Why you need to watch the Cyclocross World Championships this weekend

Everything you need to know before the action in Fayetteville

On Sunday, Oct. 10, the first cyclocross World Cup race of the season took place at Trek headquarters in Waterloo, Wisc., where we celebrated a brand new season and the return of cyclocross racing to the United States after a long absence. That day, current world champion Lucinda Brand and six-time world champion Marianne Vos gave the crowd a thrilling duel, which Vos won on the final turn of a twisty course.

More than three months later, we’ve returned nearly full circle to that moment. After dozens of European races, cyclocross’ fastest racers are converging in the United States for World Championships in Fayetteville, Ark. And once again, Brand and Vos are expected to put on a show in one of the most anticipated matchups of the weekend. 

But although little has changed atop the elite women’s hierarchy, the same can’t be said for the men’s and U23 classifications, where Trek-sponsored riders have made a major impact.

Lars van der Haar and Toon Aerts celebrating a double podium after Aerts' win in Zonhoven.

Shirin van Anrooij celebrating a European Championship last November.

Among the men’s elite, Baloise Trek’s Toon Aerts remains the same steady podium contender he has been for years. But this season, teammate Lars van der Haar has joined him with a resurgent season that includes stunning victories at the Dutch and European Championships

Baloise Trek’s Pim Ronhaar is the defending men’s U23 world champion at just 20 years old, and he’ll have designs on the rainbow jersey once more. His teammate Thibau Nys, son of cyclocross legend Sven Nys, will challenge for the same title after winning three straight U23 races during the holiday racing period. And on the women’s side, Baloise Trek’s Shirin van Anrooij is part of a deep and talented group of U23 riders, and Trek Factory Racing’s Maddie Munro and Hattie Harnden are both coming off their best results of the season.

The 2021-22 season has been packed with breakthrough, rejuvenating and inspirational efforts. This weekend, a jaw-dropping four months of racing will reach fever pitch. Here’s a look at the course and the riders that make up one of the most captivating cycling weekends of the year.

Maddie Munro hopping back on her bike after one of Fayetteville's grueling climbs.

The course

The course at Centennial Park in Fayetteville is a specially-built, 2-mile track featuring some truly awesome setpieces that should make for great viewing.

The racing will be fast … if conditions are dry. Each lap begins and ends on a long tarmac straightaway, but the first turn takes riders onto grass, and they’ll stay on natural surfaces for almost the entirety of every loop. The course’s flowy layout is punctuated by two major climbs — the first a hill that reaches gradients up to 17 percent, and the second a long, 38-step staircase that will be hell on riders’ legs — interspersed with sharp, short, punchy mounds and tight bends that act as speed checks.

Lucinda Brand taking on Fayetteville's daunting staircase.

Just before the finishing straight, riders will battle through one last technical section of high-banked turns, then turn on the jets for the line.

The course favors technically-sound riders, but that will change if there’s precipitation. Last October, riders took on a World Cup race on the same course and the racing turned into a muddy slog under torrential rain. Brand won the women’s race that day thanks to her unrivaled power. She may like this weekend’s forecast, which is currently suggesting rain and snow on Friday and Saturday morning. Conditions are projected to be dry for Sunday’s U23 women’s and elite men’s races.

No matter what, the racing should be dynamic on a course that tests cyclocross’ complete skill set.

Pim Ronhaar taking a bow after winning the U23 event in Namur.

Men's U23

Riders to know: Pim Ronhaar, Thibau Nys
When: Sat., Jan. 29, 1 p.m CT

If Fayetteville receives rain Saturday morning, the Under-23 men will take on the brunt of the mud. That should be just fine for Pim Ronhaar, who has one of the most impressive engines of any rider at the race.

He won last year’s World Championship in Oostende by eight seconds over Ryan Kamp, a fellow Dutch rider, who will have a fixed mind on revenge this year, as will compatriot Mees Hendrikx and Belgium’s Emil Verstrynge.

Thibau Nys is the race’s wild card. He suffered a collarbone injury early in the season, then hit his stride in early January when he capped off a three-race win streak in Herentels. He suffered another injury at Belgian Nationals, but the 19-year-old is healthy to race.

