Yeah OK, the elite cyclocross season starts earlier than ever, making this post a tougher chore. Unless! You take the approach we rely on here at the Podium Cafe, which is that the best time to cover something is "whenever I feel like it." Trust me, it works.
And with that, I give you... just in time for the real fun to start... your 2015/16 Cyclocross Calendar! Basic background, there are three series: the World calendar, operated by the UCI for the benefit of non-Belgians; the Superprestige, a traditional Belgian series; and the BPost Bank Trophy, an even more Belgian series that eschews the standard points system in favor of a running time gap score, with certain rules applied to make it even more annoying than it sounds. OK, let's get started.
October 26: Zonhoven
Series: Superprestige #2 (of 8). By the way, Wout Van Aert's victory in Gieten three weeks ago has him leading the series with 15 points, followed by Lars van der Haar (14), Tim Merlier (13), Sven Nys (12), etc. on the men's side. Sanne Cant leads Nikki Harris, Jolien Verscheuren, etc. on the Ladies front. From this you can deduce that it will be a tight race, that high placings count quite a lot even when you don't win.
Who gets to ride? Men, women, U23, juniors, kiddos. Notable in that the course should be, um, nicely prepared by the time the last race starts.
What's it about? These assessments and the ratings are drawn in large part from tgsgirl's Cross Calendar 2014/15 since the well-established races don't tend to change their character very much. Zonhoven is a one-of-a-kind race in the middle of Belgium where they found a sand pit by a former military base and decided to make a 'Cross race out of it. Because of course they did. The result is a stadium effect, only with rain and sand instead of anything more civilized.
One note: Last year they ran it the day after... well, we'll get to that. But anyway, this year it has a weekend to itself.
Can I see a photo? Defo.
photos by David Stockman, AFP/Getty
This happens a lot. Nys has dominated it, since it's sand and thus a power course, but Pauwels took it in 2014. Video:
Rating: ★★★★★ And I don't need tgsgirl's help here. If you've ever watched this race and you like cyclocross at all, you're hooked on Zonhoven.
November 1: KoppenbergCross
Series: BPost Bank #2 (of 8). Van Aert holds a four-second lead over Pauwels with van der Haar at +0.08. Pavla Havlikova leads the women's field by a mere 3" over Verschueren.
Who gets to ride? Everyone, even the kiddos.
What's it about? Going up the Koppenberg, and then down it. I can't even tell you how many ways in which this is a wonderful event, but you can guess the first one. The essence of the race is an uphill section and a downhill section, both of which are pretty hard in nice weather and very hard when it gets wet. Translation? Nys wins a lot, or did in his prime. His duel with Niels Albert in 2012 should have its own wing of the CX Hall of Fame.
The other essence of this race is that it's sort of the Omloop of Cross, in that the season is already underway but some people consider this the real start. And it's also always on November 1, All Saints Day, regardless of what day of the week it is. Just so happens to be a Sunday this time, which makes things a little easier for the Cross scheduling committee.
Can I see a photo? Hell yes. Here's the downhill area.
Photo by Balint Hamvas. And the climb of the cobbles.
AFP/Getty. This is just the warmup, it's the climb to the top of the hill that really leads to separation. Vid from 2012:
November 8: Ruddervoorde
Who gets to ride? Everyone.
What's it about? Twisty, rolling, gimmicky fun. It's not the most dynamic environment but the organizers put enough little technical features into it to make a UCI race planner's head explode. It's not a power course really, and is more about who can stay upright and go fast.
Can I see a photo? Of course.
Pieter van Hoorebeke, AFP/Getty
Rating: ★★★ I'm going with tgsgirl here. I don't have much of a sense for this race.
November 11: Jaarmarktcross Niel
Series: Soudal Classics -- a series of one-off races not associated with an actual series-scoring system.
Who gets to ride? Everyone. It seems like cyclocross has made greater gender equity strides than road racing. Of course, it's no biggie to add another event to a course you've already staked out, logistically at least. Anyway, it's a good thing.
What's it about? Midweek fun and off-camber hell. It's kind of a weird course, very grassy and non-technical in the traditional sense, until you slide sideways off the thing. As a hack amateur crosser I find most courses look like they'd be fun to take a non-competitive spin on, but I wouldn't ride this course on a dare.
Can I see a photo? Uh OK.
But for a real flavor scroll anywhere into the middle and watch a lap of this madness.
