Cyclocross World Championships 2023 – course, predictions and contenders

Everything you need to know about the 2023 Cyclocross World Championships

The biggest races of the cyclocross season will take place on February 4 and 5 2023 at the UCI Cyclocross World Championships in Hoogerheide. With a rainbow jersey up for grabs, these are going to be some of the most hard-fought races between the stars of the cyclocross world. The course in Hoogerheide is usually always home to the final UCI World Cup round of the season, named GP Adrie van der Poel in honour of the retired Dutch cyclist. However, this year, it will host the World Championships for the second time in history, setting the stage for the likes of Mathieu van der Poel, Wout van Aert, Puck Pieterse and Fem van Empel to battle for victory.

Cyclocross World Championships 2023 Course

Map for the 2023 cyclocross world championships

Credit: 2023 UCI Cyclocross World Championships Hoogerheide

The course kicks off with a long tarmac section where there will be a fast and aggressive start as riders fight for positions. The riders will then turn right onto a grassy, technical section (this could be more muddy depending on the weather conditions on the day). As the course heads further into the trees, the riders will face more mud and some potentially slippery off camber corners. While there are no significantly long climbs on the lap, the entire course is undulating with some steep sections that could see riders forced to get off and run with the bike. Ruts and thick mud will cause fatigue as the race continues. There are two hurdles towards the end of the lap which riders will either aim to bunnyhop or run over, then a steep, tricky descent before a set of stairs which will test the legs. From there, the rider’s technical skills will be tested on a long, off-camber section before they return to the tarmac for the finishing straight.

Contenders - Cyclocross World Championships 2023 men's elite race

With defending champion Tom Pidcock deciding not to race the World Championships in Hoogerheide due to moving his focus towards the road racing season, all eyes are on two of biggest names in cycling: Mathieu van der Poel and Wout van Aert. The rival pair have been closely matched throughout the cyclocross season so far, often sharing out World Cup victories between them. One of the only things that gives us an indication of which way the race might go is the recent re-emergence of Van der Poel's back injury. After the World Cup in Zonhoven – where he finished second to Van Aert in the end – the Dutchman was complaining of pain in his back which was making it “not fun to race ‘cross.” Van der Poel did take an impressive victory at the Benidorm World Cup round a few weeks later, though, in a race where he and Van Aert were closely matched once again. The Dutchman won in Besançon last weekend, but Van Aert chose not to race in that round of the World Cup.

The course in Hoogerheide is radically different to that in Benidorm (it will be muddy rather than dry and fast), so the results there are not a clear indication of how things could play out at the Worlds. If Van der Poel's injuries are still hindering him when the World Championships come around, it could mean that Van Aert gets the better of him and takes the rainbow stripes.

Wout van Aert at the UCI World Cup in Glasgow

Wout van Aert at the UCI World Cup in Glasgow (Image: Alex Whitehead/SWpix)

A look back at the history of World Cups in Hoogerheide tells us that Van der Poel is perhaps more suited to the nature of the course, though. He has won here five times in the past, with Van Aert finishing in second place on three of those occasions and third once. The Hoogerheide World Cup round was cancelled for one season due to the Covid-19 pandemic but returned in 2022, however, neither Van der Poel or Van Aert were present in that event, giving way for Eli Iserbyt to take victory. Iserbyt could be hot the heels of Van der Poel and Van Aert at the World Championships this year as he is clearly well-suited to the varied parcours in Hoogerheide.

Lars van der Haar at the UCI World Championships 2022 in Fayetteville

Lars van der Haar at the UCI World Championships 2022 in Fayetteville (Image: Alex Whitehead/SWpix)

Another rider who will be looking to capitalise on any mistakes made by the race favourites is newly-crowned Belgian national champion and European champion Michael Vanthourenhout. The 30-year-old finished fourth in the last World Cup in Hoogerheide, and has been known to perform well there in the past. A favourite for the Dutch crowd will be local rider and national champion Lars van der Haar, who is currently second in the UCI cyclocross rankings. Van der Haar will be especially motivated to perform well at a World Championships in his home country and will want to go one better than his second place finish in the World Cup round here last season.

Laurens Sweeck is another outside bet for victory; he’s had a good season so far with a World Cup victory in Beekse Bergen and a number of podiums, however, historically, he has not been well-suited to the course in Hoogerheide. It’s going to be tricky for anyone to get in the way of Van der Poel and Van Aert fighting it out for glory at the 2023 Cyclocross World Championships, but the battle for podium positions is going to be fierce, and the hectic nature of cyclocross means you never know what might happen with crashes, mishaps or mechanicals.

