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2019—World Cyclocross Championships
Some may have doubted whether the small fishing port of Bogense, tucked on the Danish coast, some 120 minutes from Copenhagen, had the propensity to become the epicenter of the cyclocross world, but for four days in late January and early February it stepped up to the challenge with ease.
We sent our storytellers to the UCI World Cyclocross Championships to join USA Cycling from the inside, while paying daily visits to the Swiss Cycling pits.
Here are their seven takeaways:
1 - It’s all about preparation: Unlike the more lax approach to a road race’s parcours, being prepared for every centimeter of the course is fundamental to the success of a decent cyclocross rider. From line choice, terrain knowledge, weather reports and beyond, every element is scrutinized by the riders and their team. And like a slow-cooked dinner, this means the anticipation has days to build before the competition even begins, as setups and tactics are dialed in for the days ahead.
2 - Denmark knows how to make a tough course: Compact and skirting feverishly close to the Baltic sea, the course might have been lacking traditional cyclocross steps and some of the more technical features that other tracks do, but that did nothing to detract from the challenge it presented. Focusing around a bank at the far end of the venue, race organizers had carved a number of climbs, descents, and off-camber sections—essentially creating a vast amphitheater for the cyclists to perform in front of the crowds. These sections were split with pin-sharp long straights, crying out for a lightning fast race—even more so when the wind picked up on the second day of racing. With the elite men lapping in under 5m30 you certainly had to be on it to make sure you were not pulled out thanks to the merciless 80% rule. But what was even more impressive was that the fast pace meant any mistake would cost you dearly. (Only 29 riders finished the Elite Men’s race on the same lap as the leaders, meaning that exactly half the field hadn’t made the cut).
3 - ’Cross fans are passionate: It’s hard to describe the atmosphere at a world level ’cross race. Part-party, part-flag parade, and a whole lot of camping cars, the condensed nature of cyclocross venues lends itself to an electrifying atmosphere. While perhaps there are more fans at road races, they are spread over the length of the course, thereby thinning the density of the yelling. It was not like this in Bogense, where you could pick a position in the center of the track and cast your eyes in every direction for the action. Set to a thudding backing track of Euro-trance in the beer tents, frequently drowned out by raucous singalong fans, the race emitted a feeling unlike anything else. This, for us, is what makes cyclocross the most exciting and egalitarian form of cycling.
4 - It’s all about teamwork: There are a lot of logistics that go into getting a team ready for the World Cyclocross Championships. From the most basic logistical level of getting riders to and from the venue for their respective races, right through to heating the warm-up areas and being on hand for pre- and post-race mental support, there’s a lot going on behind the scenes. Then, there are the unsung heroes of the ’cross world, the mechanics. This passionate group brave the cold to put in long days for the aid of their riders. Their working day starts the earliest and continues long after the racing is over. We were amazed that the USA team had a contingent of over 45 individuals; they are a minor power in the world of cyclocross, so we struggled to conceive the amount of the support that the lowland teams had.
5 - The lowlands still reign supreme, but their crown is being challenged: Cyclocross will always be synonymous with the Lowlands. With the most important and prestigious races being held in the Netherlands and Belgium, it’s no wonder they took home three of the five world titles (with the junior and U23 men titles both going to the UK, where ’cross is currently having a boom). It’s clear that ’cross is globalizing and this is opening up the door to challengers for the throne. Countries of note, other than our friends over at USA Cycling and also Swiss Cycling, are France and the UK. It was also great to see teams from Japan and Iceland also taking part. Long may this growth continue.
6 - It’s not all plain sailing: Please excuse the pun, but it is hard not to touch on the nautical theme, seeing as the team parking was located in the boat yard. Like navigating a ship in a storm, ’cross is a demanding sport for the rider. Technical skills and solid preparation need to be met halfway with well-considered decision and a dose of good luck, too. Punctures can drastically alter the outcome of races, as do crashes and mistakes—these are the dramatic elements that increase our love for the sport (although being on the receiving end of a puncture at a pivotal moment is never enjoyable). We relished the many dinner table discussions with the USA Team management about tire choice, line choice, and naturally what to wear while racing in these bitterly cold conditions.
7 - Women’s cyclocross is top of the tree: While it’s the Van der Poel-Van Aert battle that might end up on the front of the newspapers, we’re more excited by the women’s side of ’cross, as it certainly boosts the sport. Men’s racing currently has a certain predictability (that does not mean that we weren’t happy to see MVP finally tick off the rainbow stripes), but the women’s race was wide open. This meant more drama, more thrills, and for us the confirmation that this truly is the future of the sport.