Sven Nys, Niels Albert, Kevin Pauwels, Klaas Vantornout... one must look down to fifth place to find Lars van der Haar, the first non-Belgian rider in the World Cup rankings for cyclocross. In the last 15 years, only 4 world championships have been won by riders outside of Belgium, and two of them by the same rider - Zdenĕk Štybar. And nowhere has the Belgian hegemony at the uppermost levels of the sport been as predominant as the 2012 World Championships where the Belgian armada took the first seven positions in the Men's elite race.
Foreign riders have managed to break into the top tier of racers in the women's side - most notably Katie Compton (USA), Helen Wyman (GBR), Marianne Vos (NED), Sanne Van Passen (NED), and the recently retired Daphny Van Den Brand (NED). On the men's side of the sport, however, the death grip of Belgian riders only seems to grow stronger. Enter Kwadro-Stannah, a new team started by the managers of the BKCP Powerplus team of current world champion Niels Albert with a goal of developing foreign talent in the sport.
Christoph and Philip Roodhooft, the managers of BKCP-Powerplus, started the team that will be sponsored by Kwadro Windows and Doors and Stannah Stairlifts. The team will be run by Adrie van der Poel, a world champion in cyclocross in 1996 and one of the more successful non-Belgian riders in recent history with five additional silver medals at Worlds during his career. Though The Netherlands seems to be a natural recruiting ground for foreign riders - especially with van der Poel's heritage - the team plans instead focus on riders from the Czech Republic, Switzerland, and France in the immediate future. Though the team has signed three riders, only two have been named and are racing in the team's yellow and red kits for the remainder of the 2012-2013 season.
Czech rider and perennial top-10 finisher in World Cup and other series races Radomir Simunek has transferred over from the BKCP-Powerplus team and will play a leading role in the team's development as his youth development program in the Czech Republic is eventually integrated as a feeder team. He will be joined by Mariusz Gil from Poland. Eventually, the team plans to have a roster of 6-7 riders.
Will the team achieve its stated goal of reversing the Belgian stranglehold over the top tier of the sport, at least in men's racing? In the short run, do not expect things to be shaken up very much. Simunek's performance has been consistent over the past several years and it is hard to see how a new team will push him much higher. In the longer term, however, there is some hope. With all the major cyclocross teams supported by Belgian sponsors, foreign riders have a harder time breaking into the upper levels of the sport, especially the feeder teams that annually send talent to teams like Telenet-Fidea, BKCP-Powerplus, and Sunweb-Napoleon.
Riders from the Netherlands have managed to continue to thrive in this system as evidenced by Lars van der Haar's rise from the U-23 ranks to a stellar first season in the Elite ranks. Outside the low countries, though, young riders are at a seemingly perennial disadvantage now. With a well-funded team explicitly searching for foreign talent, however, more talent may be discovered and nurtured. In the 1980s and 90s, Switzerland and France were also powerhouses on the cyclocross scene with riders such as Pascal Richard, Bruno Lebras, and Dieter Runkel on the podium in at Worlds. This may be the jolt needed to bring those days back.