13 October - Ronse (Bpost)
Yeah, you already kinda missed this one. Shame though, it was fun. Lots of rain and mud. Slippery too. And hills. Sven won. Because yeah.
20 October - Valkenburg (WC)
This race is only two years old, and we only got to see it once, in its first edition. That race was really, really fun though. The race course is slightly different this year, but the location is still the same: the hills of the Netherlands' Limburg, the region of the country that also hosts Amstel. So: steep hills and twisty turny corners.
(first edition gets four hearts, but maybe that was just a fluke so I brought it back down to three)
26 October - Tabor (WC)
All the way to Czech Republic for this. With Stybs gone we're down to one world cup leg in the east of Europe, which isn't too bad really. The races over there are never incredibly interesting. Well, the race courses aren't. Tabor has a few hills, but nothing crazy. Maybe if this climate change thing really kicks in in the next 6 days, we can have ice and snow. That'd be cool.
27 October - Ruddervoorde (SP)
Is it just me, or does it not seem to be the best planning to have a race in Czech Rep on Saturday and then back in Belgium on Sunday? I mean, surely they could've found another date for this one? Either way, the race is still the same as last year and the year before that which means that no, they still haven't moved that house that pretty much stops everyone from taking that first corner in a semi-decent fashion. And yes, they still have that odd inverted bridge over the stream, where the bridge is actually lower than the road.
1 November - Koppenbergcross (Bpost)
KOPPENBERG! You know the Koppenberg, right? You don't? What are you doing here? The Koppenberg is awesome. It's awesome in the spring when Sep and Tombo fight the Swiss Spartacus, and it's awesome in autumn when Yoah and Niels try to take the crown from the king of the Koppenberg, Sven Nys. The 'crossers race up the cobbles and down the hill on grass, combining the best of spring and the best of autumn. It's kinda like summer, really. Better even. It's Koppenbergcross.
3 November - Zonhoven (SP)
Holy fuckballs - Koppenbergcross on Friday and then Zonhoven on Sunday - that is one awesome weekend. Zonhoven is - like Koppenberg - one of the highlights of the season. No cobbles this time, but sandpits. This is what it looks like during summertime (picture by me):
During the Zonhoven Superprestige, they send people down those hills. People on bikes. Down steep hills made of loose beach sand. Result: mayhem. Entertainment factor: sky-high.
10 November - Hamme-Zogge Bollekescross (SP)
It's time for a smidgeon of sanity in our cyclocross season - or else we'll all be bonkers by the time Omloop comes 'round again. We've had the entertaining craziness of Koppenberg and Zonhoven the past weekend, so how about we play it a bit more sane this time around? Let us be normal Belgians, and let's have a race with beer in the name. Yeah, that sounds sane. The Bollekescross hands out a really big glass of beer to the winner, which always makes for fun pictures.
Oh, and in case you were wondering about the actual race: some steep hills, but pretty fast none the less. It's not too bad, but it's not often a highlight of the season either. Except that one time when the country flooded and the riders basically had to swim the course. That was fun.
11 November - Jaarmarktcross Niel
A little Dutch 101. Jaar means year, markt means market and cross means cross. That wasn't too hard, was it? The Jaarmarkcross in Niel coincides with the Jaarmarkt or yearly market - a fest going back to the middle ages, when traders from all around the area would gather in one particular town or village for a few weeks, mostly to trade goods. Nowadays the focus is less on commerce and more on booze, which is where the 'cross part comes in. The Jaarmarktcross in Niel has been around since 1963, and they've had the world champion at the start for every edition. The course isn't too spectacular, but the U23 kids do get to race alongside the big boys for this one, which I always like. Gives one a chance to play spot-the-talent.
16 November - Hasselt (Bpost)
Once described by Broerie as 'the most boring race on the calendar'. Broerie is an idiot, and I don't forget blasphemy easily. Hasselt is my home.
The race takes place around the municipal swimming pool, and ever since its inception I've been hoping that they include the big yellow slide in the race rather than just ride a big loop around it. Really, I'd make the best cx races. This may not be the most interesting one on the calendar - but the organisers try to add as many obstacles as possible and really there's something fun about watching the pros ride up that hill that seemed so big when you were six, watch them skirt the pond on the wrong side if they're trying to find the best make-out spot (they probably aren't). Also, insider hint: the plants by the tennis courts right behind where they exit the pool area contain itching powder and can be used to distract competitors.
(Hasselt will always get five hearts in my heart though. That's an odd sentence)
17 November - Gavere (SP)
A bit of a Jekyll and Hyde, this one. One the one hand there's long straight stretches and more asphalt than seems necessary in a cross race; on the other hand there's twisty turny foresty bits which are really quite fun. The overall interestingness depends largely on a: what mood the peloton is in and b: what mood the weather-gods are in. Hard to predict how much fun it'll end up being.
