Merry Christmas everyone. Perhaps some of us could think of races they'd prefer as presents, but this is what we've got. Zolder. Traditionally, Zolder is held on St.Stephen's Day, so pro cyclo-cross riders' Christmas celebrations amount to one Christmas cracker and some Brussels sprouts.
: Zolder is seen as an 'easy' course. While I wouldn't perhaps go that far, it is very fast, especially in the dry. The course consists of long straights, a rather hard run-up, a steep grassy knoll, a tiny bit of sand and a plastic bridge. In the dry, this course finds it difficult to split a race up, for example last year, when a group of about fifteen riders managed to stay together for almost the entire race, which Van der Haar won in a sprint. It had an average of 28 kilometres an hour. However, when it is wet, the course can easily produce a hard, hard race, like in 2012, for example. The course also goes past the Siltekapel, a silent church which no noise is allowed, so there are no spectators.
The Siltekapel. (Dan Seaton)
THE WEATHER: As I've said, the weather can play a huge part in Zolder, but according to Accuweather, it will be cold and dry. A single tear is falling from the eyes of fans.
THE RIDERS: After Sven Nys' terrible December, he has taken a sabbatical from this race, to return in Diegem on Sunday. Van Aert and Van der Poel will fight out the Under 23 race.
Lars Van der Haar: The Dutchman has been having a frustrating season after having looked so strong in Valkenburg. Crashes, sickness and bad luck have hindered him, but is he on an upward slope? Almost certainly, after finishing second in Namen. And where better to get his second win of the season than where he won last year?The course's steep hills and fast parts, combined with Van der Haar's strong sprint and form, leave him very well prepared to win on the 26th.
Can Van der Haar pull away? (Dan Seaton)
Kevin Pauwels: The world cup leader could soon become the world cup winner. Pauwels leads Meeusen by 77 points, with 80 for a win.It may be controversial not to have him as favourite after his fantastic win in Namur, but his riding style suits the Namur course more than this.
Can Pauwels take the World Cup? (Andy Jones)
Tom Meeusen: Tom Meeusen has had a pretty good season, and has qualities, especially his strong sprint, which will suit this course to perfection. He did blow up spectacularly last week, but the easier course will suit him better.
Philipp Walsleben: As far as I see, the race will be between the previous three, but the German champ could challenge for the podium after his excellent showing in Namur, closing on the leaders all the way to the line, to achieve a fantastic third place.
Klaas Vantornout: Vantornout has been sick recently, pulling out of Essen and Namur, and I find it difficult to believe that he can achieve victory here. However, he is Vantornout, one of the people you just put in previews.
(Tim de Waele)
Corné Van Kessel: Fidea rider Corné Van Kessel rode very well in Namur before crashing. If the crash wounds have healed, he could be a threat.
After Katerina Nash's victory in Namur, the field is wide open.
Marianne Vos: The world champion started her season in Namur, and immediately finished second after going on all out attack on the first lap. She is back up to speed now and should notch up her first victory of the season.
Katie Compton: The American champion came a distant third in Namur, but may challenge for the victory in Zolder. She won Valkenburg this year, but has very few other results. She is, however, just one point behind the world cup leader, Sanne Cant.
Can Compton take the lead?
Katerina Nash: I'm sure I wasn't the only one who was the tiniest bit surprised by Nash's victory on Sunday. She came past Vos easily enough, but the Czech may find it hard to win on the flatter, dryer course.
Pauline Ferrand-Prevot: The French champion did not have the best Namur, and may be out for revenge in Zolder. However, does the course suit her so much? Hard to tell, but as she is usually for the tougher courses, possibly not.
Sanne Cant: The Belgian champion and World Cup leader has been gradually losing form. However, this course may be good for her. She may not win, but can certainly challenge to keep her World Cup lead.
I hope you all have a Happy Christmas, enjoy, and come back to watch the 'cross.
(Make your own judgements about someone who gets up on Christmas Eve and writes a CX preview)