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The newbie guide to cyclocross

Koppcross

The cyclocross season is about to start for real and it looks like tgsgirl is neglecting her duties, so I'll take over and explain what CX is and how it works.

How does it work?

Cyclocross is basically a bike race on non-paved roads. The riders get to race on muddy, sandy, snowy, ice and lots of other surfaces. CX races are always held on short, closed courses (usually around 3 km), which means the spectators see the riders a lot. While most part of the races takes place on unpaved roads, the finishing straight has to be paved (UCI regulation).

Lots of unpaved roads also means lots of single tracks, so the start is really important, because overtaking is hard (or impossible) on the single tracks. The starting procedure is based on the UCI ranking. The best riders get to pick the best starting spots. Riders who are less good (or who don't ride many races, like Stybar) have to start at the back.

Race length

The rulebook says that races (elite men) have to last for approximately one hour. The jury notes the lap times in the first two laps and after that they calculate how many laps the riders will have to ride. In a regular race, the goal is to get as close to 60 minutes as possible, but in a world cup race the race has to last longer than one hour. So if one lap takes 6 minutes, elite men have to ride 10 laps in a regular race and 11 laps in a world cup race (women and U23 men race for 50 minutes, juniors for 40 minutes).

Courses

Lots of natural obstacles: mud, sand, snow, ice, off camber slippery sections, ditches, treeroots, hills, … you name it. If the race organizers can't find enough natural obstacles, they'll throw in stairs, bridges, barriers,....

The riders try to ride as long as possible, but sometimes they have to run while carrying the bike on heir shoulders, bunnyhop,...

The bikes often get really dirty, so every course has two pits where the riders can take a new clean bike. Mind you: once a rider enters the pit, he has to hop off and touch the ground with both feet, even if nobody's there with a new bike.

I always find the courses with little to no artificial obstacles the best ones. Think: Ronse, Koppenberg, Zonhoven, Koksijde, Gavere,...

Tactics?

CX is less tactical than road racing. There is some team work though. Sometimes one rider will slow down on a single track section to allow his teammate in front of him to ride away. On faster courses, teammates will work together like in a road race,... The timing of bike changes and the choice of tyres is extremely important too.

Another part of CX tactics: picking the fastest lines (sometimes going thru the pits is faster than riding on the course), trying to block the others when you know they can take an obstacle faster than you,....

The race jury in CX is usually a bit less strict than in road racing, so shoulder bumping, cutting corners,... are allowed.

What do they race for?

Most races are part of a trophy. There are three season long trophies: Superprestige, GVA-trophy and World Cup. All the big guns hope to win the GC of one of these trophies. In the Superprestige and the World cup the riders win points for their placing in a race, the GVA trophy is different. The time gaps are registred and the GC works just like in a stage race on the road.

There are a few standalone races too (Overijse!), and of course the championships (national and Worlds) are really important.

Media

Especially Ony in Belgium this sport gets a lot of media attention. Every race is broadcasted live on TV, all media cover this sport and every small incident gets blown up to massive proportions. Often the riders will say unfriendly stuff about each other in pre race interviews.

Does this mean they don't like each other? No. They know how this game works so they'll cause and incident/dispute every now and then. They understand this generates interest in this sport, other than that they're just like colleagues in any other job. That doesn't mean they're best friends, but they all get along together.

Who's who?

Sven Nys

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The godfather of CX. He's seen it all, he's won it all and he knows every trick in the book.

Strengths:

He's a real all-rounder, extremely experienced and extremely skilled.

Weaknesses:

He's known to abandon races after bad luck (crashes, flats, mechanicals,...)

How to recognize him?

He wears the rainbow jersey, that helps.

Fun fact

Nys has been riding Colnago since the invention of the wheel and he'll switch over to Trek on January 1st. It'll be interesting to see how he copes with this. 'Feeling the bike' is extremely important in CX.

Niels Albert

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The number 2 in CX.Has been World Champion twice.

Strengths:

The best sand crosser of this generation. He can drop anyone in loose sand. He's also a great TT'er. One he gets a 5" gap, it's really hard to catch him back.

Weaknesses:

Slow sprinter

Fun fact

He got married his summer. The old cycling traditions say that riders always get stronger (more relaxed in their heads) after their marriage.

Teammates?

Dieter Vanthourenhout; Philipp Walsleben and Wietse bosmans are pretty good too.

Kevin Pauwels

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As talented and versatile as Nys, but he lacks the mental strength and the consistency of the old dude.

Strengths:

Technically he's extremely good. Really fast sprinter.

Weaknesses:

Not great in the sand and mentally not the strongest rider too. He had tons of mechanicals last year.

How to recognize him?

He's one of the two Sunweb riders you'll see. Actually he's the only one you might recognize in the Sunweb kit as Klaas Vantornout wears the Belgians Champ kit.

Fun fact:

Dumped his trainer a few weeks ago. He sent him no more than a text message. Says 'yoah' at least 15 times in every pre and post race interview.

Klaas Vantornout

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Belgian champ, good on all kinds of courses and always good interviews.

Strengths:

Fast starter, consistent, versatile and the best runner of this generation (look at these legs!)

Weaknesses:

He often starts fast and falls back in the 2nd part of the race.

How to recognize him?

The Belgian kit.

Lars van der Haar

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The biggest talent in CX.

Strengths:

Gutsy rider, versatile and really fast at the finish. Fast starter too.

Weaknesses:

He still lacks a bit of power.

How to recognize him?

The Dutch kit.

Tom Meeusen

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An attractive rider, but he lacks the pure strength of the top guys.

Strengths:

Technically brilliant, the best rider on snow and ice. He'll bunnyhop everything you throw at him.

Weaknesses:

Small engine.

How to recognize him?

The Telenet-Fidea kit, the bunnyhopping and, of course, the fantastic sufferfaces.

Teammates

Rob Peeters and Bart Wellens. All three of them are capable of finishing on the podium of big races and even smaller ones. Wout Van Aert is a neo pro, but seems very talented.

Bart Aernouts

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The best smile in CX.

Strengths:

A real fighter.

Weaknesses:

Never wins races.

How to recognize him?

The smile!

Teammates?

Thijs Van Amerongen, pretty similar rider.

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