A propos of nothing: have you ever read Jekyll and Hyde? Cause you should. Cool story, not very long. Buy a second hand version cheaply on amazon, stash it in your purse or man bag and read it while waiting for the bus. Trust me.
23 November: Koksijde (WC)
There's plenty good things in life. A hot espresso in a warm bed on a cold morning. Inside jokes of which you can only remember the punchline. Pesto. Beating your own best time's ass. Finding forgotten money in your jeans pocket. Hugs. And Koksijde cross.
Koksijde - just for giggles: it's pronounced cock-say-duh - is by the sea, and by the sea you find dunes. Dunes are horrible to walk on and even more horrible to bike through and because really, a big part of cx is enjoying watching others do what you judge to be completely bonkers, Koksijde rules. This race rarely disappoints, but last year was incredible especially. If 2013 manages to kick 2012's ass, it'll be nothing short of spectacular.
24 November: Gieten (SP)
Normally, choosing between Koksijde and Gieten is like choosing between getting a back massage from Bernie Eisel and having your leg eternally chewed on by a rabid hyena. It really isn't a fair fight.
This year though, Gieten has changed. I still don't see it winning over Koksijde - not in a million years, but change is good in this case. Because oh my, Gieten was boring. Anyways, onwards to the new Gieten. Which is actually the old Gieten, because the race is going back to its roots. Rather than the usual flat grass crit, this year the race takes place in the forest and around a pond. Which means: sand. Beachy sand even, judging from the map. There's still a lot of straight stretches, but hell, it can't be any worse than what we used to get.
(Neutral rating since I don't know what to expect either)
7 December: Scheldecross
On 6 December, Sinterklaas visits the children of Belgium. If you've been bad you get flogged (nttawwt), if you've been good you get candy. Candy and Scheldecross, apparently. Like the race before this - two weeks ago because somehow EVERYONE FORGOT TO GIVE US CX IN THE FIRST WEEKEND OF DECEMBER - Aherm. As I was saying, like the weekend before this, Scheldecross is raced on dune sand. Not from the beach this time around, but from the sandbanks of Antwerp's Schelde river. It's a standaloner, so the competition is often somewhat less fierce, but it's a really good race course.
Also sometimes it floods and giant octopuses show up.
8 December: Druivencross
A standaloner, but a prestigious one. It is, after all, the mother of all crosses. This race doesn't really have one clear defining feature, which means every year I have to YouTube this one to remember what race we're talking about exactly (oh, the hardship I endure for you lot). On the one hand, my memory is shit, so it's not so strange I can never remember this one. On the other hand, Druivencross is actually a very fun race. Like I said, no one gimmick to define the race, but long ups and downs the entire time.
21 December: GP Rouwmoer Essen (Bpost)
They tend to come in flocks, cyclocrossers. Or they tend to live in flocks at least. Sven Nys and Niels Albert come from Baal and Tremelo respectively, two tiny villages so near each other that even slow-poke Google cyclist can get from hamlet a to hamlet b in 11 minutes. And then there's Essen - home to some 18.000 people, including three top cyclocrossers: Tom Meeusen, Bart Aernouts and Zdenek Stybar. Yes, Stybs of the Vuelta win fame lives in Essen, and will (most likely) show up for this race. He always does.
Zdenek raced Essen last year too - remember how he crashed Denuwelaere over the finish line in the sprint? That was a great race - and if we could please have a repeat of that this could shape up to be a really good cx weekend. Also, the Essen folks are mean enough to place a stairset, in the forest, right around a u-corner. I love that.
Map (warning: contains little to no actual information)
22 December: Namur (WC)
The closest cyclocross comes to mountainbike is the Namur World Cup. It's around the citadel of Namur, and races around the citadel rarely disappoint. It's like a magical place of really good pure cycling. The inclines on the hills of WC Namur are very steep, both going up and coming down. They're also very technical, so to win a supercombo of skill and power will be required. Amongst the highlights of the season for me, this one.
26 December: Heusden-Zolder (WC)
It's appropriate somehow, that the day after Christmas the peloton rides on holy ground. The area around the little chapel atop the hill is sacred, silent ground, so no spectators are allowed. The chapel is in the middle of a hilly pine forest, and since it's the end of December we could very well have a snow race on our hands. Which is kinda awesome.
Map (Not updated for 2013 yet)
27 December: Azencross (Bpost)
The most recognisable part about Azencross is the picture right at the top of this article: the washboards. It's more about work than skill this one, especially if the ground is soggy from winter rain. This year's Sunday date should be good for the race, 'cause it means Azencross is no longer wedged in between two cx weekends during The Holy Christmas-New Year Cyclocross Week that is the end of every Belgian calendar year.
29 December: Diegem (SP)
Superprestige Diegem, aka "the one in the dark". Yep, Diegem is raced at night (well, around 19h local time, at which hour le Belge is pitch black in winter*). So instead of the sun it is floodlights that illuminate this race, which brings with it a special atmosphere. It's that gimmick that's kept it on the calendar for this long I presume, because apart from the lack of light there really isn't too much to remark about this one. Obstacles of a miscellaneous nature.