Contenders - Cyclocross World Championships 2023 women's elite race

This season, elite women’s cyclocross has been dominated by a new generation of riders. Puck Pieterse and Fem van Empel currently sit first and second in the UCI cyclocross rankings, both just 21-years-old. This means they could both take part in the U23 World Championship race in Hoogerheide, but both of them have made the decision to race for the rainbow jersey in the elite category. Van Empel already won the elite race at the European Championships earlier this season, so it’s little surprise that she’ll want to go one better and aim for rainbows too.

Both riders appeared to be relatively evenly matched earlier this season, until Van Empel’s crash in the snowy Vale di Sole World Cup caused her some injuries. After that, Pieterse was able to get the better of her at the Dutch National Championships, but Van Empel came back fighting to win the Benidorm World Cup. Pieterse won Besançon last weekend, with Van Empel choosing to race (and winning) the X2O Trofee Hamme-Flandriencross instead. These two are closely matched so it will likely be a fierce battle between them at the Worlds.

Puck Pieterse and Fem van Empel go head to head at the UCI World Cup in Glasgow (Image: Alex Whitehead/SWpix)

Marianne Vos is the reigning world champion after winning in Fayetteville last season, but after a lacklustre 'cross season so far, the Dutch rider has chosen not to race at the World Championships, citing health problems as the reason. Former world champion Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado has been steadily returning to form this season; her second place at the Dutch National Championships a few weeks ago gave an insight into Alvarado’s strength, so she is one to watch at the Worlds. Denise Betsema could also challenge for a podium spot.

Lucinda Brand will hope to be in the mix at the World Championships after a consistent season so far. She’s yet to secure a World Cup victory, but has regularly been in the fight for podium positions and will be hoping that it all comes together at the right moment so she can go for gold at the World Championships. Last year, Brand narrowly missed out on the rainbow jersey in Fayetteville and finished in second place to Marianne Vos, which will likely give her even more motivation to perform in 2023.

Bronze medallist in last season's Cyclocross World Championships, Silvia Persico, is another rider to keep an eye on in 2023. The Italian rider finished fourth in the Benidorm World Cup and seems to be able to reach her peak on the days when it matters most. While she might not be racing against the likes of Van Empel and Pieterse for victory, Persico will be an important protagonist when it comes to fighting for the bronze medal.

Other events

Junior women’s race: Lauren Molengraaf is the junior women’s European champion and has already won two World Cup rounds this season. It will be a surprise to many if Molengraaf doesn’t pull off the victory at the World Championships, but if she’s on a bad day, the likes of Cat Ferguson, Valentina Corvi and Cecila Gery are all in with a shot of victory. The Canadian duo of Ava and Isabella Holmgren will also play a big part in this race. If Molengraaf does dominate the junior women’s event, it will still be a hard-fought battle for podium positions behind her.

Lauren Molengraaf wins the Junior Women's European Cyclocross Championships

Lauren Molengraaf wins the Junior Women's European Cyclocross Championships (Image: BSR Agency/Getty)

Junior men’s race: French rider Léo Bisiaux has won most of the races he has started this season, including two UCI World Cups and the European Championships. He starts as the clear favourite for the junior men’s event at the World Championships, but Dutch rider Guus van den Eijnden got the better of Bisiaux at the Maasmechelen World Cup round, so he could be one to watch too. 

U23 women’s race: With Shirin van Anrooj opting to race in the U23 World Championships rather than the elite, the Dutchwoman starts as the stand-out favourite to take victory in this category. Former junior world champion Zoe Bäckstedt has a chance of securing a medal, as does French rider Line Burquier and Marie Schreiber of Luxembourg.

Thibau Nys at the UCI World Cup in Zonhoven

Thibau Nys at the UCI World Cup in Zonhoven (Image: Getty/David Pitens)

U23 men’s race: After coming so close last year and winning three U23 Cyclocross World Cup rounds so far this season, Thibau Nys is a firm favourite for the U23 men’s event. He finished second in the European Championships earlier this season behind fellow Belgian rider Emiel Verstrynge, though, so it’s not going to be easy for Nys to win rainbows. Belgian U23 Champion ​​Witse Meeussen could also compete for victory at the World Championships, as could Tibor del Grosso who recently won the Besançon World Cup round.

Cyclocross World Championships 2023 Predictions

Despite his recent injury issues, we’re putting our faith in Mathieu van der Poel to take victory in the elite men’s event in Hoogerheide. A look back at previous races on this course tells us that the Dutchman is incredibly well-suited to the terrain, and he’ll be spurred on by his familial ties to this event. In the women’s race, we think that Puck Pieterse will take the win. She’s proven numerous times this season that she can perform under pressure and only seems to be getting stronger and stronger with each race.

Where to watch the 2023 Cyclocross World Championships

The Cyclocross World Championships will be shown on Eurosport/GCN. The junior women’s, U23 men’s and elite women’s race will be on 4th February 2023, while the junior men’s, U23 women’s and elite men’s race will take place on the 5th February 2023.

Cover image: Getty/Luc Claessen

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