Dan Seaton – VeloNews.com http://www.velonews.com Competitive Cycling News, Race Results and Bike Reviews Sun, 21 Jan 2018 12:32:11 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://www.velonews.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/cropped-Velonews_favicon-2-32x32.png Dan Seaton – VeloNews.com http://www.velonews.com 32 32 Cyclocross worlds 2017 preview: More questions than answers http://www.velonews.com/2017/01/news/cyclocross-worlds-2017-preview-questions-answers_429333 Wed, 25 Jan 2017 18:04:44 +0000 http://www.velonews.com/?p=429333 Dan Seaton admits he's at a loss to predict the 2017 UCI World Cyclocross Championships, which mean's it's bound to be great racing.

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Cyclocross fans, VeloNews readers, can I be honest with you? It’s a strange way to start a world championships preview, I know, but this has been a strange season, and we are living in a strange time. I’ve written about a dozen of these previews over the years, and I don’t recall ever feeling so unable to predict a race. Usually I write with some authority: “Watch Marianne Vos, she’s sure to do well.” Let’s leave aside the fact that admonishing readers to watch out for the single greatest cyclist in history is a fairly safe position to take. I’m telling you, this year I’ve got no clue.

If we had talked last year after the UCI’s big gala unveiling the 2017 cyclocross world championships, to be held in Bieles, Luxembourg (a presentation so memorable that it took me a good 10 minutes to recall if I had actually attended) I would have told you that it would be a fine but unspectacular race. The world championships almost always deliver something special, even when the course is vanilla and the competition a foregone conclusion (think Stybar vs. Nys in Hoogerheide, 2014) and my speculation was that Bieles would do little to break that mold.

Today I admit that I was wrong. I don’t think I can tell you who is likely to win, what the course is likely to deliver, or what kind of race to expect. So instead of my usual approach, sharing what I know, let me tell you what I don’t know.

I don’t know if the defending men’s world champion, Belgian Wout Van Aert, is ready for a race. Van Aert clinched the UCI’s World Cup title a couple of weekends ago on an almost comically slippery course in Fiuggi, Italy. But he skipped the World Cup finale in Hoogerheide, Netherlands, on Sunday and spent several days off the bike with a knee injury. A tweet on Monday, suggested he is back on the bike, but will the time off leave him fresh or flat for Sunday’s elite men’s race?

I don’t know what to make of the Netherlands’s elite men’s squad. Led by 2015 world champion Mathieu van der Poel, the squad also boasts 2008 world champion Lars Boom and 2016 worlds runner-up Lars van der Haar. Van der Poel would seem a hands-down favorite, but he skipped the penultimate World Cup in Fiuggi to train, and finished an anonymous 24th place in Hoogerheide. Van der Haar, meanwhile, spent the bulk of the season nursing injuries off the bike. Since his return to cyclocross in late December, he has been nearly invisible — until Sunday, when he stormed to an impressive World Cup win. Is he a real contender or just lucky that the others sat up to rest legs ahead of the championships? And can Boom pull out something special? His season results have been pretty lackluster, but he’s the only other former champion in the race, and remains a talented rider.

I can’t tell you what to expect from the rest of the men’s field either. Belgian Toon Aerts, the reigning European Champion, would be an outside favorite if an ugly crash in Fiuggi had not ended his season. Belgians Kevin Pauwels, Tom Meeusen, Laurens Sweeck, and Michael Vanthourenhout all deserve consideration for a place on the podium, as do France’s Clement Venturini and Germany’s Marcel Meisen. The smart money is probably on a Van Aert versus van der Poel duel, but at worlds, anything can happen.

Photo: Tim De Waele | TDWsport.com
Marianne Vos has been on a tear since the Kerstperiode races. Photo: Tim De Waele | TDWsport.com

For that matter, I’m at even more of a loss when it comes to the women. Any other year, Vos, with her seven world titles, would be an undisputed favorite, but Vos is just back to cyclocross after almost two full seasons away due to injury and overtraining. On the other hand, with a newly reclaimed Dutch title and three straight World Cup wins, it’s hard to doubt she has found her legs again. But the championship race on Saturday will be her first real high-pressure test. Can she measure up and reclaim the rainbows she last wore in 2014?

