One consistent trend, year in, year out in cyclocross is the emergence of the young riders who displace those older riders who retire. It seems like just yesterday we were talking about the young guns - Mathieu van der Poel, Wout van Aert, and Lars van der Haar taking on Nys, Albert, or Štybar. Those "kids" are now 25, 26, and 29 respectively with multiple seasons under their belt... time marches on.
Because it's fairly common for U23-eligible riders to race in the Elite category by choice, it's easy to lose track of the actual ages of young riders (for example, Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado was just 21 at the Dübendorf, Switzerland world championship and would have been eligible to race U23; she elected to race the Elite category instead, a decision that paid off as she claimed the world title.)
Young riders have also lost visibility due to the COVID-19 pandemic, as many professional events have cancelled their Junior and U23 categories outright, only offering Elite categories.
When cyclocross resumes next Fall, it kicks off a season that culminates in the 2022 cyclocross world championships taking place right here in the USA (Fayetteville, Arkansas). That's 14 more months for these young riders to continue to develop. Let's take a look at some of the up-and-coming talent that could mature into medal contenders over the next year and show up in force at Fayetteville:
Top young cyclocross talent (women)
Madigan Munro (United States)
Munro, 18, took the Bronze medal at the first-ever Junior Women's cyclocross world championship in early 2020. As part of Trek Factory Racing she's already taking multiple European trips to take on the world's best.
Blanka Kata Vas (Hungary)
The confusingly-named Kata Vas (is it Blanka Kata Vas? Or Kata Blanka Vas? Depends on where it's written apparently... Wikipedia says Blanka Kata Vas, so that's what I'm going with.) She's just 19, yet already took a silver medal at the 2020 world cyclocross championship U23 category, and gold at the Hungarian national championship.
Puck Pieterse (Netherlands)
Pieterse is the current U23 European cyclocross champion, defeating women 4 and 5 years her senior (she's 18) and has been honing her skills by taking the start this year in the Elite women's category in popular cyclocross series races.
Hattie Harnden (Great Britain)
Harnden, 18, shocked fans by winning the Elite Women's British national cyclocross championship at the start of 2020 over more established riders like Bethany Crumpton and Anna Kay. She also races Enduro World Series and seems to thrive in bad conditions.
Top young cyclocross talent (men)
Ryan Kamp (Netherlands)
Kamp won the U23 Men at the 2020 cyclocross world championship. In Fall 2020 he's been turning up in the top 10 in the Elite men's races pretty consistently. Still just 20, he'll have U23 eligibility when Fayetteville rolls around, but may elect to skip the U23 race in favor of the Elite Men's race.
Thomas Mein (Great Britain)
Mein, 21, snagged a U23 World Cup at Tabor in 2019, along with the Silver medal, U23 Men, at the European cyclocross championship. Along with Tom Pidcock (young, to be sure, but certainly not an "emerging" talent any longer given his recent wins) Mein proves Great Britain is producing cyclocross talent that can compete on the world level.
Thibau Nys (Belgium)
Thibau, 18, has the pedigree from father Sven Nys, and has already proved it, taking the gold medal in the Junior Men at the 2020 World Championship. As with others on this list, he's already taking starts against Elite Men to build experience and still has 1.5 seasons left to grow and improve before Fayetteville 2020. Needless to say, expectations are sky-high.