For your convenience: the entire 2011-2012 European cross calendar, from Azencross to (Hamme)-Zogge. Mud, rain, snow, hail, frost and ice; hills, mud, stairs, beams, sandpits, more mud, bridges, grass and more mud. World Cup, GVA, Superprestige and the most important standalone races.
All this... you know the drill right?
Sunday 9 October: Ruddervoorde (Superprestige)
Whiiiii, the cross season is now truly under way, with the first race which is part of one of the big series: Ruddervoorde. The parcours has a long asphalted finish line, a few hills, three bridges crossing a stream, a deep sand patch, washboards and cobbles. Oh my, cobbles. Cobbles AND cross. I love this. Oh, and there's a house. Pretty much on the course. Which is slightly crazy, but hey, that's cross for you.
Starttime: elite women 12h30, elite men 17h15 (all starttimes are CET)
Last three winners elite men: Zdenek Stybar (2010), Sven Nys (2009) and Sven Nys (2008)
Sunday 16 October: Pilzen (World Cup)
You'd think Pilzen, in the Czech Republic, only has a race because of Zdenek Stybar, but you'd be wrong. This race was actually part of the Superprestige from 1989 to 1996, and has been part of the World Cup since 2009. With it being in Czech there's a real chance of snow and ice in October, which is sort of awesome. If there is no snow though, it can be a bit of a bore. There's a big-ass staircase and a bridge. Can't find a map nor profile, unfortunately.
Starttime: elite men 15h
Last three winners elite men: Zdenek Stybar (2010), Niels Albert (2009) and Martin Zlamalik (2008)
Sunday 23 October: Tabor (World Cup)
A week later, and we're still in the Czech Republic, Tabor this time. Again, let's cross our fingers for snow and ice and lots of slipperiness. Without it, Tabor is a rather fast race, which means it favours the guys who are powerful rather than technical (read: Niels Albert). Two seasons ago, Tabor was host to the world championships, and back then Zdenek Stybar - damn that Czech boy - won the first of his two consecutive rainbow jerseys. Last year it was organised as the first Radomir Simunek sr. Memorial, after the father of current BKCP-rider Radomir jr. Radomir the elder was the world champ cyclocross in 1991. He passed away in 2010, at the age of 48.
If we're racing the same parours as at the world champs there are some hills, but nothing too nasty (although one is directly behind a u-turn, which is sort of mean). What else? Stairs, corners, beams and a bridge. But let's hope for snow and ice anyway.
Last three winners elite men: Radomir Simunek (2010), Zdenek Stybar (2010)
Sunday 30 October: Zonhoven (Superprestige)
Zonhoven? Zonhoven is freaking madness. Long, slippery insane descents, retardedly steep climbs. It. Is. Awesome. Some bits where they struggle to walk up with their bikes, so they're almost on all fours. The sandpits are really, really deep. And cool. Am I too excited? I'm sorry. I love this race. Really. Aaaaaaawesome.
Tuesday 1 November: Koppenbergcross (GVA)
Oh my, I wonder where this race is. On the freaking Koppenberg maybe? The race goes up the Koppenberg and then flies down the hill in a muddy, technical, awesome descent. One of the most prestigious races on the calendar, this one. Do. Not. Miss it.
Sunday 6 November: GP Mario De Clerq (GVA)
A new addition to the GVA trophy, this race proved to be so much fun when it was first organised in 2010, that it immediately gained a place in one of the three series. The GP Mario De Clerq - bit of cx history: Mario is a former triple world champ - has a hill too. The highest hill in Flanders in fact, the Hotondberg at 145 metres. And a downhill. And one of the most gruesome parcours of the year. And last year, the best comedy moments in the history of time. Fast forward to 11min, I dare you not to laugh. Poor Niels.
Starttime: men 15h
Last winner: Sven Nys (2010)
Friday 11 November, Jaarmarktcross Niel (standalone)
The race in Niel is a standalone one, but one that sees all the top guys (with the exception of Ian Field) show up anyway. Why? Well, for the past 60-something editions they've had the World Champion at the start line, which is a tradition they plan to uphold. It's a pretty simple race, with long straight stretches and minimal cornering (so, about 30 per lap). There's one nasty hill which caused some Albert vs. Nys controversy (well, more like Albert vs. members of the public controversy), and that hill's the main obstacle to worry about.