November 15: Asper-Gavere
Who gets to ride? Everyone, again.
What's it about? Ah, now we're talking... it's a classic, traditional romp around a flowing, challenging circuit in the forest, free of bullshit technical nonsense. Good old country hardball, as we Yanks are prone to saying. This race will be won by whoever is both strong and technically sound. Is that what you could say about every race? Sure, but by comparison KoppenbergCross is more about pure power and Ruddervoorde technique. And the sand races are just about sand. Gavere is more finely balanced. [And it reminds me of my favorite race at home, which shouldn't say all that much since I'm like here (points to the ground) and they're up there (points to the summit of Mt. Rainier). But a flowing forest race is a beautiful thing.]
Can I see a photo? Yeah. We should have more but our archives aren't marked as well as you'd think.
And of course video.
Linkage... Voila. Not sure why they show a lot of sand.
November 21: Hasselt
Series: Soudal non-series series.
Who gets to ride? Everyone.
What's it about? Speed, mostly, plus a giant man-made pile of dirt. Or that was the plan last year. It's a municipal park in tgsgirl's backyard, but it's lacking in memorable features. I guess the riders will have to make the race? Hasselt was part of BPost last year but got kicked over to Soudal Classics. It's possible big changes are planned but I don't see them just yet. Oh and it's teamed up with a mega-race for that weekend, which doesn't mean people have to skip Hasselt, though a few will.
Can I see a photo? Yoah.
Rating: ★★.5 If everything is a highlight, then they're really all just lights.
November 22: Koksijde
Series: UCI World Cup. Van Aert leads after two events over van der Haar. I think maybe Eva Lechner leads the women's competition?
Who gets to ride? Everyone. And by that I mean everyone from everywhere. UCI races are a bit more global, even when they're in Belgium.
What's it about? Some would call it the greatest of the great, though I'm sure bars all over Belgium are overflowing with people ready to argue one way or another. Definitely in the conversation for best race of the year. It's out at the beach and utilizes sand dunes for some of the bigger action, but also traverses through dirt, hills, scrub and some pavement. It's been the site of a world championship, so you know it's a big deal. Being strong as an ox and good in sand, I'd say those are the key qualifications.
Can I see a photo? Who am I to say no?
and a quickie promo video.
November 29: Flandriencross (Hamme)
Who gets to ride? tout le monde
What's it about? Formerly Hamme-Zogge/Bollekescross, but being revamped in the last couple years. It's a pretty little wooded course, but little elevation apart from a big ol bridge, and fast as hell. There's no reason for van der Haar to ever lose this race. It's not bollekes enough anymore. Well, unless it rains a lot.
Can I see a photo? Sure, but it's from two years ago and might not be on the same turf.
This is the actual course.
December 5: Rouwmoer Essen
Who gets to ride? ssdd
What's it about? Flat, muddy hell. Essen is near Antwerp, and thus not near a single hill, so it's out to the fields for you riders, and if it rains... be afraid. We've seen some very heavy editions of this muddy chicanery.
Can I see a photo? Not much to choose from, but OK.
December 6: Druivencross Overijse
Series: None! One of the rare unaffiliated races out there that's still a big event. Takes place in Overijse in the southern suburbs of Brussels.
Who gets to ride? Just the elite men, I believe?
What's it about? A pretty, rolling, wooded course with no significantly memorable features. Like Asper-Gavere, it's a solid race
Can I see a photo? asd
Linkage... Stand-alone site
December 12: Scheldecross
Series: BPost -- this was a Soudal event, and got swapped with Hasselt, it appears.
Who gets to ride? Come one, come all.
What's it about? A giant inflatable octopus.
And sand. Lots of sand. That keeps it likeable.
Can I see a photo? No. I mean, apart from the one above. But here's the video.
Linkage... Here be links.
December 13: Spa Francorchamps
Who gets to ride? You, me, them.
What's it about? A new race, very weird, taking place in and around a Formula 1 course. There's a pretty long uphill paved drag to the line, plus a tunnel, some forest, and a long, leg-zapping run-up on a chunky, muddy hill. Seems a bit joyless to me, but Pauwels won last year. Not sure which way that cuts.
Can I see a photo? Video only.
Technically the next weekend is still fall, but it's getting into Kerstperiode, which needs its own post. Enjoy for now, and feel free to add in updates and corrections.