Mathieu van der Poel tops a climb at the X2O Cyclocross Herentals. He's all alone, having gone solo on the first lap. The woods are dark and moody.

Cyclocross gallery: Big names, big wins

The stars are out, and they're lighting up the races just in time for the heart of the season.

Kit Nicholson
by Kit Nicholson 18.12.2023 Photography by
Kristof Ramon and Cor Vos
More from Kit +

If you’re skipping around the house singing “It’s the most wonderful time of the year” and you don’t mean Christmas, you may be a cyclocross fan.

The sport’s Kerstperiode, a packed season of holiday-time events that includes some of its most cherished, is almost upon us. But Santa decided to come early, delivering a fantastic weekend of racing that saw the return of several of its top names. Mathieu van der Poel and Tom Pidcock got their first starts of the season and came away with a win each (Pidcock on the second try).

On the women’s side, Fem van Empel’s purposeful rest-race-rest approach yielded another win but one that literally went down to the wire. And Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado continues what is her best season since 2020, with a rising run of form and confidence that sees her firmly in command of the World Cup series.

Even the courses are settling in nicely. Both the X2O round at Herentals and the Namur World Cup were agreeably muddy enough, but without the slopfests we’ve had in recent weeks (Namur in particular can be dangerous in extreme conditions).

It’s all leading in to a packed slate of races, starting Saturday with the Zilvermeercross in Mol and then Sunday’s World Cup in Antwerp, followed by Gavere the day after Christmas and five more races ending with New Year’s Day’s GP Sven Nys. Our usual Sunday (US) gallery schedule will get bumped a bit by the holiday. We’ll have a gallery on the 27th covering the first four races of the Kerstperiode, and another on January 2 to wrap up the racing. With so much racing, they’ll be even bigger than most of our galleries. Enjoy!

