The final Mathieu van der Poel and Wout van Aert cyclocross clash of this season will be battled out in front of near-sold-out crowds at the Benidorm World Cup on Sunday, January 21.
Tickets in 2023 were sold-out before the event with only a few hundred available on the day. Huge crowds are expected again in 2024 with TuttoBici reporting that the same amount has already been sold (10,000) with an extended capacity of 15,000 allowing more sales.
Benidorm’s position both geographically and on the calendar means it can attract the biggest stars of the sport from their January training camps, many of which take place in the Calpe and Denía area which is very close to the coastal town.
Cyclocross has grown successfully in Spain outside of its typically restrictive Belgian and Dutch calendar where the discipline is most popular.
The draw of the so-called ‘big three’ certainly has an effect with Tom Pidcock (Ineos Grenadiers) also on the start list with Van Aert and Van der Poel, despite opting to miss some of his holiday cyclocross programme.
Van Aert and Van der Poel swapped the lead throughout the opening laps of last year’s Benidorm race, the first appearance of the Spanish race on the World Cup calendar, before Van der Poel dive bombed into the lead and outsprinted Van Aert to the line on the final lap. Van Aert pushed his long-term rival to the absolute limit in 2023 and nearly crashed into the barriers trying to take the win in Benidorm.
However this season has seen a greater dominance from the Dutchman with a similarly close battle looking unlikely.
The World Champion made it a perfect 10 for the season at his last race in Zonhoven, taking all 10 wins at the races he has started. Van der Poel’s victories haven’t been close either, the Dutchman often pulling away from the struggling chase behind on the opening laps and not being seen until after the final lap.
Van der Poel has been training in Spain in recent weeks and was spotted on Wednesday on a ride with Tadej Pogačar and his UAE Team Emirates teammates Jan Christen and Pavel Sivakov.
Men’s World Cup leader Eli Iserbyt (Pauwels-Sauzen-Bingoal) will be present in the Costa Blanca to try and defend his overall lead from the Baloise Trek Lions trio of Joris Nieuwenhuis, Pim Ronhaar and Lars van der Haar.
Iserbyt sits a narrow 25, 35 and 40 points ahead of the respective chasers, but should be confident of scoring a solid haul after claiming the Belgian national title last weekend.
Benidorm is the penultimate round in the World Cup with Hoogerheide providing the finale on January 28. The maximum number of points available for a win is 40.
A stacked women’s field will hit the sand in Spain including last year’s winner in Benidorm – Fem van Empel, Puck Pieterse, Lucinda Brand and Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado.
The quartet has claimed all but one of the 12 rounds of the World Cup so far, with Mannon Bakker taking the other in the snow of Val di Sole. Alvarado leads the World Cup overall standings by 52 points over Pieterse.
“Fem Van Empel came to Benidorm last year and gave us great emotions,” said Pascual Momparler, manager of the organizing company of the Benidorm World Cup.
“She, Alvarado and Pieterse are the three great world cyclocross champions in the women’s field and will be at our race. Even in the men’s field, we managed to have the Big Three and this shows how ours is an egalitarian race, which treats women in the same way as men, both for attention and for prizes.”
Pieterse’s confidence will be sky-high having triumphed at four of her last five races, but she was bested by Lucinda Brand at the Dutch national championships, despite Brand suffering a broken nose just a week prior in Zonhoven.
Van Empel has been absent for the past two weeks after heading to a Visma-Lease a Bike training camp and recovering from minor knee injuries sustained in the rounds preceding her small break, but we can expect the World Champion to be back at her best as she gears up to defend her rainbow jersey on February 3 in Tabor.