Starttime: men elite and U23 15h
Last winner: Sven Nys (2010), Sven Nys (2009), Lars Boom (2008)
Sunday 13 November: Hamme-Zogge (Superprestige)
Hamme-Zogge may be better known as the Bollekescross, and Bolleke may be better known as beer. Which gives us awesome victory pictures. I can tell you that there are three bridges (hurrah), one staircase (hurrah) and a sand pit (hurrah!). The parcours loops around, over and under itself, so it'll be lots of twisting and turning. Last year it rained so much that the entire country flooded and the race was basically a swimming pool. Which was really very cool.
Starttime: women 10h45, men 15h
Last three winners elite men: Sven Nys (2010), Zdenek Stybar (2009) and Sven Nys (2008)
Saturday 19 November: GP Hasselt (GVA)
Hasselt is the race closest to yours truly. Hasselt is the race running circles around the playground and swimming pool of my youth (and let me tell you, those monkeybars used to be a whole lot bigger when I was a kid). It's a nice medley of race surfaces: sandpits (more than one!), grassland, a smallish snake-shaped hill climb and descent, a foresty bit and a hill which a six year old can only crest if she has a really long run in. Believe me. Personally, I think the Hasselt cross is ace, but then again, I am biased as hell.
Sunday 20 November: Asper-Gavere (Superprestige)
There's a fair bit of asphalt, which is not to my liking. In the field and in the forest though, it's up and down with fast and technical descents, difficult climbs and lots of jumping off and on the bike, which makes up for some.
Saturday 26 November: Koksijde (World Cup)
A race like no other, the Koksijde cross is almost entirely on dune sand. Which is terrible when it's dry, and even more terrible when it's wet. There will be crashes and the riders will be exhausted. Lots of running too. It wouldn't hurt to pay attention, as Koksijde is the home of the 2012 World Championships.
Sunday 27 November: Gieten (Superprestige)
The day after the epic sand-cross it's back to Holland. It's way up in the north of the country, so the chances of ice (yeah, ice!) are good (though late November may be a bit early for a full-on snow race). The Radomir Simunek Memorial (there are two, which is a bit odd) is a field race which saw Nys win his fiftieth Superprestige leg in 2009. That's right. Fiftieth. There are very few natural obstacles and it can be a bit of a bore I'm afraid. Some highish beams and a bridge which shouldn't even bother Napolitano, that's all.
Sunday 4 December: Ziklokross Igorre (World Cup)
This race is in the Basque country. It is therefore magnificent. Nothing can ever be bett... oh fuck it. I'll just buy Albertina another Leffe.
Out of Belgium for this, to normally sunny Spain. Why should you watch? Well, in true Spanish fashion they hand out funky pancake-like hats. Also in true Spanish fashion, the TV director will infuriate you by missing all the decisive moves. It's a typical field race (that's not an absolute given in cross), which is that much harder if it's muddy (which it usually is). Not too many special tricks - no houses in the middle of the road and all that.
Saturday 10 December: Scheldecross (standalone)
In 2009, this race had to be postponed a bit, cause they found an old WWII grenade on the grounds. Are there other countries where that isn't considered to be that big a deal? It's on the banks of the Schelde river, which means lots of sand. Sand!
Starttime: women 13h45, men elite and U23 15h
Last three winners elite men: Sven Nys (2010), Niels Albert (2009) and Sven Nys (2008)
Tech guide (pdf). I really hate Comic Sans
Sunday 11 December: Vlaamse Druivencross
The Druivencross is known as the mother of all cross races, and it's one of the more prestigious standalone races. As a result, you'll see a lot of big names at the start and the race on Sporza. It's part forest, part field and they even throw in some cobblestones for good measure. You may remember it if I tell you that they ride the length of a soccerpitch each lap. Or you may not. That's also a possibility.
