Except Corne Van Kessel, the really big names are rare this year for the 44th Cyclo-cross of the ACC Contern, sheduled in an very busy weekend with no less than 11 international events across Europe. But the fast Dutchman and Emil Hekele, fourth last year and undoubtedly one of the most experienced riders in the small world of cyclo-cross, will have to face a whole pack of hungry young wolves, accustomed to making the gesture of victory in age categories or in races of national category, and now eager to also take their first steps at the next level.
The big favourite for the win will in the men elite race will certainly be Corne Van Kessel, who was second twelve months ago. He had a gread last season with two victories (Hasselt and Leuven) and no less than a dozen podium places during the winter. This year, the former Dutch U23 champion and silver medal winner at junior World Championships and U23 European Championships has also showed impressive consistency in the World-Cup races (5th in Iowa, 6th in Waterloo, 7th in Berne) and he has taken second place in the beginning of the week at the Night van Woerden, behind team-mate Van der Haar. His countryman Mees Hendrickx will certainly also be among the favourites for this 14th Grand-prix de la Commune de Contern, despite his young age. Last year, in the juniors category, Hendrickx won the Nommay World Cup round and also finished on the podium in Bogense, Zeven, and Hoogerheide. This season, he got off to a good start in the highest category as he took eighth place last Tuesday in the Night of Woerden race, won by Lars Van der Haar ahead of Corne Van Kessel, after having also taken eighth place in the U23 Superprestige in Gieten. With Koen Van Dijke, 10th in Woerden and Dylan Strik, two other Dutchmen are expected at the start in Contern.
Corne Van Kessel at the Grand-prix de la Commune de Contern 2017
Most of the big Belgian teams have sent young riders to Contern, starting with the collective of the Vanthourenhout brothers, well known in Contern, which will be present with no less than 4 U23 riders, both from the main Marlux Bingoal team and from the Callant-Doltcini youth pool. Arno Debeir is one of them, the Belgian who finished 6th in the U23 Superprestige event in Boom last week. In the junior category, Debeir had won the mythical event in Niel and finished twice on the podium of the Belgian championships. Also in the blue jersey will be Tijl Pauwels, 2nd in the GP Sven Nys and in the Scheldecross in the junior category, as well as Maxime Dewulf and Anton Ferdinande the young prodigy who has already raised his arms twice this season, his first in the U23 category. The winner of the Kleicross and the Polderscross last year as a junior has already won both elite without contract races in Knesselare and Roeselare. But the national level races in Belgium seem to be mainly the prey of the riders from Tarteletto-Isorex, also present with 4 riders in Contern. Ingmar Uitdewillingen has earned the flowers no less than six times this season (Steenhuffel, Kessel-Fort, Wiekevorst, Kasterlee, Nossegem and Lichtaart), and finished twice second on his eight starts this winter, while Nick Van de Kerkhove won in Gulleghem and Thibeau De Smet in Alsemberg-Beersel. Nils Derveaux, for his part, finished fourth in the U23 category in Lokeren and third on the Muur of Gerardsbergen this year.
Jarno Liessens, winner of the Grand-prix COMAT in 2015
In addition to Van Kessel, the Telenet-Fidea team will have Andreas Goeman at the start, who finished twice third in the junior world cup, in Valkenburg and Zolder, and who took fourth place a week ago at the U23 Superprestige in Boom, shortly behind former world champion Thomas Pidcock. The Sven Nys collective will also be present in Contern with its youth team, AA-Drink Jongeren Team, through Jarno Jordens and Julian Siemons, while the Pauwels Sauzen - Vastgoedservice team of the outgoing champion Daan Soete will send the actual Belgian junior champion Jarno Bellens. The young talent, who won 7 times last winter, finished 13th in the most recent World Cup round in Bern for his first season in the Under-23 category and second in the Rapencross in Lokeren, ahead of European champion Loris Rouiller. Niels Van de Putte is a member of the IKO-Enertherm team and he has won this year the national elite-race in Hoboken, before finishing 8th in the U23 world-cup leg in Bern. Last winter, he had a successfull last year as a junior with victories in the world-cup race in Hoogerheide as well as in s'Hertogenbosch, Lille, Middelkerke et Oostmalle. Two former Grand-prix COMAT winners in the junior category will also be at the start in the elite/U23 race, namely Jarno Liessens (winner in 2015), who represents the brand new UCI Creafin Tüv-Süd team, as well as Jarne De Meyer, winner in 2016. Among all these very young riders, we must not forget the more experienced Robin Alderweireld, used to the Top 20 in some major events in Belgian and who has already finished twice on the podium in elite without contract races, this season.
