January was uncertain at this stage.
Van der Poel and Van Aert tend to dominate races that they take part in. In the 15 races that Van der Poel, the reigning world champion, took part in last year, he won seven, but of the eight races he didn’t win, only two weren't won by Van Aert.
It is the same with the Belgian: of the 14 races he took part in, he won nine. Of the six he didn’t win, all were won by Van der Poel.
It is thought that Van Aert has been cutting down cyclo-cross commitments in order to focus on the road season, which next year are likely to include the Classics, the Giro d'Italia, and then the Olympic Games, and the Road World Championships in Zürich.
The six races that Van Aert is currently scheduled to race, which all include Van der Poel too, are:
- 22 December: Exact 'Cross Mol
- 23 December: World Cup Antwerp
- 26 December: World Cup Gavere
- 30 December: World Cup Hulst
- 1 January 2024: X2O Trofee Baal / GP Sven Nys
- 4 January: X2O Trofee Koksijde
The other member of the 'big three' of cyclo-cross, Tom Pidcock, is also yet to race, and has not released any schedule of his appearances this winter to date.
Over the weekend, UCI President David Lappartient brought up the idea of banning cyclo-cross riders who skip UCI World Cup races from participating in the World Championships, after Thibau Nys chose not to ride at Dendermonde, the third World Cup round, on Sunday. Nys rode a Superprestige race on Saturday.
"If a rider prefers to ride a national event during World Cup rounds, you won't ride the following World Cup rounds and therefore you won't ride the World Championships," Lappartient told DirectVelo. "The World Cup is not a competition in which you can pick and choose as you please. Every rider has to play the game."
None of the past three world champions - Van der Poel, Van Aert, or Pidcock, have yet raced a World Cup this season.
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