Jingle Cross in Iowa City is hosting a cyclocross world cup race for the second season in a row, ahead of world cup #2 in Waterloo next weekend. Gone is the
velcro grass crit racing at Cross Vegas (as far as world cup races go, that is). Thanks to Trek facilitating the visit of the Telenet-Fidea Lions squad, we had a decent trial run last year that gave us a taste of what's to come. Wout Van Aert broke his toe in Vegas, stormed back to win, and followed it up with a dominating victory in Waterloo. Then in Iowa City he rode away from the field again, while still nursing a toe injury that, for most, would have halted any sort of running -- let alone digging in to climb Mount Krumpit. For 2017, we get to see Matheiu Van der Poel race on American soil (he missed 2016's American block due to injury) and it's unlikely we'll see Wout Van Aert ride solo off the front of the race after three laps. On paper, it looks like tighter competition.
Before we get to le Coupe du Monde #1, let's revisit the (so far) week-long season.
The US domestic cross scene officially kicked off last weekend in Rochester, NY. In the men's race, Stephen Hyde (Cannondale) won Saturday's C1 race in a sprint finish ahead of Rob Peeters (Pauwels Sauzen) and Jeremy Powers (Aspire Racing). Ellen Noble (Aspire Racing) won the women's race, and Maghalie Rochette (CLIF Pro Team) and Kaitie Keough (Cannondale) filled the podium. Of note, was U23 rider Spencer Petrov (Aspire Racing) coming across the line in fourth, 31 seconds behind the leaders and crushing his nearest u23 competition by nearly two minutes.
Technically sunday was a C2 race, but the same legs showed up to start. Kerry Werner (Kona Factory CX Team) took the win over Hyde and Peeters. Spencer Petrove was again in fourth position, a little more than a minute ahead of Lance Haidet (Donnelly Sports). That's a strong weekend of racing for the second year U23 rider. He's registered for a full three days of racing in Iowa, so we'll see how his legs hold up on Sunday if he does indeed race all weekend.
Katie Keough came back strong on Sunday in the women's race, beating out Maghalie Rochette by 14 seconds. Emma White (Cannondale) came around in third. Missing from the weekend, however, was Katie Compton.
Also happening last weekend, though just on Sunday, was Cross Eeklo in Belgium -- more or less kicking off the European racing, though it was just a one day C2. Mathieu Van der Poel (Beobank) won easily, in the end beating world champion Wout Van Aert by 20" followed closely by Michael Vanthourenhout.
Coupe du Monde!
By the way, kudos to Jinglecross for moving the race up from December to September and truckin' along with that Christmas theme. Apropos of nothing, it's 90 degrees in Iowa city today.
The headliners don't come on til Sunday, it turns out. The world cup race was pushed back this year due a "scheduling conflict" with the local collegiate football team, so we have two other days of racing to get through before the main event. They should be good even if rainbow strips are absent from the starting line.
The Friday and Saturday fields will race the same course, which is a bit easier than Sunday's course. More on this later, but the racers will skip the Frostbit Forest and spend a bit less time in the sand.
Women - 19:30
Men - 20:45
Friday's men's race is a stronger field than Saturday's, thanks to a number of the Telenet-Fidea Lions stretching their legs under the lights. It's Kevin Pauwels race to lose. Though Toon Aerts, Quinten Hermans, Laurens Sweek, and Michael Vanthourenhout are all capable of putting together a good race. Also, there will be some Americans in the field.
Though maybe it isn't fair to list the Americans as an afterthought. Stephen Hyde should have no trouble riding at the front of the race, and with the Friday/Saturday course being a bit more open than Sunday's, Jeremy Powers might have opportunities to, um, power his way to the front.
Katie Compton is registered for the women's elite race, but she didn't race under the lights last year. If she is looking for a tune up before Sunday (likely), watch for her on the front. Ellen Noble, Helen Wyman, Katie Keough, Elle Anderson, and Maghalie Rochette have real chances to win, as well.
Of course, take all of this with a giant grain of salt because on weekends like this the start lists aren't finalized until the officials start call-ups.
Start times are the same as Friday, and at the moment, the field looks more open, with most of the big names taking the day off (and late start/finish time) to prepare for Sunday's main event. So it goes that the Americans actually have a good shot at landing on the podium Saturday night. Jim Aernouts should be first across the line, but with a thinner field, Powers hopefully can overcome his routine terrible starts and get into contention. Tobin Ortenblad, if he has found the form he had at the end of last season, could be on the front, and with Spencer Petrov's showing last week, he could be in the mix as well.
Coupe du Monde!
Finally! Let's look at the course:
Not much has changed over the 2016 version. It's a bit more technical, which might help keep the field together longer. New for 2017 is slightly different climb through Frostbit Forest, with a sharp left hook just after the bridge. The Luge Run coming down Mount Krumpit immediately after has a new switchback, as does the Alpine slide, which was previously a straight downhill shot. Otherwise, the long drag from grass to pavement to dirt that runs almost the full length of the course is still there. It's a clean, wide track that gives racers lots of time to ramp up the power.
The big changes that make this a world cup worthy course come from the two way flyover and long sand pit just after Bobsled Run -- a fast decent off Mount Krumpet.
Van der Poel is the likely favorite, since losing the battle with Van Aert and his tires in Bieles, Van der Poel has put together a tremendous streak of victories. There's no doubt he's motivated to prove his strength and fitness. If Van Aert was holding back a bit in Eeklo last week, we should see great racing on back to back weekends.
Last year, Katie Compton rode to victory over Caroline Mani in the women's race. It's hard to predict much different for 2017, especially with the course and conditions suiting Compton's skillset. Though Sanne Cant, Sophie de Boer, Katie Keough, Caroline Mani, and Katerina Nash are all in Iowa as well. After last weeks strong C1 showing by Ellen Noble, look for her to improve on her fifth place from last year.
There maybe a sprinkle of rain Saturday night/Sunday morning, and this is Iowa City where brief storms can strike anytime, but otherwise if the sun and heat hold, it will be a fast and dusty weekend. Rain might render the Mount Krumpit runup unrideable, though that's a tall order in good conditions, and after three days of amateur toe spikes ripping it up, it may be unrideable anyway for all but a couple riders. Regardless, a bit of mud is always welcome.
Any rain that comes that night would make for an incredibly fast day as the course drys out through the morning races and a few hundred riders pack it down. Most likely, aside from some earlier races Sunday morning, it'll be a weekend for file treads and fast racing.