One thing we do know is that there will be no repeat champion in the women’s race — 2016 champion Thalita de Jong will miss the race thanks to injuries sustained in a heavy fall on Sunday in Hoogerheide. De Jong has had consistent if unspectacular results this season, but as a defending champ, would deserve consideration behind Vos.

But I don’t know quite who to look to in her absence. A long list of perennial favorites — American Katie Compton, Belgian Sanne Cant, Czech Katerina Nash, Sophie de Boer and Lucinda Brand of the Netherlands, Italian Eva Lechner, and France’s Caroline Mani — all deserve consideration but bear question marks. Compton is back with renewed focus and a more carefully tailored training and travel plan this season, but suffered falls and flats that hindered her efforts Hoogerheide. Will she be fully recovered in time for Saturday’s race? Cant has been closing in on worlds success for years, but has yet to earn the sport’s top prize. She has not been as consistent this season; could she still break through? And what about Luxembourg’s Christine Majerus? She’d be a sleeper pick, but magic often happens when racing in one’s home country.

Of the women’s race, I can only say this. Watch Vos (of course) but more importantly, watch this race. With a hugely talented, wide-open field, this will very likely be the best race of the weekend.

Photo: Tim De Waele | TDWsport.com
Can Katie Compton make a run at a rainbow jersey in 2017? Photo: Tim De Waele | TDWsport.com

Here’s one more key question: what can the American team deliver? America’s best shot for a medal is almost surely in the under-23 women’s race on Saturday. Ellen Noble, who clinched the under-23 World Cup title last Sunday, would be a good bet for a medal in the elite women’s race, and is a sure favorite on Saturday. Emma White, will likely be right behind her. They’ll have to fend off the 2016 champion, Britain’s Evie Richards, as well as the Netherlands’s Annemarie Worst, and Belgium’s Laura Verdornschot for a place on the podium, but odds seem favorable that they can do it.

America comes with a strong roster in the men’s youth categories too: Curtis White, Gage Hecht, Spencer Petrov, and Maxx Chance are all familiar favorites in the under-23 category, while juniors Denzel Stephenson and Lane Maher both have a shot at top-10 finishes. A strong women’s squad, headlined by Compton with Amanda Miller, Kaitie Antonneau, Rebecca Fahringer, Coutenay McFadden, and Elle Anderson is arguably the deepest in their race besides the Netherlands. The men’s team, anchored by new national champ Stephen Hyde and veteran Jeremy Powers, could also have a shot at a top-10 finish in the right conditions.

Which brings us to the last and possibly biggest unknown. What will those conditions be? Video posted by the Belgian paper Het Laatste Nieuws of Sven Nys’s course tour showed a roller-coaster up-and-down, twisty race with plenty of gnarly off-camber to keep riders on (or off) their toes. Parts of the course were, as of Monday’s video anyway, covered in a thick layer of snow thanks to unusually cold conditions in Europe in recent weeks.

Nys called the course one of the nicest — and most difficult — in recent world championships memory. Indeed, though early previews of the course suggested a fast, largely flat affair, my impression is the course shares similarities to the exciting course in Milton Keynes, a World Cup stop in the UK in 2014. I’m with Nys on this one, the course looks fantastic.

With the weather forecast to warm up in the coming days, and plenty of training traffic on course as well, will the snow stick around? Will there be mud? Frozen and fast conditions? Only time will tell.

That’s a lot of questions, cyclocross fans. But all those questions add up to one thing I can say for certain: you should expect great racing this weekend. Don’t miss it.

The cyclocross world championships kick off with the junior men’s race on Saturday at 5 a.m. Eastern, U23 women at 7, and elite women at 9. Racing continues Sunday with the U23 men at 5 a.m. EST and elite men at 9.

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Mathieu van der Poel is just fine, thanks for asking http://www.velonews.com/2016/09/news/mathieu-van-der-poel-just-fine-thanks-asking_421719 Thu, 29 Sep 2016 11:00:00 +0000 http://www.velonews.com/?p=421719 Mathieu van der Poel is finally emerging from another layoff due to knee injury. Cyclocross needs him, as does his key rival Wout Van Aert.

