Welcome to Worlds Week! Home to Cyclocross’ crowning event and the sport’s best accidental tribute to female reproductive anatomy!
The race takes place around the Cauberg, on the outskirts of the city of Valkenburg in the Limburg province of the Netherlands, sandwiched between Germany and Begium. The locale is a bit like the marriage of chocolate and peanut butter — not entirely natural but nobody’s complaining. The Limburg region, an ultra-charming carpet of rolling, wooded hills, is billed as the Netherlands’ most bike-crazed area, which is a bit like being Australia’s most venomous creature, or the gun capital of Texas.
Its connections to cyclocross, however, are a bit more recent. I’m not aware of any great crossers from the area, and the heart of Dutch cyclocross is Noord Brabant, from the polders to ‘S-Hertogenboesch (Richard Groenendaal’s hometown), all an easy drive from Antwerp. The most you could say is that famous Limburger Tom Dumoulin would probably be a solid crosser if he tried. But like I said, nobody’s complaining. When they ginned up the Caubergcross starting in 2011, the race seemed a bit like an attempt to establish a pattern, building on the success of the Koppenbergcross by appropriating the Cauberg from the Amstel Gold Race. It works, though, given the area’s popularity (which I assume comes with plenty of lodging) and the Cauberg’s stadium feel.
A Brief Recap of Burgs and Bergs
Yes, you’ve probably heard this plenty before, but your average Dutchophile might get tripped up on the -burg versus -berg juxtaposition this week. -Burg, of course, refers to a political designation or a city, while -berg means mountain. Valkenburg means Falcon’s Town while Cauberg is ... somebody’s hill. It’s a little unclear but alas it’s not Cow’s Hill. Some sort of misplaced Gaelic name.
The reason it gets tricky is that the bergs and burgs can be pretty interchangeable. There are a few Valkenbergs around, including one featured often in the Tour of Flanders, just outside Brakel. And this makes sense, because if you ask a falcon, they will tell you that if you are stuck in the Low Countries you seek out every bit of elevation you can find. [As to Falcon’s Town, you wouldn’t think they’d go for that, but I guess it’s probably an OK place to kill a pigeon for dinner?]
Want to truly impress your friends, Anglo person? Then practice saying -burg so it kinda-sorta rhymes with door(g), and -berg so it maybe possibly rhymes with hair(g). And don’t go crazy rolling your “r”s, you aren’t in Flanders.
The CaubergCross has been run a few times recently, only skipping this year so that Valkenburg could hold the Worlds. All told, we have an established course. But that’s not what they’ll use this week.
I would describe the typical CaubergCross course as a lovely ride in the park, with some gently rolling terrain, the odd off-camber, two short run-ups and a flying bridge. A lot of it happens on well-worn trails, probably hiking or biking routes the rest of the year, and you’d think the race would stick to those. Perhaps they will, and the only real changes to the course are minor re-routes that don’t alter the character of the course. But it’s hard to say until we get some video from people pre-riding it in the next couple days.
Here’s what it looked like last year:
Move it to the 55:00 mark if you want to watch a typical lap that also includes Wout Van Aert crashing himself out of the running.
So that’s this course:
But the Worlds will use this course:
You can spot a few similarities but not that many. Once the race peels off into the forest, it’s a whole different event. Maps of other CaubergCross races aren’t easy to find, so it’s possible that they’ve already tried some of these wrinkles in more recent World Cup races.
In any event, it’s the Cauberg, so it won’t be flat, but it’s also the UCI so it won’t be overly quirky either. There is a short video at the official site, where they don’t really show any part of the course that we haven’t already seen, but which does contain several interviews from which you can glean the following:
- Adrie van der Poel, Mathieu’s dad, designed the course. Total power move.
- Adrie comments that people have groused about it being too heavy, so I guess it’s a heavy course, which actually would favor Wout Van Aert, so there’s that.
- Lars van der Haar states that the changes for worlds will mean more short efforts, which favors... people who like short efforts.
- The course organizers spare no opportunity to sell this as a great course for Dutch athletes, as if there were some physiological difference between people from Noord Brabant versus the rest of Brabant. Maybe there is an advantage to riders who carry Raymond Poulidor’s genes. Or maybe they are just trying to sell tickets.
So we shall see. Perhaps its closest cousin would be the Hotondcross, another small grassy hilltop with a stadium-like feel, or maybe the slightly steeper Citadelcross minus the fort. Probaby something in between those two, and a bit more on the punchy side.
All of the racing takes place next Saturday and Sunday, but things start happening on Thursday.
- Thursday: official course inspection, teams gathering, beginning to train, etc.
- Friday: official training sessions scheduled all day. Look for lots of video clips obsessing over course details.
- Saturday: Men’s Junior race, Women U23 race, Women’s Elite race.
- Sunday: Men’s U23 race, Men’s Elite race.
And that’s it for now. With five days to kill before a pedal is turned in real anger (outside of the Belgian team meetings), we will take it a bit slowly, but look for rider assessments and forecasts, more on the course, weather updates, and a relevant book review!