Emil Hekele at the Grand-prix de la Commune de Contern in 2017
On the Czech side, as mentioned above, the evergreen Emil Hekele will be the best asset. The excellent 22nd of the 2017 Bieles World Championships has already finished twice on the podium in Contern (2004, 2006) before taking fourth place last year. He distinguished himself this season by winning the international cyclo-cross in Rakova, Slovakia, and finishing third in Podbrezova, also in Peter Sagan's homeland. Daniel Mayer, fifth in the intermediate overall ranking of the Toi-Toi-Cup in the Czech Republic, could also take a place in the Top 10, just like Jakub Riman, who finished 4th of the latest junior National Championships in his country. The Frenchman Anthonin Didier finished 6th at the Cyclo-cross de Contern last year, as well as in Pétange, and he started the season quite well by becoming the Vosges regional cyclo-cross champion in September. He will find some of his compatriots on the starting line like road-race Stephen Boterel, who took a victory (Dieulouard) and two podiums during the summer of 2018. Let's also not forget Australian National U23 champion Ben Walkerden, who won this title in August this year after already having won the Junior title in 2015.
Luc Turchi, winner of the cyclo-cross in Mersch
On the Luxembourg side, the suspense for the best place will be between Misch Leyder winner in Kayl two weeks ago, Vincent Dias Dos Santos, the first at the season opener in Brouch, Luc Turchi, winner in Mersch and Hettange-Grande, in France, Luxemburg's current U23 champion Felix Schreiber or the ever present Gusty Bausch, who has very often convinced on the difficult course in Contern.
In the women's category, the main favourite will be Loes Sels, number 7 on the UCI world rankings and recently winner of the race in Ardooie, after having already finished the world-cup race in Waterloo in 5th place and the Superprestige in Gieten as 4th. Last year, the double Belgian champion has taken four victories, among them the last race of the season in Oostmalle. Next on the list could be Suzanne Verhoeven, third last year behind Wyman and Majerus and crowned Belgian U23 champion a few months later, on the very demanding circuit in the Koxijde dunes. The young Belgian started her season smoothly, with national level cyclo-cross events where she won two races (Nossegem and Alsemberg), before facing the best riders in the discipline in Lokeren (17th) and Ardooie (16th). Behind Verhoeven and Marthe Truyen, the bronze medal winner of the latest U23 Belgian Naional Championships was Axelle Bellaert. The member of the Belgian National Team, who took one victory last year, made the long trip to the United States at the beginning of the season to participate in the opening rounds of the World Cup (26th in Iowa City). Since she came back, she realized several Top 15 places in the top events in Belgium (Lokeren, Meulebeke or Ardooie). Her team-mate Shana Maes took her first win of the season last week in Heusden-Zolder, after having narrowly missed it on half a dozen occasions since the start of the season. She had raised her arms three times last season and has also been on the Belgian championship podium twice in her short career, behind Laura Verdonschot each time.
Suzanne Verhoeven at the Grand-prix COMAT 2017
Lindy Van Anrooij has won the International Cyclo-cross in Balan, in France, two years ago, and she started into the season with among others a 10th place at the Berencross in Meulebeke or an 11th place in Woerden, at the night cross who was won by Marianne Vos only a few days ago. Her sister, the very young Shirin Van Anroo is the current U17 Dutch National Champion and she has realized the step to a higher category this season with a series of Top 20 places with the elites: 14th and 20th in the Superprestige (Boom and Gieten), 16th and 17th at the Brico-Cross series (Ronsse, Gerhaardsbergen), or a 7th place in the international cyclo-cross in Illnau, Switzerland. Tess Van Loy has already been crowned twice at the Belgian Junior Women's Championships, in 2016 and 2017, while the much more experienced Anja Nobus has won the title twice in the elite category in 2002 and 2004, and she also wore the tricolour jersey on the road in 2003. In 2018, Nobus is still present off-road and finished 15th in Ardooie for example, after having done some good results on the road also this summer with Top 10 placings among the pros at the Grand-prix de Dottignies, in Eeklo or in Wanzele. Esther Van der Burg and Masha Mulder, 7th and 8th respectively last year in Contern, are also expected this year and should fight with the two best ladies from Luxembourg, Elise Maes, winner this season in Brouch and Mersch, as well as Nathalie Lamborelle, winner in Kayl recently.
Nathalie Lamborelle at the Grand-prix COMAT 2017
In the junior category, the two main favourites should be Yorben Lauryssen, 2nd recently at the Superprestige in Boom and five times winner last season and Théo Thomas, silver medal winner at the French National Championships in January this year and first of the opening leg of the French Challenge National series in Razès, less than two weeks ago. They will have to be count among others with Nicolas De Smet, winner in Alsemberg-Beersel, Elio Clarysse, first in Zingem, Hugo Jot or with the Luxembourger Loic Bettendorf, winner of all the three cyclo-cross races run so far in the Grand Duchy this season.
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