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Flying in the face of tradition

Cyclo-cross’s World Cup events will be fast, furious and designed for riders

Defending World Cup champion Sven Nijs

Defending World Cup champion Sven Nijs

Photo: Cor Vos (file photo)

The UCI’s five-race World Cup of cyclo-cross kicks off this Sundaywith the Grand Prix of Frankfurt.

Earlier this year, we had a chance tospeak with the series’s technical director Adri Van der Poel about whathe has in mind for this season, for the future and for the sport in general.When he took over his current job two years ago, Van der Poel said he wasready to make changes: changes in course design, changes in the scheduleand, “hopefully, some changes in attitude.”

With more than 20 years of mud-slogging and barrier-hopping behind him,the Dutch superstar brought a rider’s perspective to a job that had usually fallen to promoters or young, inexperienced bicycle bureaucrats.

Van der Poel began slowly in his first season. He started by makingtechnical recommendations to existing venues, such as the relatively new“single pit” design that brings racers through the same pit area twicea lap, which spares teams from having to staff and equip two pits.

“You would think we were changing the sport entirely,” Van der Poelsaid of the resistance encountered.

“There are some real traditionalists out there who don’t like to see any changes at all, even simple things like that.”

Changing the calendar
Not one to be discouraged, Van der Poel is now beginning to make thechanges that he says will really make a difference in the World Cup season.

“From the start, my goal was to change the schedule,” Van der Poel toldVeloNews. “The old approach really gave the advantage to riderswho focused mostly on world’s. My hope is to make the change so the WorldCup win goes to the man who is most consistent throughout a schedule thatis more spread out. We haven’t quite accomplished it this year, but we’remaking big steps.”

Perhaps the most noticeable change is that while there are fewer WorldCup events — five races, down from last year’s six — the season will extendbeyond its traditional week-before-world’s closer.

This year, the World Cup final will be contested two weeks after theworld’s at the Grand Prix Holland in Hoogerheide on February 16. What’smore, that final race will carry double points, possibly leaving the finaloutcome of the series in doubt until the last charge to the line.

In the 2003-04 season, Van der Poel hopes to have a full six-race calendar,again with the final contested after the world’s. “Ideally, I want a six-raceschedule with a full three weeks between each event,” he said. “This season represents a first step. Eventually, I want to see a World Cup schedule that riders and teams have to treat like a stage race in a big tour and race for GC, where you can’t afford to make a mistake and rest on yourlaurels. We’re moving toward that.”

Barriers to progress
While the scheduling is not causing too many objections, other changesare. This year’s venues will again include races in which riders may neverbe forced to dismount. Last year’s world championships in Zolder, Belgium,was the first world’s ’cross event without a single barrier on the course.

Van der Poel said that while barriers and dismounts have their placein the sport, they shouldn’t be required.“I have nothing against barriers, but the simple presence of barriersdoesn’t make it a cyclo-cross race,” he said. “What they do accomplishis to give a huge advantage to those who get off to a good start. Let’ssay you don’t get such a good start and you reach the first barriers in10th position. By the time you are in a series of barriers, the first rideris already on his bike and gone, and that advantage just grows. Yes, it’stradition, but it’s not a great tradition. It just puts too much emphasison the start.”

Van der Poel says he sees more changes coming during the next few years.Topping the list will be the establishment of a women’s World Cup seriesthat runs in tandem with the men’s. Current rules require a World Cup promoterto put on a women’s race, a juniors event and an under-23 race. The requirementwas a necessary step in the establishment of the first world’s for womenin 2000.

“Now the next step is to give those races World Cup status,” he said.“I think we can expect that by next year [the 2003-04 season].”

Where: Frankfurt
When: November 24
This is a new course, never before used in the World Cup. Frankfurt’spromoter is experienced, though the course has recently been redesignedbecause the organizer could not come to terms with local authorities onthe use of Frankfurt’s soccer stadium as a start/finish area.

The new 2.7km course, which does not incorporate the stadium, is saidto be fast and technical with lots of grass, off-camber descents and rollinghills, though the late changes mean that final course approval will bedelayed until early October.

VeloNews pick: This course will suit the talents of a rider likeSven Nijs.

Where: Kalmthout
When: December 22
This course has been the scene of two earlier World Cup events andis a regular stop on the Superprestige series as well.
This is a traditional Belgian ’cross course, but it is not nearly asflat as last year’s World Cup round in Wortegem-Petegem. The course hasenough barriers and technical challenges to keep things exciting throughout.The 2.7km course is likely to turn to mud in the event of rain, which isquite common this time of year in Belgium. Aside from the incorporationof a single pit area, the course is pretty much the way it has been foryears.

VeloNews pick: The last time this course was used for a WorldCup, Bart Wellens crushed the field. He’s two years older and he has everyreason and every chance to repeat.

Where: Liévin
When: January 5, 2003
This is another course that is new to the World Cup, though it, too,has been the site of major competitions in the past.
The 2.8km course is designed for speed. Even if the weather turns sourand wet, the course should remain very fast. The grassy surface is saidto sit on soil that drains off quickly and doesn’t turn too soft, evenin heavy rains.

VeloNews pick: If this race stays together, and on this courseit is likely to, our pick is Tom Vanoppen.

Where: Wetzikon
When: January 19, 2003.
Even before Wetzikon made its World Cup debut last year, this Swiss’cross classic was a favorite pre-world’s stop on the European circuit.While this 2.8km course is the same as last year, it’s not quite the samerace it was a few years ago.
Wetzikon is usually a tough race, and the mud and hills are especiallyhard to negotiate.

VeloNews pick: If it’s sloppy and muddy, we’ll pick our favoritebog-trotter, Richard Groenendaal. If it’s cold and fast, we’ll go withMario De Clercq.

Where: Hoogerheide
When: February 16, 2003
This will be the first World Cup ever scheduled to follow the world’s.The course was first used as the site of the Grand Prix Adri Van der Poel,a race to honor Hoogerheide’s hometown hero when he retired three yearsago.

Of all the stops on the World Cup circuit, this one resembles the courseused at the world championships in Zolder. The surface is sandy and tendsto compact when rain falls, especially for the extended periods commonat that time of year. There will not be a single barrier or run-up on the2.8km course. Riders, especially those in the lead, can stay on their bikesthroughout the race. Like Zolder, this course starts and finishes on along stretch of pavement.

Too add to the speed and the intensity of the battle, the UCI is awardingdouble points for this Cup closer.

VeloNews pick: Because of the double points, this one is thehardest to call. Vervecken won on this course last year and if he’s inthe running for the title, he will still be our favorite to win here.

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