Dieter Runkel wins 1995 World Championships
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2020 World Championships Preview

The 71st UCI Cyclocross World Championships take place in Dübendorf, Switzerland on the grounds of the Dübendorf airport. Dübendorf is a suburb of Zurich and was picked, partially, due to its ease of access and ability to handle large crowds. Most modern cross fans may not realize that Switzerland was once the hotbed of cross. The last World Championships held in Switzerland took place 25 years ago in Eschenbach, which is only 37k southwest of Dübendorf.

In the Elite Men’s race that year, Switzerland’s Dieter Runkel claimed the title, with his Swiss teammate Beat Wabel winning the bronze medal. That was perhaps the peak of Swiss cross which had some big names from the 1970s and 1980s, including five-time World Champion Albert Zweifel and 1988 World Champion Pascal Richard as well as Peter Frischknecht and Gilles Blase.

Runkel was the last Swiss rider to win the Elite Men’s in 1995. Thomas Frischknecht took silver in 1997 while Julien Taramarcaz (Junior Men) was the last Swiss rider to podium at worlds in 2005. Michael Baumgartner was the last Swiss rider to win Worlds in 1998. Baumgartner capped off a streak of three straight Junior Men’s titles; Roman Peter and David Rusch, being the other two. As you will see in our predictions tomorrow, we believe that this streak will be broken this weekend.

The Track

Since the announcement that the race would take place at an airport came out, there have been a lot of questions and criticisms regarding the track. With animated videos and a few pictures coming out in the past two weeks, we have a relatively good idea of what we can expect. Most recently, Mathieu van der Poel commented that (hosting) worlds is becoming all about the money. While we don’t disagree, and perhaps to further his point, the track should be very similar to last year’s in Bogense, Denmark. In fact, the track designers acknowledged as much.

The course in Bogense was essentially pancake flat with one hill. It had a few flyovers, a bridge, and traversed the hill multiple times. This years course (paraphrasing the course designers) is mainly flat, with two kinds of obstacles: artificial ones such as wooden barriers and footbridges, and natural ones that include two small hills.

Here’s what we can tell you about the course:

There is a long paved start/finish stretch. Following that, the course is mostly grass and has four flyovers, including on that is almost a 180 degree turn. It is not clear yet if these flyovers will have stairs or not. The hills look very steep and should be slightly off camber. The main  hill is traversed three times, with the final one coming on the way back to the finish. The final obstacle is a fifth flyover that takes you onto the finishing stretch. We didn’t see any barriers, but one can assume there will be one set somewhere on the track.

The Riders

In our race predictions we will dive into who we think is going to win and why. We provided a few facts in this weeks 5 Things to Know that we found interesting. For this section, we are going to hit on a few names to watch for.

Junior Women

As with the other women’s categories, the Netherlands tops the list of favorites.

The 17-year-old Shirin van Anrooij is the top favorite on paper.  While she more famously may be known for her disaster in Diegem. In the Elite Women’s race she was on pace for a great finish. But a lap and a half before the finish she flatted and upon entering the pit, she realized there was no one there to give her a spare bike (Diegem has two pits). The camera caught the incident as tears rolled down her face.

Fellow Dutch rider and European Champion, Puck Pieterse is another favorite for the title as is Fem van Empel, who won the inaugural Helen 100. As far as Belgium goes, national champion Julie De Wilde cannot be overlooked.

Outside of those two powerhouses, America brings two riders capable of the podium in Madigan Munro and Lizzy Gunsalus. Both riders won races in Europe this year. There’s also Zoe Backstedt, who is primed for a top five result and an outside chance at the podium. 

Junior Men

Thibau Nys is the overwhelming favorite for Sunday’s Junior Men’s race. He has 17 victories this season and as we mentioned, in Hoogerheide, bad luck kept him from 7 to 7 in the World Cup. Nys finished fourth last year in Bogense. The three riders who finished in front of him aged up and are not racing this year.

Belgium finished second, third and fourth last year and once again looks to be the strongest nation with a group that includes Lennert Belmans, Ward Huybs and Jente Michels.

Switzerland could nab it’s first rainbow jersey in 22 years with Dario Lillo. Lillo won the race in Hoogerheide last weekend and rarely finishes off the podium.

Other riders to look out for include Czech Jan Zatloukal, Dutch Tibor del Grosso, France’s Rémi Lelandais and Germany’s Marco Brenner.