Saturday 17 December: GP Rouwmoer, Essen (GVA)
Essen. In Belgium, but so close to the border that if you lean just a little to the left (or the right, depending on which way you're facing), you'll see windmills and clogs everywhere. Essen, home of Aernouts, Stybar and Meeusen, so you'll see crossfans everywhere. It's partly a forest race with small stairs (right around a u-corner, haha), and some good steep climbs; and partly a field race with a bridge.
Starttime: women 13h45, men 15h
Last three winners elite men: Sven Nys (2010), Niels Albert (2009) and Sven Nys (2008)
Sunday 18 December: Citadelcross, Namur (World Cup)
Woohoo, two races in one weekend! I love the end of the year. A day after the fields of Essen it's off to the climbs of Namur. The Citadelcross, as it is most commonly referred two, is a young-un. There have only been two editions so far, both part of the GVA series. It got an upgrade this year though, and it is now, for the first time, part of the World Cup. Which is cool, cause it's a cool race on the hills around the medieval citadel of Namur, which you may know from the GP de Wallonie (which was won by PhilGil, but you could've guessed that).
The Citadelcross is hard. Very hard. The hills in the Ardennes forest border on MTB-steepness, which should suit Sven Nys who likes to dabble in MTB during the summer (9th at the Beijing Olympics). With ascents come descents too, and with descents come crashes. Even more so than at other races it's important to start well, which will make Niels Albert cry. If you have to choose between Saturday's race or this one, definitely pick this one.
Starttime: women 13h30, men 15h
Last two winners elite men: Zdenek Stybar (2010), Niels Albert (2009)
Friday 23 December: Diegem (Superprestige)
Now this one is easy to recognise: Diegem is the race raced in the dark, under artificial floodlights. There is one big-ass sandpit turned into mud turned into gravel road and some hills. The race is partly in the field and partly in the forest; but the biggest challenge is the lack of natural light.
Starttime: women 15h, men 19h30
Last three winners elite men: Niels Albert (2010), Niels Albert (2009) and Zdenek Stybar (2008)
Monday 26 December: Zolder (World Cup)
The World Cup race in Zolder is on and around the Zolder race circuit - which you may know as the battleground between the Germans and the Brits in Top Gear; or as the place where Super Mario became world champ. It's got long and straight stretches, which is very uncross-like. To make up for that they added hills and u-turns though, so that makes up for some. The race is in a pine forest, so it's a though surface with hills and tree roots and other such shenanigans.
Wednesday 28 December: Azencross (GVA)
Yep, cross on Wednesday. Boy, do I love the week between Christmas and New Year's. Cold outside, warm inside. Good drinks to enjoy and cx on tv, does it get any better than that? In true cross tradition the final week of the year is absolutely mental, with plenty of races to watch. In midweek there's the Azencross in Loenhout, in the north of the province of Antwerp. It's a workers' cross, where the speeds won't reach dizzying heights but the heartrates sure will. There's not too much natural height difference, but there are handful of bridges (one that saw Nys have a positively ridiculous crash in 2009, flat on the tummy), a big staircase and some really kick-ass washboards
Friday 30 December, Leuven (standalone)
This place used to be reserved for Tervuren, but Tervuren is with us no longer (well the race isn't, I'm fairly sure the town is still around). This gives me sadface, cause Tervuren was a cool race. BUT! It is being replaced by Leuven, which gives me epic happyface cause Leuven is my alma mater and I will teach Albertina to do jenever shots at Seven Oaks and feed her chocolate mousse at De Werf and ribbekes at De Kleine Hal. Giddyface. No details on the race yet, but I've got the menu all sussed out.
Sunday 1 January: GP Sven Nys (GVA)
Yeah, yeah, I hear you. "What? Has gs gone bonkers? Surely they can't race on New Year's day!" What you forget though, dear friends, is this: it's cyclo-cross. Of course they race on New Year's day! The Grand Prix Sven Nys - yes, he has his own race - is an anual tradition. There is only one way to properly start the year and that's to watch other people exert themselves. If you don't agree, you're not a cross fan.