-Joe Lindsey


X20 Badkamers Trofee Herentals, December 16

World Cup Namur, December 17

World champion Fem van Empel leads Annemarie Worst, Lucinda Brand and the rest of the elite women up a steep climb on foot during X2O Trofee Herentals.
After skipping last weekend’s races, World Champion Fem van Empel got back to business quickly in Herentals.
Anna Kay during X2O Trofee Herentals.
Not many racers have had a busier schedule than Anna Kay. She skipped Val di Sole last week in favor of Essen, but Herentals was still the 24-year-old British racer’s 19th start of the season.
World champion Fem van Empel, her right leg heavily bandaged from a training crash, during X2O Trofee Herentals.
Van Empel was sporting some extra padding in Herentals after a training crash last week.
Grey skies and short days – Denise Betsema does the winter work in Herentals.
Lucinda Brand during X2O Trofee Herentals.
Former World Champion Lucinda Brand was also back in action after a weekend off and used her freshness to challenge Van Empel in a way no one has managed to this season.
Annemarie Worst during X2O Trofee Herentals.
Annemarie Worst had a solid ride for her fifth podium of the year.
World champion Fem van Empel outsprints Lucinda Brand to take a narrow victory at X2O Trofee Herentals.
Lucinda Brand pushed the bashed-up world champion almost to the limit, but Van Empel was able to out-sprint her compatriot after Brand regained contact late in the final lap.
The elite women's podium of winner Fem van Empel, runner-up Lucinda Brand and third-place Annemarie Worst at X2O Trofee Herentals with their large X2O duck mascots.
Happy ducks.
The elite men run up the steep climb through the woods during X2O Trofee Herentals.
The steep climb through the woods was a key obstacle in Herentals.
Niels Vandeputte during X2O Trofee Herentals.
To this point in the season, Niels Vandeputte has been the most-successful male racer for Alpecin-Deceuninck, capped by second place in last weekend’s snowcross in Val di Sole. He had another strong result for sixth at Herentals.
Mathieu van der Poel leads Eli Iserbyt up a climb early in X2O Trofee Herentals.
Eli Iserbyt tried hard to hang on to Van der Poel’s coattails early in the race, but the World Champion was too strong, going solo in the first lap and embarking on “quite a long hour on my own” at the front of the race.
World champion Mathieu van der Poel prepares to remount his bike after running up a steep climb during X2O Trofee Herentals.
Is that a mullet I spy, Mathieu?
Lars van der Haar during X2O Trofee Herentals.
Lars van der Haar ended up in a three-way battle for second place.
Quinten Hermans reaches the top of the steep climb on foot during X2O Trofee Herentals.
The world champion’s teammate Quinten Hermans was also making his debut appearance in a limited cyclocross campaign between road seasons.
World champion Mathieu van der Poel on a fast descent during X2O Trofee Herentals.
Van der Poel’s early solo move meant he had clear lines for every crucial part of the course.
World champion Mathieu van der Poel wins X2O Trofee Herentals.
Van der Poel was almost minute clear of the chase just three laps in to the eight-lap affair, and cruised to a comfortable victory in his first race of the year.
The World Champion’s fan club has eagerly awaited his first race of the year, and he didn’t disappoint, on the course or off.
Some of the top elite women during Cyclocross World Cup Namur, including Puck Pieterse, Sara Casasola and Marie Schreiber.
Sunday saw the cyclocross world focus in the Citadel of Namur, where it was attritional from the gun in the elite women’s race.
UCI World Cup leader Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado during Cyclocross World Cup Namur.
World Cup leader Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado was in charge early doors, going solo and staying away in a brilliant return to form.
Inge van der Heijden during Cyclocross World Cup Namur.
Inge van der Heijden has rattled off an impressive run of top finishes at World Cups, including three top fives in her last four starts. She was fifth again on the technical Namur circuit.
Under-23 World Cup leader Leonie Bentveld during Cyclocross World Cup Namur.
U23 World Cup leader Leonie Bentveld had a very strong start and finished high enough to maintain her overall lead.
Dutch national champion Puck Pieterse during Cyclocross World Cup Namur.
21-year-old Puck Pieterse had another good day out, duelling with Lucinda Brand for most of the race with the carrot of Alvarado hovering 10-20 seconds ahead of them.
Puck Pieterse and Lucinda Brand during Cyclocross World Cup Namur.
The long sidehill section gave riders in the women’s and men’s field fits. Brand was far from the only rider to go outrigger style on the tricky off-camber.
Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado celebrates winning Cyclocross World Cup Namur.
It was a fantastic third World Cup victory of the season for Alvarado, whose comeback season is going from strength to strength; she’s now the *ahem* winningest elite woman in the World Cup, and naturally holds onto the leader’s jersey with a comfortable margin.
Joris Nieuwenhuis during Cyclocross World Cup Namur.
Joris Nieuwenhuis’ sterling run of form seems to be going nowhere, though he admitted a lingering cold was bothering him this weekend.
Pim Ronhaar and Joris Nieuwenhuis rid the treacherous off-camber section during Cyclocross World Cup Namur.
Nieuwenhuis and Baloise Trek Lions teammate Pim Ronhaar broke clear of the field early in the race. Both of them neatly demonstrate what’s commonly referred to as ‘tripoding’ along the vicious off-camber section.
Tom Pidcock repositions his chain after suffering a mechanical during Cyclocross World Cup Namur.
The deeply rutted off-camber section took many victims, including Tom Pidcock, whose chain mishap held him up while he was making his way towards the front on lap two.
UCI World Cup leader Eli Iserbyt during Cyclocross World Cup Namur.
Pidcock’s mechanical allowed the likes of World Cup leader Eli Iserbyt to regain a few positions before the former World Champion was able to get going again.
Pim Ronhaar runs with his bike during Cyclocross World Cup Namur.
Meanwhile, up front, Pim Ronhaar proved the strongest of the Baloise Trek Lions duo …
Pim Ronhaar leads Tom Pidcock up a climb on foot during Cyclocross World Cup Namur.
… but Pidcock’s mechanical came too early in the race to do anything but delay the inevitable, and the young Brit soon made his way up to Ronhaar’s wheel, where he stayed briefly until attacking on the penultimate lap.
Tom Pidcock during Cyclocross World Cup Namur.
Ronhaar was unable to respond, and Pidcock powered away. There was a glimmer of hope for the chasing Dutchman when Pidcock suffered a front-wheel puncture late in the penultimate lap, but a luckily timed pit stop saw the leader on his way for the remainder of the race.
Tom Pidcock celebrates victory at Cyclocross World Cup Namur.
After finishing best-of-the-rest behind Van der Poel on Saturday, Pidcock raised his arms in celebration on only his second race day of the CX season (and apparently only his third day on the CX bike … ) after an impressive display.
Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado on the podium after winning Cyclocross World Cup Namur.
Alvarado gave it a good go with the big beer but couldn’t quite make a dent. Pieterse and Brand both happily downed their normal-size drinks, but Alvarado pointedly carried hers off the podium and handed it to a soigneur with a laugh to hang onto for after the presser.

What did you think of this story?