Having sat out last year's Cyclocross World Championships in Fayetteville, USA, won by Tom Pidcock, the two kings of cross, who had won the last seven elite worlds between them until last year, will take center stage this Sunday at Hoogerheide in the Netherlands to renew their battle for the rainbow jersey.
In a rivalry that stretches back through the junior ranks, Mathieu van der Poel is currently four-three in front on the elite rainbow jersey count, and with a 2021 victory on the beach at Ostend in the memory, the history books are on his side heading into Hoogerheide. However, Wout van Aert has demolished his opposition this winter claiming nine victories in thirteen starts and has left his Dutch nemesis often trailing in his mud.
Having set his stall out early, Wout van Aert has had eyes firmly set on only one thing this winter – the rainbow jersey – and has stated the World Championships were his only goal of the winter.
Van Aert told Belgian newspaper Het Laatste Nieuw (opens in new tab), “I like to express my ambitions and that’s what I’m going to do on Sunday. The World Championships are close to home, on a circuit where I became the World Champion in the U23 category. The Worlds are my only major goal of the winter. Mathieu van der Poel is the main competitor. It is also a home cross for him. He will also be motivated.”
Mathieu van der Poel has also dominated his own cyclocross calendar, and sees him on a record of six wins in fourteen. And more crucially, he’s four-six down in duels with his Belgian rival. The Dutchman claims his back is now pain-free, and he refuses to accept any underdog status for the coming weekend.
“I think it will be 50-50, of course, Wout has already had the advantage a few times this season, but if I can offer resistance this weekend, we have already shown that we are evenly matched. The slightest slip, a botched bike change, or the state of the course surface could be all that makes the difference on Sunday." He said after winning in Besançon last weekend.
The Hoogerheide circuit comes loaded with history for both Van Aert and Van der Poel. The Dutch track is “Van der Poel country” having seen him take five victories here and the historic race is co-designed by his father Adrie. However, Van Aert has won there too and when it mattered most, as he disappointed the home crowds when he claimed the U23 title over Michael Vanthourenhout and Mathieu van der Poel in 2014.
The race could be decided on its now iconic U-turn and the so-called “stairway to heaven” steps that are set to see around 10,000 fans from across Europe many of them the Oranjeboom Dutch fans, beered-up and roaring for their hero. With a dry weather forecast, it may tip the scales toward Mathieu van der Poel after seeing Wout van Aert rule any remotely muddy race in recent seasons.
Yet home crowds, historical records, and season results might mean very little when they line up in their national jerseys this Sunday. Bragging rights and a decade-long rivalry will mean a lot more.
How to watch the action
The racing starts on Friday with the mixed relay with Junior and U23 male and Female races on Saturday and Sunday. The Women Elite race is Saturday with the Men Elite being the final race on Sunday.
Here's how you can watch the UCI Cyclocross World Championships 2023 live...
In the UK, Eurosport will show live coverage of all the UCI Cyclocross World Championship races except the relay race on Friday. You can also watch the UCI World Championship racing on GCN+.
For US fans, you can watch live and on-demand on FloBikes.