5 October - Gieten (SP)
Already done. Whoops. Sorry. Mathieu van der Poel won. That kid is so much awesome.
12 October - Ronse (bpost)
Ronse is a really fun race, around the Hotondberg, the highest point of the Flemish Ardennes. Geographically that means nothing, but for the record if you climb the mill (built in 1672) you can see 108 different villages from the top. And if you race cyclocross bikes on Hotondberg you get an hour of really good tv. Especially if it rains. Then it's really good tv. With sliding and crashing and everything (the top photo, that's Ronse in the rain). Also: Zdenek Stybar will be at the start of this one. Rainbow jersey represent!
19 October - Valkenburg (WC)
Cause if your country is named the Nether-lands, you better race that one hill you've got twice a year. The Valkenburg world cup leg takes place on the Cauberg, and is very fun. The organisers call it a 'Swiss' race, but seeing those 7524 turns I'd say it's pretty damn Dutch. Lots of steep uphill climbs and swooping flights back down. Plus, motivated kid Dutchies on home soil.
1 November - Koppenbergcross (bpost)
It simply does not get better than this. Koppenbergcross is raced on cobbles. Cyclocross on cobbles! If you know me at all, my love for the Oudenaarde bpost leg should not surprise you. The peloton races about halfway up the Koppenberg on the cobbles, takes a right into the field and climbs on to the top through a grassy meadow, and then zigzags down the hill. Sven Nys first won here in 2001, and king Kop will be looking for his tenth cx kassei to take home this season.
2 November - Zonhoven (SP)
If I were a conspiracy nut I'd theorize that somewhere in Belgium scientists are trying to see how much excitement a human being can take in one weekend before spontaneously combusting, and that this Koppenberg-Zonhoven combo is a prime test case. But I'm not a conspiracy nut, so it's probably just really lucky that 1 November - Koppenberg's fixed date - is a Saturday this year.
Anyway. Ask any sane cx fan - if there is such a thing - for a funnest-race top five, and Zonhoven is in it. Or it should be at least. If you have a hard time remembering which tiny Flemish village represents which race: Zonhoven is the one with the crazy sandpit. The riders fly down it twice - on beachy sand! - and then crawl back up. Sometimes on all fours. I love this race, and so should you.
9 November - Ruddervoorde (SP)
Time to take a breather after the mental - and I mean that in the greatest way possible - weekend we just had. Ruddervoorde got a change of date this year, it used to the be the opener of the SP series. Apart from that little has changed, which means that they're still not fully grasping the concept 'bridge' and they still don't see any issues with homes blocking 90 degree turns. Neither do I, for the record.
11 November - Jaarmarktcross Niel
Cross on a Tuesday? Well yeah, if that Tuesday is the birthday of King Jigme Singye Wangchuck of Butan, or Japanese Pocky Day, or Armistice Day. Each year on 11 November the tiny village of Niel holds a Jaarmarkt or yearly market, and that market comes with an international cx race. Since it's not a series race no one has any incentive to start - well, no incentive apart from a generous starting bonus that is. Niel prides itself on always getting the world champ to start, but I kinda doubt we'll see Stybs here.
Old map on an out-of-date website. I'm assuming nothing's changed.
16 November - Asper-Gavere (SP)
A race around a military castle and orchards, that's a nice combo. And the race is pretty fun too, with twisty bits snaking through the forest. In the words of Klaas Vantornout: "Gavere doesn’t lie. It’s an honest race – technical, hard, pure cyclocross." If you're having a bad day, you won't win in Gavere. If you can't master cx technique, you won't win in Gavere. Niels Albert made a veritable doodsmak on the big descent in this race during recon in 2008, and ruptured his spleen.
Sometimes Gavere gets muddy.
22 November - Koksijde (WC)
Now we're talking! If Koppenberg is the RVV of cyclocross (no easier comparison has ever been made), than Koksijde is Roubaix. Tough conditions - you try riding a bike through dunes -, classic race track, and sorta in the same bit of the world even. If you're new to cx and aren't sure what races are the ones to pick for a taste of the sport then I advise you this: Koppenberg, Zonhoven and Koksijde. I promise you will not be disappointed.The race has a two dunes named after the two guys who have won world champ rainbows on the sand of Koksijde: Paul Herygers and - sob - Niels Albert.
23 November - Spa Francorchamps (SP)
It's a tough gig, having to be Sunday to Saturday's Koksijde, but that's the cards the new organisers in Francorchamps have been dealt. It's a newbie on the calendar, this one, so I'll be discovering it right along with you. I don't know much about the race, yet, but Erwin Vervecken designed it and he knows a thing or two about making (and winning) a cx race. Also, they climb the (asphalted) Raidillion which at 17% will drain the strength of more than a few legs, and run up Le Mur which just looks like a 90° wall with grass on it.
For more info: here (somewhere down the page at least) is a video of Sven's kid Thibault Nys testing the new race track. (he does a wheelie on Raidillion and has a dig at Sven at the end - "Dad, a champion like you can win here... unless Stybar is already racing cx by the end of November)
Behold: the most useless website on the internet
(neutral rating cause it's new, but I think this one could turn out to be real good)
29 November - Milton Keynes (WC)
More inaugural pro races, with Milton Keynes in the greatness that is Britain this time. The pro peloton flies, hovers, boats or train-rides (that's not a word) across the channel for the only non-Benelux race in this year's World Cup (Valkenburg is technically in Holland, but it's real close to the Belgian border). The map kindly tells us where the podium will be but not what surface we're racing on, but since it's in a park I'm guessing grass. I'm not a fan of grass crits so I'm at least hoping there's some hills. There's a few run-ups on the map, so it's probably not completely flat.
30 November - Hamme-Zogge (bpost)
And the newness continues! I know you think you know this one, but the race is no longer Superprestige but bpost, and it's no longer in Zogge but in Hamme, and Greg Van Avermaet is now head of the race committee. It's new name is the Flandriencross, which promises great things. It's a woodland race with natural obstacles these days. There's a video on their website with Sven Nys testing the race track - apparently if you wanna test a race you've got to have a Nys do it, which doesn't sound like a bad rule - but it's since been changed. The organisation wanted to have the peloton cross the infamous Mira-bridge, but that plan has been nixed. Still, the video gives a good impression of what the new Hamme-Zogge, more Hamme, less Zogge, will be like.
Map and video (just watch the first bit, after a while they start yammering about parking lots and so on)
(I know we've just met, but it feels like I've known you all my life)
Stay tuned for the rest of the calendar.
Pictures by Balint Hamvas, www.cyclephotos.co.uk, used with permission.