World Champion Fem van Empel (Jumbo-Visma) and Michael Vanthourenhout (Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal) are both set to defend their continental titles as they head to the European Cyclocross Championships this weekend in Pont-Château, France, alongside a whole host of the discipline’s best.
Seven European champions will be crowned across junior, U23 and elite races for men and women, as well as riders in an inaugural team relay. Only six teams will compete Friday in the team event as the Netherlands have opted out despite being a dominant nation in the discipline.
Van Empel will be the heavy favourite for the women’s race having won every event she’s lined up for in the 2023-24 season so far. National team coach Gerben de Knegt is also confident about the 21-year-old’s chances, with the rest of the medals less certain, but still a possibility.
”Of course, the races have to be held first. But I think we only have a clear favourite for the title in one category in the form of Fem van Empel for the elite women,” said De Knegt in a KNWU press release. “But we have one or more trump cards for medals in all categories.”
Former World Champion Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado (Alpecin-Deceuninck) should give compatriot a strong challenge but will hope for better luck than at last weekend’s World Cup in Maasmechelen where an early crash prematurely ended a potential battle for victory.
Fellow Dutch stars Puck Pieterse (Fenix-Deceuninck), Shirin van Anrooij and Lucinda Brand (both Baloise Trek Lions) will, however, all miss out due to injury or necessary recovery time, making Van Empel’s chances of victory even higher.
“It is nice that we have riders like Lars van der Haar and Pim Ronhaar who have started the season strongly. They will certainly battle for prizes in what is expected to be an open championship. We are optimistic about the Netherlands’ chances at this European Championship,” added De Knegt.
The men’s race will likely be a much more open contest with multiple riders taking wins so far this season. Defending champion Vanthourenhout will arrive off the back of consistent results, but the Belgian ‘cross national champion lacks a win this season and has been off the pace in his two most recent appearances.
Young talent Thibau Nys (Baloise Trek Lions) will likely enter as the favourite, having backed up a flying start to his first year at senior level with a third win of the year at Wednesday’s Koppenbergcross, an iconic race on the…