Thursday January 18, 2024 at 7:00 AM

The day before the World Cup round in warm Benidorm, cross-country racing will also take place in Belgium. The field of participants is – largely for that reason – not to be missed, but the organizers of the Kasteelcross in Zonnebeke can count on one big name for both the men and women elites. CyclingFlits looks ahead.


Last ten winners Zonnebeke
2023: Tim Merlier
2022: no edition due to corona pandemic
2021: no edition due to corona pandemic
2020: Mathieu van der Poel
2019: Kevin Pauwels
2018: Wietse Bosmans
2017: Wietse Bosmans
2016: Mathieu van der Poel
2015: Wout van Aert
2014: Sven Nys

2023: Denise Betsema
2022: no edition due to corona pandemic
2021: no edition due to corona pandemic
2020: Christine Majerus
2019: Loes Sels
2018: Thalita de Jong
2017: Thalita de Jong
2016: Jolien Verschueren †
* no women’s cross for professionals was organized before 2016

Last year

Exact Cross 2022-2023
Rash Zonnebeke, men
1. Tim Merlier (Soudal Quick-Step) in 1u04m39s
2. Ryan Kamp (Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal) at 9s
3. David van der Poel (Alpecin-Deceuninck) at 15s
4. Vincent Baestaens (Spits CX Team) op 21s
5. Lennert Belmans (Crelan-Fristads) at 28s

Exact Cross 2022-2023
Rash Loenhout, women
1. Denise Betsema (Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal) in 49m41s
2. Marion Norbert-Riberolle (Crelan-Fristads) at 1m15s
3. Austin Killips (Nice Bikes) op 2m43s
4. Jana Dobbelaere on 2m54s
5. Leonie Bentveld (Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal) at 3m34s


The vast majority of the course is located in – how could it be otherwise, when you know that the race is also called the Kasteelcross – the castle garden of Zonnebeke Castle. There is also a passage past the Memorial Museum Passchendaele. As always, the start and finish are at Berten Pilstraat.

Compared to the previous editions, we do not see any changes to the route. Furthermore, the many long straight strips are striking. Particularly after the second material station, you can continue to work hard. Of the total of 2800 meters, we find 290 meters of asphalt, 1700 meters of meadow, 780 meters of gravel and 25 meters of cobblestones.

The course in Zonnebeke is characterized by the lack of height difference and the surface – meadow, grass, forest floor and paved paths – also has few difficulties. The beams here are not wooden planks either, but old tree trunks. Technically, riders should therefore not worry much.

The most technically difficult parts are two jumps over two ditches and the off-camber part in between. Furthermore, it is actually an old-fashioned cross: few bends, many long stretches and therefore full throttle. Lots of slogging in West Flanders!

Program and information

Program Saturday January 20, 2024
10 a.m.: New first-year students
11 a.m.: New second-year students
12.10 pm: Junior men
1.45 pm: Elite women and U23
3 p.m.: Elite men and U23

Kasteelpark, 8980 Zonnebeke

Public information
Pre-sale tickets are available at €12 each via organization’s website. At the cross itself, tickets are also available at the box office for up to €15. Children up to and including 12 years old can enter for free.

Practical info
Website organization
Website Exact Cross

Participant lists

Favorites men

The consequences of the positioning of the Kasteelcross on the cyclocross calendar are clearly visible in the field of participants. Only a few dare to combine Zonnebeke with the World Cup round a day later in Benidorm. It is a great relief for the organization to be European champion Michael Vanthourenhout has a warm heart for them and yet doubles down.

Michael Vanthourenhout is top favorite – photo: Cor Vos

The European champion became ill in the week before the Belgian championship, but there was little sign of this on the day itself. Vanthourenhout played a key role, saw leader Eli Iserbyt win and stood on the podium himself. After a Christmas period that was slightly less than we are used to from him, the Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal rider still seems to have enough left in the tank for a good end to the season. A victory in Zonnebeke could contribute to this.

The biggest competition will mainly come from a few occasional riders. Then of course we’re talking about it Gianni Vermeersch in Tim Merlier, for whom the Kasteelcross will be their last outing in the field before they fully focus on the road with Alpecin-Deceuninck and Soudal Quick-Step respectively. Merlier hasn’t crowed too much this winter, but he does have good memories of Zonnebeke. After all, last year he achieved the team’s first victory of the year.

Lander Loockx is a special case. The Leuven native was also originally going to end his season here, but then thought about joining TDT-Unibet. But against all his expectations, national coach Sven Vanthourenhout inquired about his plans in view of the Cyclo-Cross World Championships. Loockx then decided that, if he is selected, he still wants to participate in the cross-country World Championships in Tàbor and will therefore extend his winter for a while. Not a bad decision, because he is increasingly a permanent fixture in the top 10.

Lander Loockx will probably extend his season – photo: Cor Vos

The other riders at the start will find it difficult to conquer a podium place, but they will not be far away either. Vincent Baestaens regularly leans close to the top 10, and Yordi Corsus – from the camp of Jurgen Mettepenningen – is undeniably a great talent. Tom Meeusen and the new Belgian elite 2 champion, Mathijs Wuyts, will also start.

Favorites according to WielerFlits
*** Michael Vanthourenhout
** Lander Loockx, Gianni Vermeersch
* Tim Merlier, Vincent Baestaens, Yordi Corsus

Favorites women

Not too strong a line-up for the ladies in Zonnebeke. In particular, the dominant Dutch women, who will have to compete at full strength in the World Cup in Benidorm, Spain the next day, will forfeit en masse for this Exact Cross in Zonnebeke. Marion Norbert-Riberolle is the only big name among the women who makes an exception and she is therefore considered the top favorite. The Crelan-Corendon rider also won the rematch for the BC in neighboring Otegem earlier this week.

Will Norbert-Riberolle win again? – photo: Cor Vos

Furthermore, the search is on for major contenders. The American champion Clara Honsinger In principle, this is no longer the case, because she is only completing a limited European cross program this winter. After Baal, Gullegem, Zonhoven and Otegem, it will only be her fifth cross on Belgian soil of the year, and with two fifth places and a sixth place she is certainly not doing badly. On a good day, Honsinger could easily threaten the number three of the Belgian Championship.

For Francesca Baroni That will be a lot more difficult, but the Italian is in pole position for the third podium place. Furthermore, we can look forward to a lot of violence from our own country, because Febe De Smedt, Jana Dobbelaere, Kiona Crabbé, Suzanne Verhoeven and even the old age deans Joyce Vanderbeken, Loes Sels and Kim Van de Steene can hope for a good final ranking.

Favorites according to WielerFlits
*** Marion Norbert-Riberolle
** Clara Honsinger, Francesca Baroni
* Jana Dobbelaere, Suzanne Verhoeven, Kiona Crabbé

Weather and TV

According to weather site Meteorologist The sun will shine a little on Saturday in Zonnebeke. The riders should expect little cloud and precipitation, but they can expect cool temperatures of up to 2 degrees Celsius and a wind force of 4 Beaufort.

Sporza will be there on Saturday from 1.30 pm for a live broadcast of both the men and women elite cyclists. Dutch viewers can go to ten minutes later Eurosport 1 and the online channels on GCN+.


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