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The 21-year-old former cyclocross world champion wants you to know he’s not worried. A year after missing almost half the ‘cross season after multiple surgeries aimed at resolving a knee injury he sustained in a bad fall at Tour de l’Avenir, he is watching from the sidelines again. If you’re a cyclocross fan — or, more importantly, a fan of cyclocross being competitive — it’d be easy to worry.

Mathieu van der Poel, son of 1996 world champion Adrie, and leader of the recently re-christened Beobank – Corendon team, is the only man proven capable of beating Wout Van Aert. Van Aert, himself the reigning world and Belgian champion, won nine races during his Dutch rival’s absence last year and never finished worse than second place.

“It’s pretty annoying actually. You see the other guys and they are already in good condition. The races have begun…”
– Mathieu van der Poel

If you want to see cyclocross become something more than the Van Aert show, you should be rooting for van der Poel’s recovery too.

And he wants you to know, he’ll be back.

“It’s going pretty well,” he told VeloNews in an interview just before Cross Vegas. “I’m doing long rides now to make a good base to start the cyclocross season. Especially long rides now, so my condition is going pretty good, and then I can start doing some interval training on the ‘cross bike shortly.”

In fact, van der Poel believes he has completely licked the injury that caused him so much trouble in 2015 before this latest bout of trouble. He stormed through the second part of the cyclocross season, all but sweeping the final month of races. Shaking off any lingering questions about how well he had recovered, he was even pursuing Olympic aspirations on the mountain bike.

That bid fell apart thanks to the same bad luck that led to the sidelines this season. He jokes about it now.

“In my preparations for my mountain bike career — if you can call it that,” he explains, interrupting himself with a laugh before going on. “I made a couple of crashes that caused my knee problems to come up again. They are not very serious injuries, just always the little things that keep annoying me and prevents my muscles from working how they should work.”

But, after a minor surgery and positive prognosis, he says there is nothing to worry about. No long-term implications, no concern about his ability to race. He will be back at it soon.

Mathieu van der Poel couldn't defend his world championship title in 2016. Photo: Tim De Waele | TDWsport.com
Mathieu van der Poel couldn’t defend his world championship title in 2016. Photo: Tim De Waele | TDWsport.com

Not soon enough for American fans, however. Van der Poel missed two World Cup stops in the United States, and will return only in time for the start of the Superprestige series, at home in the Netherlands, in Gieten on October 2.

On the other hand, that doesn’t mean he has to like it.

“It’s pretty annoying actually,” Van der Poel says. “You see the other guys and they are already in good condition. The races have begun and now I’m missing Las Vegas and Iowa for the second time, the World Cups in America. But my focus is now on getting 100 percent back again and doing the best I can to make a good season after all.”

“He is the one guy who can beat Wout [Van Aert] for the moment.”
– Sven Nys

One thing he learned last season is how long it takes to catch up with the sport after a long layoff. He will still be deep in training when he makes his return, while his competitors will already be in full race mode, and he is prepared for a long, slow build back to the top of the sport.

“I have made myself clear, it’s too difficult to be on my best level already tomorrow — already the second of October,” says van der Poel. “It’s just a bit too early. I’m in the fourth week or the third week of training on my bike, so it’s kind of short days. But I hope to make it in decent shape.”

Meanwhile, van der Poel may not be worried about his condition, but others in the sport are.

Sven Nys, now team leader for the Telenet – Fidea Lions, worries that thanks to his injuries, van der Poel is not progressing.

“He is the one guy who can beat Wout [Van Aert] for the moment,” says Nys. “But he has a lot of injuries the last few months, the last few years. And you see that the level of Wout is going up every year and because of the injuries, Mathieu is staying on a level just below. He needs to have a little bit more luck the next few months and then we’ll see some nice battles between them.”