It shouldn't come as a big surprise that the GP Sven Nys is a race at which Sven Nys is pretty good. There have been twelve editions, and he's won ten of them. Maybe because he goes to bed at 10pm on 31 December. Or maybe because the race has bunnyhop beams, technical descents and corners where you need a good eye (two good eyes is even better).
Sunday 8 January, Belgian national champs
In Hooglede-Gits. I'll tell you all about it when we're actually in the correct year.
Sunday 15 January, Liévin (World Cup)
How about we, ehrm, discover the Liévin cross together? Is that something you would like? Awesome. Cause I know nothing about this race, except that the Frenchies sometimes have their national champs there. This rather lengthy pdf file talks of different plateaus, which would indicate height difference.
Sunday 22 January, Hoogerheide (World Cup)
FINAL WORLD CUP RACE
Hoogerheide is in Holland, but it's so close to Belgium that you won't know you're in Dutchie land. It's also really really close to the Kalmthout-Essen area, so Aernouts, Meeusen, Styby, Pauwels and Sanne Cant will feel right at home. There's not too much height difference - it is les pays bas you know - just one bridge and one steep climb. It's fast too, the riders only have to get off the bike twice.
Sunday 29 January, World Champs
In Koksijde. I'll tell you all about it when we get that far.
Saturday 4 February, Krawatencross (GVA)
It's a nice race, this one, with lots of sand. The race runs around a lake, and they skirt the waterside so closely that they're almost swimming. Not too many other obstacles - just some bridges - but it really is a nice race.
Sunday 5 February: Hoogstraten (Superprestige)
Hey, did you know the winner of a Superprestige race gets €25.000 euros? I sure didn't. But it's what the Hoogstraten website tells me. To get that money, in Hoogstraten our peloton has to conquer a typical field race over hilly grasslands. There are some nice climbs and descents but really, the race is all the more epic when it rains. As is usually the case in 'cross.
Starttime: women 11h, men 15h
Last three winners elite men: Sven Nys (2011), Niels Albert (2010) and Sven Nys (2009)
Saturday 11 February, Middelkerke (Superprestige)
FINAL SUPERPRESTIGE RACE
We're nearing the fakest of Hallmark holidays, so that must mean that we're also nearing the end of cross season. Excuse me while I shed a tear. If any of the riders feel like a good cry, though, they better wait til after the Middelkerke race, as it's the very final leg of the Superprestige, and thus the very final opportunity to climb in the rankings. If I reveal to you the nickname of the Middelkerke cross, you should know where in Belgium we're at and what kind of race we're talking about. Ready? You sure? Alright. Middelkerke is also known as the Noordzeecross. At sea thus. Not that at sea as Koksijde unfortunately, so no beach sand. Instead there's grass and lots of wind.
Starttime: women 11h45, men 16h
Last three winners elite men: Klaas Vantornout (2011), Sven Nys (2010) and Sven Nys (2009)
Sunday 19 February, Internationale Sluitingsprijs Oostmalle (GVA)
FINAL GVA RACE
Oostmalle brings a smile to my face. In 2009, Klaas VT sprinted as fast he could to beat the group he was in. He did it. He reached the finish line before the others... with a lap to go. I'm amused by that, I admit it. I'm a simple girl. It wasn't the only thing that went wrong for Klaas though, 'cause with about half a lap to go KVT crashed and hit a pole, quite spectacularly (and painfully too, I imagine). It's in a forest again, this one, with some very nasty bumps in the road. Well, when I say road... There are sandy bits too, which turn ugly and unmanageable when wet.
Wednesday 22 February, Cyclocross Masters
An indoors show-offis end-of-the-season-so-let's-have-some-fun spectacle with time trials on a cross parcours, and a team competition (elite man, U23 man, woman) and all other kinds of shenanigans. I really should go next year, it being five minutes away and all.
Sven Nys picture by Mikelo, used under a creative commons license
Daphny van den Brand & Sanne van Paassen picture by some dude called Ednl, used under a creative commons license
Zdenek Stybar picture by Cindy Trossaert, used under a creative commons license