Haha! Fooled you! Yes, CrossVegas in this week, and you're going to pay attention to cyclocross whether you like it or not. And for those of you who can recognise the tell-tale signs, yes this is the latest in our series of "cyclocross is awesome, watch it this winter" pieces.
Cyclocross didn't get that reputation here by chance, you know. It's a quickfire, all inclusive romp through Belgian forests, Dutch sandpits, Luxembourgish mud and, now it seems, American grass fields. I remember the first CX race I tuned into — it was on the UCI YouTube, so after hearing some discussion of it on Twitter, I switched it on. The amount of time it took for the sport to hook me can be measured in minutes. It wasn't even the best race, but the thing about the sport is that there's always something fun going on.
To guide us through the rest of this primer, we have a very special guest. This, er, person knows everything there is to know about getting over mud and sand in pursuit of CX glory, having experienced it hundreds of times over an illustrious career before retiring in 2014. No one has been closer to the action than...yes, it's Sven Nys' old Colnago, pictured in action here!
After powering through sand and mud, some of the knowledge stays, and the bike is now a total expert in all of the courses. It does, however, speak in an almost impenetrable Flemish accent. You should feel very grateful that I've translated it for you. While Sven's money kept it living the good life in Belgium for a year, a few bets against Wout van Aert last year saw it looking for a job. I took it out for frites — the owner of the stall greeted it like an old friend — and we came to an agreement. The long and the short of it is that he's here helping me, and I have until November 1st to find a Jan Denuwelaere voodoo doll. So take it away, Colnago.
Thank you Conor. So apart from the world championships, held at the end of January/start of February, and a couple of other unaffiliated and awesome races, there are three main series of cyclocross races. The first, and the one that's coming up closest to now is the World Cup. That was a name rather than a promise of globalisation, but that's changed in recent years, yes?
Yes indeed. After sticking in Europe, the the World Cup went overseas to America with CrossVegas last year, and this year Utah's Jingle Cross was added to it. While it forces Belgians to wake up at three o'clock to watch their heroes race, (I know, Americans! Isn't it a horrible prospect!) it helps the sport's globalisation. However, some crossers are reluctant to spend all the money and time required to make the trip to America, with only seven women leaving their home continent for the two races.
The World Cup is won by whoever accumulates the most points, given on a sliding scale from 80 to 1 for the first fifty race finishers for men, and 60 to 1 for the first thirty for women. Wout van Aert and Sanne Cant are the defending champions. You'll be hearing that a lot this year.
Van Aert won CrossVegas last year too, and amazingly finished second in all but one of the other races. These are held in Valkenburg, Koksijde, Namur, Zolder, Hoogerheide, and two new ones in Zeven in Germany and Fiuggi in Italy.
The World Cup isn't the best one though.
Quite right, the next one is my favourite.
It's everyone's favourite! The Gazet Van Antwerpen Trophy!
Er, are you forgetting something?
Oh for the love of...yes, they changed sponsor. It's now the BPost Bank Trophy.
Folks, you have to remember the bike retired in 2014. That series is now called the DVV Verzekeringen Trophy. DVV Verzekeringen are my favourite Verzekeringen provider. Whatever you want Verzekeringed, they Verzeker it.
It's got the best races, whatever you call it. There's Ronse, and Koppenbergcross, and Sven's old home race, Baal.
Yes, and there's also Hamme, Essen, Scheldecross, Azencross and Krawatencross. This has the most interesting scoring system too, much like a stage race, with the times added up race on race. Five minutes are added to the winner's time for a rider who does not start or finish a race, so consistency is really key. Wout Van Aert and Sanne Cant are again, the defending champions. They tore it up last year.
There's one more series, and that's the Superprestige. It has loads of really fun races, like Gieten, Zonhoven and Gavere, as well as other staples like Middelkerke and Hoogstraten. Van Aert's the defending champion there too.
And that's about it for the races. I'll see you around, Colnago! One last thing though! What do the bikes and riders have to deal with?
I'm glad you asked. There's mud, like this:
Sand, like this:
And barriers, like these:
And with that I say goodbye to my helper the Colnago as we look at the riders. Starting with the men, the world champion of the sport is...wait for it, Wout van Aert. And considering how hard to separate he is from rival Mathieu van der Poel, I'll talk about them together. How to put this...I know! They are going to dominate the sport this season — it's inevitable. They're both incredibly strong, versatile, young, hardy and well-matched that it's just a question of which of the two wins races. Van Aert always had an advantage last year, as Van der Poel managed to mess up both knees, keeping him out of competition until December, and the two had markedly different goals in the 2014-15 season. This means that they have rarely faced off when each is at full strength, and there is nothing to choose between them. How will you recognise them? Van Aert's in rainbows, Van der Poel is in Dutch colours.
I hate to say everyone else is fighting for scraps, but everyone else is fighting for scraps. Laurens Sweeck, Tom Meeusen, Kevin Pauwels, Toon Aerts and Lars van der Haar are the only active riders to win an even semi-big race last year other than the top two, and none of them won more than two events. It's a pattern I can see continuing. Sweeck rides in the red, white and blue of ERA-Murprotec, Meeusen and Aerts in the black and green of Sven Nys' Telenet-Fidea, Pauwels and former Belgian champ Klaas Vantornout can be seen in the blue of Marlux-Napoleon Games and Van der Haar plies his trade for Giant-Alpecin — yes, that Giant-Alpecin, but he's moving to Telenet. Maybe you can expect Lars Boom and Zdenek Stybar to drop in from time to time, as well.
Over on the women's side of things, it's a little less predictable — a lot of the best riders might not even compete in half or all of the races because of road racing duties. Marianne Vos is a seven-time world champion, but there's no guarantee she'll line up this winter. Pauline Ferrand-Prevot is very unlikely to be seen at any races, and Katerina Nash may also not leave America to race, even if she is ready to win CrossVegas. However, that does leave last year's force Sanne Cant, who won basically everything except worlds, where she was edged out by Thalita De Jong, who will also have a full season. They'll be challenged by Eva Lechner, Helen Wyman, Spohie De Boer, Nikki Harris and Katie Compton.
So join us for a season of rivalry and racing, via a host of channels. If you're not hooked already, you will be.