42nd International Cyclo-cross
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Last year, eventual world champion Michael Vanthourenhout was at the start in Contern, but as he had changed the category from Under 23 to elite during the summer, we didn't have the pleasure to see his rainbow stripes in the field. This will change this year as the current female elite world champion Thalita De Jong will line up in the Grand-prix COMAT for women, juniors and novices, bringing in her suitcase the rainbow jersey that she won a few months ago on the racetrack in Zolder.

The young Dutch lady was one of the main revelations of last year's season: although she had already cracked the Top 10 at the cyclo-cross world championships 2014 in Hoogerheide, she was better known for her abilities on the road with stage wins in the Holland Ladies Tour or the Tour of Belgium and medals at World- and European championships. Immediately after having won the bronze medal in the team-time-trial at the 2015 world's in Richmond, Thalita switched onto the cyclo-cross bike with one main goal: a medal at the European Championships in Huijbergen, only a stone-throw away from her home town. It didn't work out like she wanted (6th place), but the two wins in Ardooie and in the Grand-prix COMAT in Contern had given her the taste for more. After a small break in November, De Jong came back stronger than ever for the second part of the season with wins in Bredene, Pétange or the Dutch National Championships in Hellendorn. But the real highlight of her season came in Zolder, at the world championships, where she had a very bad start, but then moved up through the field lap after lap to finally take the world title in a breathtaking final. Thalita had another very good summer in 2016 with stage wins in the Giro d'Italia and the Giro di Trentino, but now she wants to show the rainbow jersey during this winter. She did it in the very best manner at her first race of the season in Ronse, with a dominant win ahead of Cant, De Boer and Havlikova.

Thalita De Jong

Lucinda Brand

The biggest opposition for the world champion will maybe come from her own team: Lucinda Brand is another great road rider who wil turn her focus more and more on cyclo-cross and the beginning of the season shows she is right. The two times National champion of the road suprised everyone at the Superprestige in Gieten when she took second place, only a few seconds behind European champion Sanne Cant and then confirmed her excellent shape in Ronse by taking 5th position, after having been the closest chaser of Thalita De Jong during a while and falling back later, due to some technical errors. Before this season, Lucinda raced cyclo-cross only from time to time, but with good results at each race, like a 6th place in Loenhout, a 9th in Essen or two podium spots in Surhuisterveen. She has another good road season after her back with among other an overall win at the Tour of Norway. Other candidates for the win could be the former Belgian National champion Joyce Vanderbeken, 11th at the first World-cup in Las Vegas and brillant 3rd in last week-end's Brico Cross in Meulebeke, or Karen Verhestraeten, who can also be found quite often in the Top 10 of the big races.

In the men's race, the brothers Vanthourenhout will certainly again be among the main favourites: last year, they dominated the Grand-prix de la Commune de Contern by putting on an impressive show, leaving Steve Chainel and all the others behind them in the second lap already to make it one-two at the end. This year, the two riders from Marlux-Napoleon Games seem to be again in very good shape. Michael Vanthourenhout, winner of a Grand-prix COMAT as novice in 2008, U23 European champion in 2014, U23 world champion and overall winner of the world cup in 2015, is only in his second season as an elite rider, but showed a tremendous beginning of the season so far: 2nd places at the opening of the Belgian season on the legendary Muur van Gerhaardsbergen and at the world-cup race in Las Vegas as well as 3rd place in Ronse, each time behind the world champion Wout Van Aert. After a few years of bad luck, older brother Dieter Vanthourenhout made big progress last season and this summer, so that he is now (again) established among the Best of the world, with three Top Ten places at the beginning of this season: 7th at the world-cup race in Las Vegas, 8th at the world-cup in Iowa and at the Brico-Cross in Gerhaardsbergen are already on the list of the two-times winner and defending champion in Contern.

Dieter Vanthourenhout

Michael Vanthourenhout

Another in-form man at the beginning of this season is Marcel Meisen, one of the few riders that were already able to celebrate a win in the new campaign. On the day before the World-cup, he won the muddy Jingle-Cross in Iowa, beating the best American riders White, Summerhill and Page on their home ground. The member of the new Bart-Wellens-team Steylaerts-Verona has also finished 5th and 8th in the two legs of the Swiss EKZ-Tour, in Baden and Aigle. He is the son of Josef Meisen, who was well known in Luxemburg's small cyclo-cross world in the years 1970-1980. Marcel is a two-times German National Champion (2008 as U23 and 2015 in the elite category) and won no less than 4 races in the previous winter, among them two rounds of the Toi-Toi-Cup and the New-Year cross in Pétange. He is also a very good road racer and won stages in races like Triptyque Ardennais, Boucles de la Mayenne, Tour d'Alsace, Tour de Liège, Tour de Gironde or Oberöstereich-rundfahrt. Radomir Simunek is the current Czech National champion, a title that he won in January this year ahead of the former Grand-prix COMAT winner Michael Boros. After a first National jersey in the year 2000 as junior, this was the second Czech title for the son of Radomir Simunek senior, the first rider in history of cyclo-cross to become world champion in three different categories (as juniors, amateur and professionnal). Radomir junior made a remarkable entry into the small world of cyclo-cross with among others two silwer medals at world championships (as junior and as U23 rider) and a world-cup win on home ground, in Tabor down in 2006. During his long career, he has always been a very consistent rider with more than 120 Top 10 places in the big races and some great wins, like in the Superprestige (Veghel-Eerde) or in the Scheldecross in Antwerpen (two time winner).

Radomir Simunek

Marcel Meisen

Among the favourites for a podium spot is certainly also Daan Soete, a former Belgian junior National champion who won last winter the two last big U23 events of the season, in Sint-Niklaas and in Oostmalle. His team Telenet-Fidea is managed since a few months by Sven Nys and has shown strong collective performances in the last months, like in America where Soete took 6th and 8th place in the races for the Treck CX Cup in Waterloo, or like at the superfast Berencross in Meulebeke last week-end, where Daan ended in 7th place in a small group with world champion Van Aert and his team-mates Meeusen and Arnouts. Czech rider Jan Nesvadba is also in good shape: he took 3rd and 4th in the two Toi-Toi Cup races in Mlada Boleslav and Tabor, where he battled for the win until the very end with the likes of Michael Boros, Thomas Parpstka, Jens Adams or Simon Zahner. Three times German National U23 champion Felix Drumm took the victory last week-end in Dippach ahead of the hom riders. Even if he hasn't had any great result on international level this season yet (35th in Aigle), the course in Contern suits him very well as he finished already 5th (in 2013) and fourth (last year) here.

Felix Drumm

Patrick Van Leeuwen

Other contenders for the Top 10 could be Patrick Van Leeuwen and Bart Hofman, 5th and 6th here last year, Angelo De Clerq and Stefano Museeuw, two riders with well known fathers, Hendrik Sweeck, the third of the brothers, Dave De Cleyn, winner in Differdange in 2013, Czech riders Michal Malik, Daniel Mayer and Adrian Sirek or the team Colba-Superano Ham who will line up with Kenneth Van Compernolle, Quincy Vens, Vinnie Braet and Jonas De Groote. Gusty Bausch seems to be the strongest of Luxemburg's riders for the moment, with a win in Brouch and a second place in Dippach, but the opposition formed by Christian Helmig, Felix Keiser, Lex Reichling or Scott Thiltges never was far away.

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