Will this be the weekend Klaas Vantornout finally pulls off an upset win? - Patrick Verhoest
The European season takes a pause before a flurry of races, but the stars still drop by Leuven for a race on Sunday.
Christmas sneaks ever nearer and shoppers become increasingly frenetic, for not only is there a festival of gift giving but also a New Year's Eve party to plan and host. This is one of the busiest times of the year, even if many take time off work to stay at home. In Belgium, the cycling gods understand what you need to survive the holiday madness: racing, and lots of it. Need a moment of sanity before dealing with the in-laws for the third day in a row? Watch a race. The family is itching for something to do together that doesn't require actual work? Grab a Jupiler and watch grown men and women play in the mud. Where the United States has college football bowl games, the motherland has cyclocross races galore. It's the holy week(s) of cross racing.
But, we're not there yet. The riders are human, we cannot expect them to put on such a good show without some rest. The season is no longer young. So, racing takes a bit of a pause this weekend with only one non-series race in Leuven this weekend. Most of the big names will be there - which was not quite the case last year - but the stress level of the racing is lower with only prize money instead of series points on the line. This is more than just a pause before the busy two weeks coming up. It is a respite in the middle of the season, a moment of sanity before the final month and a half of building up towards the World Championships in February begins.
That said... we should still have a fun race on our hands to watch on Sunday. What's our course like?
Anyway, in Leuven we yet again race on a military domain (at least they have some use this way). It's a 1/4 grass, 3/4 forest race, and there's a tricky descent on forest sand and an even trickier climb back up, where everyone is crawling rather than walking (never mind running. or cycling). Last year was the first edition and, to be honest with you, I'm not sure I really remember much of it. Then again, I did have a fever.
Video shows a course I think looks fun, though without a lot of elevation change. Like all things, this will be better with some mud as the up-and-down sections become much trickier. Here is the first lap from last year.
So, sit down and enjoy a beverage - hot or cold depending on your time zone - and watch Leuven this weekend and look forward to the greatness and madness that is coming towards us in a mere week's time.