Riders from 19 nations are expected to tackle the dunes between the North Sea and the military airbase of Koksijde this Saturday during the second round of the UCI Cyclo-cross World Cup.

The challenging sand course features two dunes which are named after the winners of the 1994 and 2012 UCI Cyclo-cross World Championships in Koksijde, namely Paul Herygers and Niels Albert. For Albert there will be mixed feelings when he returns to the coastal town: the sand specialist won three times in Koksijde, in 2010, 2012 and 2013 before being forced to retire from the sport in May this year due to heart problems. The 28 year-old Belgian is currently coaching riders from the Vastgoedservice – Golden Palace Continental Team and will be passing on his sand racing experience to Wout Van Aert, Rob Peeters and Jens Adams who’re lining up for Albert’s team in Koksijde.

Elite Men: Nys heads Belgian selection

The three riders are part of a large Belgian selection, headed by Sven Nys. Fifteen years ago the Belgian Champion won for the first time and five more victories followed, making him the rider with the most wins in Koksijde. This year Nys is struggling to make his mark, and abandoned the first round of the World Cup. It remains to be seen if he can pull himself back into contention in the dunes.

French Champion Francis Mourey (FDJ.fr) also had a difficult ride in Valkenburg, only managing a distant 16th place. Nevertheless the French rider can be expected to perform well in Koksijde, after finishing third behind Nys and Albert in 2012 and second behind Albert last year. Last weekend Mourey was surprisingly beaten in the second round of the Coupe de France in Besançon. A late mechanical while in the lead forced him to run the final metres to the finish line where he was beaten on the line by compatriot Clément Venturini (Cofidis). A win from Mourey would add an eighth name to the extraordinary long list of winners in the eight major cyclo-cross races so far this season.

Dutchman Lars van der Haar (Development Team Giant-Shimano), winner in Valkenburg, is ill and will not be on the startline in Koksijde. But we can count on the presence of six winners of a big race this season, who are all capable of a good ride on Saturday although not all sand lovers. They are Van Aert, Nys, Mathieu van der Poel (BKCP-Powerplus), Tom Meeusen (Telenet-Fidea), Kevin Pauwels (Sunweb – Napoleon Games Cycling Team) and Klaas Vantornout (Sunweb – Napoleon Games Cycling Team). From that list it’ll be interesting to see how young Dutchman Mathieu van der Poel will perform amongst the Elite Men. Two years ago he was still racing in the Junior Men category but clocking faster lap times than the Elite Men. Ever since 2011 the now 19 year-old has been unbeaten in Koksijde.

Elite Women: Compton versus Cant

An exciting battle is expected in the Women’s category between sand specialists Sanne Cant (Belgium) and Katherine Compton (USA). However, 35-year-old Compton, freshly-crowned Pan-Am Continental Champion and winner four times in Koksijde, is the pre-race favourite.  With World Champion Marianne Vos (Rabo Liv Women Cycling Team) absent there’s no other rider at the start with Koksijde winning experience. Cant is European Champion and will line up in Koksijde after being unbeaten in her last five races, with nine wins in total this season. Despite her below par performance in Valkenburg (7th) the 24 year-old should have a good ride on home soil.

British riders Helen Wyman (Kona Factory Team) and Nikki Harris (GBR) are podium candidates. Dutch rider Sophie de Boer (Parkhotel Valkenburg Continental Team) will aim to get back on the podium as she did in Valkenburg. Former overall World Cup winner Sanne van Paassen (Boels Dolmans Cycling Team) is slowly working to get back to the highest level after being out of competition for a year.

Racing in the Women’s category starts on Saturday at 13h30 and the Elite Men set off at 15h00. Follow the action live on www.youtube.com/ucichannel.