U23 Women

With the absence of Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado, her fellow countrywomen, Inge van der Heijden is the out and out favorite. Van der Heijden is the defending World Champion and has finished inside the top five places in the Elite Women’s races in Iowa, Koksijde, Zonhoven, Zolder and Diegem.

There are several riders that will be battling for the podium and could put some pressure on van der Heijden. France’s Marion Norbert-Riberolle has come on strong lately, but seems to excel on heavier tracks.

Hungary’s Kata Blanka Vas has had plenty of strong results this season and is a sure fire podium contender. Britain’s Anna Kay should be in the mix as should Katie Clouse, from the United States.

U23 Men

As we have mentioned, all eyes will be on Kevin Kuhn as he tries to win a World Championship on home soil. Kuhn lives 20 minutes from the course and dominated the World Cup this season.

Once again, the Dutch have a favorite in Ryan Kamp. Kamp has won the past two rounds of the World Cup, including a victory over Kuhn in Nommay.

One of the biggest stories coming out of Britain’s National Championships was the domination of young riders in the Elite Men’s race. As a result, you can’t count out the trio of Thomas Mein, Ben Turner and Ben Tulett.

Other riders to watch out for include the Frenchman Antoine Benoist, the Italian Jakob Dorigoni and Switzerland’s Loris Rouille. We can’t leave out Belgium who bring a strong contingent, including Belgian champion Toon Vandebosch.

Elite Women

It goes without saying that the Dutch are the favorite for both the Mens and Womens Elite titles this weekend. Dutch women have won all the European rounds of the World Cup. In fact, the Dutch have won 41 races (excluding nationals) this year, often putting more than one rider on the podium.

Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado has been on a tear this season and looks very strong. After winning the Elite Dutch National Championships she decided to enter the Elite race at Worlds. Despite not winning a race since then, she still remains a favorite.

Lucinda Brand has won the last three World Cup rounds, including Hoogerhiede, that she’s entered. While most of the focus was on Alvarado’s slip last Sunday, Brand seem to have the race won no matter what. Two other Dutch women to keep an eye on are World Cup overall winner, Annemarie Worst, and the current European Champion, Yara Kastelijn.

Despite only winning three races this season, you can’t count out three-time defending champion, Sanne Cant. She hasn’t finished off the podium at Worlds since 2014. Last year she was able to outfox a dominant Dutch team and pick up the win.

America’s Katie Compton has come on strong over the past few weeks and would love to pick up her first World Championship. Evie Richards is another rider to watch out for. She was in the lead group in Hoogerheide and was competitive until the end.

Elite Men

It goes without saying that Mathieu van der Poel is the favorite to win on Sunday. It would be his second consecutive title and third overall. The only other rider in the field who has worn the rainbow stripes is Wout van Aert. There is still hype around the young Belgian, but a podium spot seems just out of reach.

The usual Belgain duo of Toon Aerts and Eli Iserbyt should be there. Michael Vanthourenhout and Belgian National Champion, Laurens Sweeck, have an outside chance of landing on the podium.

Felipe Orts turned some heads last year as he was the only non Dutch/Belgian rider in the lead group. He’s had a great season thus far, but it’s doubtful he will repeat that same performance on Sunday.

The only other non Dutch/Belgian riders who should be in the mix include Britain’s Tom Pidcock.

Fun Facts

  • If Thibau Nys wins the world title, he will be more successful in the juniors than his father Sven. Sven’s best result (as a junior) was fourth at the 1994 World Championships in Koksijde.
  • Zoe Backstedt is the daughter of Magnus Backstedt, who won Paris-Roubaix in 2004. Not to be outdone, 2001 Paris-Roubaix winner, Servais Knaven’s daughter, Senne Knaven, will also be on the start line.
  • Switzerland has never landed podium at Worlds in any Woman’s category. Their best hope is the current National Champion, Zina Barhoumi. She is the only Swiss rider in the Elite Women’s race.
  • In addition two Wout van Aert, Mathieu van der Poel and Sanne Cant, only Inge van der Heijden has previously won Worlds in her category current category. 
  • Eli Iserbyt, Lars van der Haar, Michael Vanthourenhout, Lars van der Haar, Joris Nieuwenhuis, Tom Pidcock, Ben Tulett, Tomas Paprstka, Evie Richards and Annemarie Worst complete the long list of previous World Champions racing in another category.

Photo credit: Swiss Cycling

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