*we are the most light-polluted country in the world, which brings me much sadness
Map (Nothing for 2013 yet)
1 January: GP Sven Nys, Baal (Bpost)
It probably annoys Roger De Vlaeminck to no end, that Sven Nys has a race named after him and Roger doesn't. At the start of every year, Roger is reminded of this fact, as a Belgian new calendar always kicks off with the GP Sven Nys in his hometown Baal. It is, trust me on this, the best way to start the new year. A hangover, grandma's danishes and 'cross on tv.
As for the race itself - it's, no surprise, one that De Kannibaal van Baal is quite good at: bunnyhop beams, technical descents and tricky corners.
5 January: Roma (WC)
Look, I realise there's a world outside Belgium. I've seen a tiny bit of that world even - I've stood outside a broken down sept-places taxi on a dirt road in Senegal, I've vomited over the smell of durian fruit in Thailand and I've said "no thanks, no extra cream for me" more times than I can count in the US. I've been to Rome even, multiple times. Rome is amazing. Sights abound, gorgeous weather, amazing wine, spectacular food.
Horrible cross though. Internationalisation is great, but I don't see how on earth putting on the most boring race circuit in the world is supposed to lure fans to the sport. Might as well give a teetotaler a Heineken and ask him if he likes beer now.
If you want factuals: flat, dry, flat, dull, horrible camera work, no spectators. Fun!
Map (Actual details will be available on Italian time)
12 January: National Championships
The town of Waregem (known mostly for its race track), a race that's never been raced before, as far as I know. Website gives us this: "Be ready for unique obstacles such as"
- Start (they may not have a perfect grasp on the word 'unique')
- Incline - Prestige tribune
- Into the field
- Over the Irish Riverbank
- Over the bridge 'The Irish Riverbank'
- Past the pond
- Under the bridge 'The Trot'
- Under the bridge 'The Trot'
- Over the bridge 'The Gallop'
- Two times over the bridge 'The Breton Wall'
- Sand stretch
- Around the race track
- Over the bridge 'The Trot'
- Under the bridge 'The Gallop'
- Over the bridge 'The Gallop'
- Horse jump (horse obstacles)
- Over bridge The Gaverbeek
Make of that what you will!
19 January: Soudal Leuven
When I think of Leuven, I don't necessarily think of cyclocross. I think of the university, of the cafés, of late nights and late mornings, of being young(er), of chocolate mousse that you can build a house with.
The cx of Leuven (Heverlee to be more exact) is a young-un. This is only the third edition iirc, and it's not been as huge a success as it could've been so far. That is to say - crowds have been ok but the race hasn't attracted the hype of, say, Ronse. Which is a shame, cause it's a fun one, with menacingly steep drops.
Link to main site (Leuven page not active yet)
26 January: Nommay (WC)
It's been a while since we've raced at Nommay - the final edition was in 2009. Niels Albert won that one. Well, it's been a while since we've seen racing at Nommay at least. But, this dude did the French Champs with a cam on his bike, which teaches us it's a grassy park affair with a few hills.
PS - final world cup race
1 February: World Championships Hoogerheide
Hoogerheide. Oy vey. I'll tell you all about it later, but just look at the stars on this one.
8 February: Krawatencross Lille (Bpost)
The first race after Worlds, so the first race with new rainbow kit. Or not new rainbow kit, I'd like that.
Anyways. The Krawatencross is cool. No special gimmicks, but it rarely disappoints. The race is around a small lake, a pond if you will, and they skirt the water so closely one of these days of 'em is 'bout to get a wet rather than a skinsuit. They then turn to the forest, where it's twisty and hilly. Good times for all.
9 February: Hoogstraten (SP)
There's a theme to this end of the season race organising, and 'normal' is the watchword. Hoogstraten is, again, disappointingly sane. Grassland and hills, hills and grassland. On the upside: some of the hills are really pretty damn steep, and February in Belgium means there's about a 48%* chance of snow and ice. And in case you didn't know: snow and ice races are AWESOME.
*number may not be supported by any factual evidence
15 February: Noordzeecross (SP)
Noordzee: that's the north sea. Sea, that means dunes. The name is mightily deceptive though - as they race in a sports park some ways away from the salty water. A shame. There's still some sand in the Noordzeecross though - some sand upon which maybe Sven Nys can get his thirteenth - yes thirteenth - Superprestige overall.
PS - end of the
Sven Nys Series Superprestige
23 February: Sluitingsprijs Oostmalle (Bpost)
The very final race of the season, that's the Sluitingsprijs of Closing Prize. Don't worry, you won't be without cycling long, as next weekend road cycling season begins again with Omloop. For now though, our c still comes with an x attaced. We end the season with a forest race, on loose dark sand, not to hard to ride on.
PS - end of the Bpost series