UCI World Cup Koksijde
Are you curious about why people get so excited about cyclocross? Well, I've got the answer for you:
There may be some (pointless) debate about what the best 'Cross race track in the world is, but there's little debate as to which is the world's most famous place. That would be Koksijde, home to two world championships, one recurring World Cup race, and a whole lotta sand. And not that inland sand, but real dune stuff.
Oh, and something like 60,000 fans, which is an utterly massive amount:
Sure, that was a world championship, but this second round of the World Cup is likely to draw in a hefty enough crowd on its own. The race features some very heavy going through sand, mud, sand, forests, sand and also a ton of sand. They don't call it Duinencross (dune cross) for nothing. None of the sandy sections are flat; they go up, down, or tilt off-camber. They recur all over the course. This is very hard going.
Here's what it races like in wet weather:
Yikes! [Current weather report is pretty standard, bits of showers around all week. It'll be wet enough but nothing outrageous.]
On the men's side, Sven Nys wins about half of his starts here, since sand generally calls for inhuman strength as a key asset. But Niels Albert -- also very strong -- had Sven's number here. Sand is a bit of a specialty at times, and with Albert that was certainly the case. When not bogging down in sand, the course is fairly flat and fast, but it bogs down more than Zonhoven did, so I wouldn't pencil Kevin Pauwels onto the podium just yet. [He has a second and a third here.]
One nice thing about UCI races is the slightly more international flavor. Belgians still start 15 guys, but that's a low number for a race in Belgium. Francis Mourey has been a player on this course the last two years. The American duo of Powers and Page are on hand, as are guys like Simunek, Franzoi, the Swiss and a few others you don't see every week. Not that they'll flip the script away from the usual suspects of Belgians (including Wout Van Aert) and Dutch (including MVP, a/k/a Mathieu van der Poel), but it's nice to see them regardless.
Over on the Women's side, there's quite a field of... wait... is that... Marianne Vos entrance music?!?
Ah yup. The Golden Fox is on the startlist, indicating that she is making her CX debut now rather than in December (as I'd read elsewhere). That certainly puts a different challenge out there for Katie (F'n) Compton, Helen Wyman, Sanne Cant, Nikki Harris, Sanne van Paassen, and the rest of the field. Compton has won four of the last six races here, and remains the favorite even with Vos potentially on hand. But of course, one never puts anything past Vos, even on her first race of the season. [N.b., I am not seeing anything besides that startlist indicating Vos is coming, and last week she was in South Africa for a road event. So I'm a little skeptical about this.]
Juniors and U23 also get turns here. Speaking of which ... in the past I've mentioned Zach McDonald and Logan Owen as two bright lights in American cross racing. Neither is in Europe at the moment. McDonald is currently at the University of Washington and riding domestically for KCCX, with nothing planned for Europe. Owen has graduated high school and moved up to U23s with Bissell, but apparently also not coming to Europe, for now anyway. Liam Earl, Ian McPherson, Maxx Chance (great cycling name) and Grant Ellwood are your American contingent this week. Good luck lads!
Information about this race is sorely lacking. I can tell you that it's at a F-1 course in Wallonia, and that it replaces yet another Flemish event with a very rare one across the linguistic border. As for what it looks like, all I can find is video of a little kid riding around there:
OK, that is Sven Nys's son Thibault, who will be winning races on a TV screen near you in about seven years or so. And yes, you can get a bit of sense as to how hard it is. There are hills, we know that much. Good times!
Men, women and U23 all lining up on this day. Should be fun, whatever it is!