Marianne Vos (The Netherlands): ★★★★★ Velo’s 2012 International Cyclist of the Year is one of the most dominant cyclists of any generation, male or female, across road and ’cross disciplines (while also dabbling in track glory). There need not be any more proof than her four consecutive world cyclocross championship titles through 2012; a fifth came in 2006 when she was 19. Though she once again took a break from competition after her victory at the world road championship, Vos will be there in Louisville. “Of course I want to defend my rainbow jersey. I’m looking forward to racing there and feeling the American atmosphere in cyclocross!” she told Velo. In 2012 alone, Vos won the world cyclocross championship, five stages and the overall at the Giro Donne, the Olympic road race, the World Cup overall title, and the world road championship. It may not be long before another world championship title is hers.
Katie Compton (USA): ★★★★★ Velo’s North American Cyclocross Woman of the Year, Katie Compton is one of the most prolific cyclocross racers of all time, having won nine consecutive U.S. national cyclocross championships. She has finished second at the world championship on two occasions; she also has a bronze to her name. In January 2012, at worlds in Koksijde, Belgium, her race didn’t go nearly so well — an early crash saw her claw back to fifth. In the fall of 2012, she won the World Cup stops in Pilsen, Czech Republic; Koksijde; and Roubaix, France, and clinched the World Cup overall title (before the last two races were even contested), something no American had done before. Domestically she won all six USGP events she started. Compton has been nearly untouchable all season long, benefiting from a blend of exceptional power and impeccable bike handling skills. At 33, she has the poise and understanding of the Louisville world championship course to make this her best-ever season. On home soil, at the height of her career, anything less than gold will be a disappointment.
Sanne van Paassen (Netherlands): ★★★ With the 2011 World Cup title and big wins in legendary races like Koppenbergcross and Gavere, it’s clear that Sanne van Paassen is capable of world-class results. In recent years, however, her late-season form has been hampered by bouts of illness, and missing from her palmarés is a world championship medal. This year, van Paassen changed her early-season program in an attempt to boost her chances in Louisville. After winning CrossVegas, she scaled back on racing to focus on training and her health, and is now on a slow buildup to worlds. With a gap at the top of women’s cyclocross following the retirement of Daphny van den Brand, van Paassen should have her best chance to stand on that elusive worlds podium.
Helen Wyman (Great Britain): ★★ The current European cyclocross champion is on some of the best form of her career. She has run a mixed schedule this year, hitting the World Cups and bigger races in Europe, while also battling among the best on North American soil. It has paid off. She racked up 11 victories in October and November, including both days of the Great Brewers Grand Prix of Gloucester, both days at the Providence Cyclocross Festival, and two of three days at Jingle Cross Rock. In the mud of Pilsen, only Katie Compton could ride away from the lithe Brit. At Koppenbergcross, Wyman held off compatriot Nikki Harris to take victory near her adopted home of Oudenaarde, Belgium. She then made the trip to Lousiville for the Derby City Cup, and a preview of the worlds course; a pair of fourth-place finishes bodes well for her chances to add more podium placings to one of her best-ever seasons. Her late season form continues to place her among the sport’s best.
Sanne Cant (Belgium): ★★ Three-time Belgian champion Sanne Cant had a breakthrough race at the 2012 worlds in Koksijde, earning her first worlds medal behind Marianne Vos and Daphny van den Brand. Since then, her trajectory has been much the same as in past years, producing top-fives and occasional podiums, but only a handful of wins. Cant may have world championship talent, but at just 22, she still lacks the consistency and steadiness of some older riders. Nonetheless, her growing star power at home in Belgium has helped spur improvement in both her confidence and maturity. In the right conditions, she could be a threat for the podium, but with Vos, van Paassen, Compton, and a host of other more experienced women standing between her and that goal, she’ll have to once again summon her best race of the season if she wants to get there.
Katerina Nash (Czech Republic): ★★★ Katerina Nash, a mainstay on the U.S. ’cross scene, was the 2011 USGP series champion. The 34-year-old Czech has raced in both the winter Olympics (cross-country skiing, in 1998 and 2002) and summer Olympics (cross-country mountain bike, in 1996 and 2012). She also won the 2008 USGP series crown and has had strong results at the world cyclocross championships throughout her career: fourth in 2010, third in 2011, and eighth in 2012. Her results in 2013 have only bolstered her status as a medal favorite: victory at both the GP Sven Nys and Superprestige Giegem, and a third place at the seventh round of the World Cup in Rome, behind Vos and Compton. Having raced on the Louisville course several times, her all-around athleticism should help the Czech national champion battle for another great result at the world championship.