Lucinda Brand showing the crowd some love during her win in Fayetteville in October.

Women's Elite

Rider to know: Lucinda Brand
When: Sat., Jan. 29, 2:30 p.m. CT

Lucinda Brand vs. Marianne Vos. Let’s go.

Brand won the 2021 World Championship, and showed that the rainbow jersey was no fluke with an incredible 2021-22 season thus far. She has won 17 races — nearly two-thirds of her starts — and hasn’t finished below second place in any race since Nov. 21. Last weekend, she wrapped up the World Cup overall title, too. Brand has gone all-in at every race this year, and has almost always come out on top.

Lucinda Brand celebrating at the finish line of the 2021 World Championships.

The only rider who has consistently been able to challenge her is Vos, who has been more selective about her starts. Vos and Brand have lined up together eight times this season, and Vos has won five of those matchups, including the last two at Dutch Nationals and the final World Cup race in Hoogerheide. Vos is one of the most decorated cyclists of all time, and she’ll be incredibly difficult to top on a course that suits her speed.

This is more than a two-rider race, of course. 2020 World Champion Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado will be in Fayetteville, too, as will Denise Betsema, who has found the podium all season with a go-for-broke style of racing.

This race will be an absolute blast.

Hattie Harnden toughing out the conditions in Fayetteville.

Women's U23

Rider to know: Shirin van Anrooij, Maddie Munro, Hattie Harnden
When: Sun., Jan. 30, 1 p.m. CT

Perhaps the most unpredictable race of the season. The winner could come from any number of talented under-23 women’s riders, many of whom, including Baloise Trek’s Shirin van Anrooij, are already challenging for the top of elite podiums.

Fem van Empel, last season’s U23 World Champion, will once again be a favorite, but Puck Pieterse, Blanka Kata Vas and Van Anrooij have all taken their share of victories over one another this season, and Van Anrooij also won the U23 European Championship back in November. Those four riders finished third through sixth in Hoogerheide this past Sunday, all within 45 seconds each other.

Shirin van Anrooij on the move in Koksijde.

Van Anrooij is closing the season particularly well. She scored her first ever elite level victory in Gullegem at the beginning of January, and finished second to Brand in Hamme last Saturday, ahead of riders like Betsema and Alvarado. 

TFR’s Maddie Munro and Hattie Harnden are also capable of making noise near the top of the standings. They haven’t raced often on the European circuit this season, but Munro, 19, recorded her first ever elite top 10 finish in Herentals on Jan. 5, and Harnden is coming off an epic elite British Nationals victory.

Lars van der Haar crossing the line as he won in Tabor.

Men's Elite

Riders to know: Toon Aerts, Lars van der Haar
When: Sun., Jan. 30, 2:30 p.m. CT

The final race of the weekend is sure to entertain. Much ado has been made about the absences of Wout van Aert and Mathieu van der Poel, two titans of road and cyclocross racing. In their wake, they leave a host of hungry contenders.

Baloise Trek’s Toon Aerts and Lars van der Haar are both well-suited to the track, no matter what condition it’s in. Aerts is sure to be near the front, having finished in the top five in all but four starts this season, which includes 11 podiums. Van der Haar has been nearly just as consistent with three podiums in his last five starts. He has excelled whenever a jersey has been on the line this season, winning European Championships in November and Dutch Nationals earlier this month.

Toon Aerts battling Eli Iserbyt in Fayetteville.

Young British rider Tom Pidcock will be one of the favorites after excelling during the holiday period, as will Belgium’s Eli Iserbyt, who recently secured the World Cup overall title. The men’s elite field is filled with contenders with unique capabilities who could transform the tenor of the race.

How to watch

Live coverage from the U.S. requires a subscription to GCN+. If you’re in Canada, you’ll need a Flobikes subscription. Coverage will begin Friday at 12:10 p.m. CT ahead of the 12:30 p.m. team relay, which is a new, medal-less event being tested this year.

If you don’t have a subscription to one of the streaming services above, you can still keep tabs on the action by following the Trek Race Shop on Twitter and Instagram

We’ll be sure to fill you in on all the action after the race, too. Whatever happens, you won’t want to miss it.