Somewhere in Tremelo, Belgium, a slightly larger Niels Albert stands behind a counter, next to a bike caked in mud that once belonged to Wout Van Aert. The counter is the sales desk of the Niels Albert Bike Store, home to a former double world champion now passing on his knowledge and selling gear to the next generation of crossers, including Thibau Nys. In Belgian cyclocross, time is a flat circle.
Things change — Albert was forced to retire abruptly at the height of his powers in 2014 due to a cardiac arrhythmia — but plenty of things remain the same. The days of Albert vs. Nys vs. maybe Stybar have given way to a much younger duel, van der Poel vs. Van Aert vs. maybe van der Haar or a handful of super-strong Belgians and Dutchmen vying for that place on the podium next to the two wunderkids. Van Aert is the old man at 24, and van der Poel a ripe 23, and between them they own the last four world titles. Before long another crew will come along, led maybe by young Thibau, and knock these guys off the top step... at least once they get too wrapped up in road stuff. The names will always change.
But the races are pretty well known and lined up and the world is a better place for it. Here’s my list of events circled on the calendar. It’s missing the Ronse race that happened two weeks ago, at the highest point in Flanders (not very high), the Hotondberg, and the race is known as the GP Mario De Clerq, a lovely rolling grassy affair that works as an appetizer to the CX season. So that happened (van der Poel won). Great. Now on to the main courses.
KoppenbergCross, Nov. 1, Oudenaarde
Regarded by some as the day when the season starts, in part because it’s pinned to All Saints Day, regardless of when that falls during the week. I guess it’s a holiday over there? Anyway, there’s prestige in that firm identity. Doesn’t hurt that the course utilizes a chunk of the Koppenberg, both the cobbled street and the geological feature, to run a power-heavy course with some fun downhill chicanery when the weather gets bad. This is a big prestige event, usually the first of the year. Last year it ended up the cobbles a way and riders basically fell to the ground when they finished, an odd sight.
European Championships, Nov. 4, Rosmalen NL
I don’t know much about this course in Nord Brabant, but the right to wear the white and blue Euro jersey is taken pretty seriously.
Jaarmarktcross Niel, Nov. 10, Niel
Another cross standard, and just a mix of the usual features, none of which stand out. But it’s the year market in the town of Niel, and like the Koppenbergcross it’s more or less pinned to November 11 or as close as they can manage.
Asper-Gavere, Nov. 11, Gavere
Another traditional, difficult and lovely romp through the woods of East Flanders, along the Scheldt south of Gent. Paired with Niel, this is the first big double weekend of the season.
Duinencross, Nov. 25, Koksijde
Skipping Flandriencross, because you can’t circle every weekend. Koksijde is a flat-out classic, and if they declared “monuments” of cyclocross, this would certainly be one. Taking place around a bit of North Sea dunes, this race has run since 1969 (relatively old for ‘Cross) and has seen a pair of world championships settled here as well. One of the two big sand races, and the least gimmicky of the pair.
Druivencross, Dec. 9, Overijse
The Mother of All Crosses, this is an old (1960), prestigious event featuring some dull stretches through downtown Overijse and a great deal of winding, twisting, demanding terrain in the adjacent forest. More technical than brutal, and a bit lovely too.
Zonhoeven, December 16, Zonhoeven
The sand pit has been moved from its October spot into the run-in to the Christmas week. If wacky is your thing, the plunges down the sand ramps are just your style. Of the two sand races, this is the gimmicky one. But when it’s not headed up and down the pit, it’s still a pretty fun course and makes for a good day of racing.
Kerstperiode, December 22-January 1
Spice up your holidays with a shit-ton of great cross races! Heusden-Zolder, Azencross, Baal, and my favorite, the Citadelcross in Namur on December 23. It’s kind of a blur and we will sort it out when we get closer to then.
After that, the national championships are January 13 and the Worlds are Feb 2-3 in Denmark. Once Baal is over, everyone is gearing up to win some colorful jerseys.
Full calendar of events here.