We've got two events on tap for this week, as the Cross season continues heating up to its boiling point.
This has to be the most horrifying course in the sport. Not horrifying as in "I can't wait to watch!" but horrifying as in "why would anyone want to ride that?" The annual, stand-alone event in Niel, held on Armistice Day along with the once-a-year market day, isn't the biggest deal around, but Tuesday is a good day for a stand-alone. And as for why anyone would want to ride it, the answer is money. Well, and a good workout.
The course is a smorgasbord of bad 'Cross surfaces: asphalt, farmers' field mud, farmers' field grass, nasty off-cambers, and a parking lot with tractors moving around. Even if they decide to park the tractors, it's still bad. Oh, and then there's the flying bridge, built for the competition, and filled up with sand. Why? I don't know, because it just means they have to run it. All told, it's just a heavy, heavy course.
It has actually changed from last year, The sand is new, and the asphalt has been reduced in favor of more field. Whether any of that is good news is for you to decide.
Often a one-off race will struggle to attract riders, but this year's Tuesday placement means it's palatable to several of the big names. Sanne Cant will come in as the favorite on the women's side, but she'll have Helen Wyman, Sophie de Boer, and the Telenet-Fideas (e.g. Nikki Harris) to deal with. On the elite men's side, Sven Nys leads off the startlist, in what promises to be an all-Belgian battle: Klaas Vantornout, Tom Meeusen, Kevin Pauwels, Wout Van Aert, etc. Well, maybe Philip Walsleben can break up the fun, but he hasn't been on top of his game thus far.
Saturday we are back to business as usual, with the Superprestige event in Asper-Gavere. This is a lovely, flowing course through the forest with lots of muddy, greasy turns on tap and plenty of space for the riders to make the race. I don't know that it'll favor Nys -- it's a bit of a faster track if it's dry. But this time of year nothing is likely to dry out much, and there is some precipitation in the early forecast, so stay tuned. Nys did Hulk it up just in time to take last year's victory in muddy conditions. So there's hope. Or does that mean there isn't? I guess it depends who you ask.
Mathieu van der Poel is back for this one, as is Lars van der Haar, while Wout Van Aert drops down to the U23 race to show his rainbow jersey. Other than that, it's the usual suspects. Only Sanne van Paassen returns for the women's side to the list of folks racing in Niel.
A few other notes:
- After winning this weekend's U23 European Championship, Van Aert took a barb at van der Poel for skipping the event Saturday, saying "the absent are always in the wrong" about his Dutch rival, whatever that means. But van der Poel had saved himself for Ruddervoorde the following day, where he took second, and remarked that he's not doing very many U23 events where he could show his European jersey off anyway, had he shown up and won. I like the idea that in their minds they are truly rivals. Does it make me a bad parent to want two teenagers to dislike each other? Hm, perhaps. I will have to reduce my kids' screen time further to pad my dad resume, I guess.
- Tom Meeusen took advantage of continued warm, dry weather to win Ruddervoorde yesterday. The speedy technician remarked later that in dry weather he can get round the corners quicker than most and set himself up for a fast sprint, which he did. The Gods of Cyclocross, meanwhile, might want to make peace with the Weather Gods before the Belgian fans start grumbling too loudly.
- Oh, and here is Philippe Gilbert doing a Cross relay in Switzerland with Danilo Wyss, at a castle. He looks a bit clean afterward, but otherwise, chapeau!