Australia will have it's first entrant for quite a number of years (I have heard there was someone who entered in the 90s - confirm/deny?) Lewis has been having more and more fun, and in his last race he felt pretty good. I can say that it's been really awesome seeing his australia skin suit get moment so screen time on the replays I"ve caught. While in all honesty he doesn't stand much chance of a podium finish, simply getting a start and mixing it up with the likes of Nys, Albert, Stybar and Pauwels has to be a life highlight.
This looks to be the first worlds where technical skills will come to the fore for a while. That, combined with Koksijde's very sandy course and a lack of frozen ground will mean that the podium may well be a little different from the past couple of years. May being the operative word...
My tips (for whatever it's worth as this is 'cross and it can all go very wrong in a second):
Womens - You'd be a fool to bet against Marianne Vos. Her form coming up this race has been exemplary, she has solid technical skills and power, power, power. If anyone might have had a chance it would have been Katie F Compton. Traditionally the course really plays to her technical strengths, and if this was last year I'd have had no hesitation putting her as my favourite, but this year she just hasn't been able to hit it full gas at the starts and elsewhere and has had a few equipment issues that have cost her valuable time and missed key selections. I do hope this is her day to shine as it would be amazing. Far outside chance: Daphny Van Der Brand - she retires at the end of this season and it would be great to see her go out with the rainbow jersey.
Mens - My pick - The Cannibal from Baal. Sven Nys came back from back spasms to win arguably the only race that comes close to the World Champs, the Belgian National Champs, and this course suits his technical power and smart head. Look for his now-trademark crap start and then for him to sit in slowly blow any group off his wheel with well timed attacks and surges. He has had some ups'n'downs in the past couple of years and its been a while since he wore the rainbow stripes. I think he really wants this to avenge some mishaps that kept his out of the World Cup champions jersey. But personal bias aside, if Niels Albert wakes up on the right side of bed i'm picking he will play a big role in the race. When he has been on this year, he has shown signs of the talent that earn his national and world champs stripes on his jersey, and he has a history with the course. But he has had days where he was definitely not firing (much like a certain playboy countryman cyclist with whom he is often mentioned in the same sentence). Of course you can't talk about the men's race without mentioning the proverbial fly in the belgian embro - Z.Stybar. Currently riding what is arguable the loudest bike in the group and showing that you can ride a full road season and back up for podium positions he is definitely a threat to the men in the yellow/red/black. But my gut feeling is that he doesn't have the finesse for a tight battle of skills with an in-form Nys/Albert, of course if it goes for a bunch kick I'd keep an eye on him. Far outside chance: Pauwels - he seems to be shining on the flatter, faster courses which the course doesn't seem to be this year.
I reserve the right to be completely wrong with the above...
But where to watch it all?
Try here, here and here.
CXMagazine will be streaming live updates for the Men's and Women's races here
Races are (AEST):
Juniors: Saturday, 28th Jan. 9pm
U23s: Sunday, 29th Jan. 1am
Womens: Sunday, 29th Jan. 9pm
Mens: Monday, 30th Jan. 1am