“Cyclocross needs Mathieu van der Poel. The fans are looking forward to big duels. And, to be honest, I need him too.”
– Wout Van Aert

Niels Albert, two-time world champion who now serves as Van Aert’s Crelan – Vastgoedservice team director, says much the same thing.

“I think Mathieu van der Poel is a really strong guy, but now he has some injury in his knee,” says Albert. “So hopefully he comes really soon, because the cyclocross lives on duels, between Wout and Mathieu van der Poel or Wout and Lars van der Haar. But both riders, Mathieu and Lars, are injured … So hopefully for those guys and hopefully for the races they come soon.”

In an interview with the Belgian website Veldritkrant.be last month, Van Aert himself said he was eagerly awaiting van der Poel’s return.

“I hope from the bottom of my heart the knee problems don’t become a recurring story,” said Van Aert. “Cyclocross needs Mathieu van der Poel. The fans are looking forward to big duels. And, to be honest, I need him too.”

Van der Poel and Van Aert. Photo: Tim De Waele | TDWsport.com
Van der Poel and Van Aert. Photo: Tim De Waele | TDWsport.com

“I think he is my biggest opponent, especially because he knows my strategy in races, and I know his strategy,” Van Aert continued. “When we are both on our highest level you can’t say before the race it’s going to be like this or that. We always need to see in the final the details that make the difference. I think we get to almost the same level in the last years by racing together, so of course he is my biggest opponent.”

Van Aert knows well what happens when one rider dominates the sport. His run of successes early last season set fan expectations sky high, but left his own motivation flagging. He, like van der Poel, is a competitor; he thrives on the battle as much as the win. In the absence of another serious contender — and there are undoubtedly a few riders aspiring to a place near the top of the sport, Michael Vanthourenhout and Laurens Sweeck, for example — van der Poel is the only man who can elevate the competition on which Van Aert thrives.

“It’s something that we both need,” van der Poel says. “In order to give the spectators some great battles, and to bring each of our levels up.”

Van der Poel and Van Aert battled at the Namur World Cup. Photo: Tim De Waele | TDWsport.com
Van der Poel and Van Aert battled at the Namur World Cup. Photo: Tim De Waele | TDWsport.com

And indeed, the two seem to be inextricably linked. Both riders came to the forefront in the wake of Sven Nys’s disastrous 2014–15 season. Nys long dominated the sport, but by November of that season had fallen apart in the wake of a divorce and excessive training.

Van Aert, then the under-23 world champion, and van der Poel, also a U23 rider, both dipped their toes in the waters — or mud, maybe — of elite racing that year. In spite of being just 19 at the time, the pair emerged as the top riders in the sport more or less simultaneously. By the end of the season both young men had foregone their eligibility for developmental races, and instead battled to a dramatic finish in the elite 2015 world championship race in Tabor, Czech Republic.

“I think he is my biggest opponent, especially because he knows my strategy in races, and I know his strategy.”
– Wout Van Aert

It was van der Poel who earned the first set of rainbow stripes as a professional. Van Aert followed a year later, in Zolder, Belgium. But the battle fans expected fizzled toward the halfway point of the race when van der Poel and Van Aert became entangled on a tricky off-camber corner. Van der Poel lost close to 30 seconds and did not recover. Van Aert, miraculously, regained the front of the race.

Van der Poel says now he doesn’t know if he could have won a second world title that day, or even if he could have delivered a real duel. Things would have been different without the bobble, but he is looking forward, not back, he says. He knows there will be many more duels with Van Aert. But everybody is an important rival, he adds.

“Everybody we have at the starting line, we need every rider there. Not everybody can win the race or be in the top 10, but we need them all. If you’re just starting with 10 riders, it’s not spectacular.”

He names Sweeck and Vanthourenhout as important — and dangerous — rising stars. And he says he shares a connection with Belgian rider Klaas Vantornout, who he considers a friend. “We both have a passion for sports cars,” van der Poel says. “That gives us something to talk about.” Vantornout, a two-time Belgian champion, known for reserve away from the bike and his ferocity on it, was one of van der Poel’s biggest supporters during his injury last season.

Of course he shares the strongest bond with his older brother, David. “We do everything together,” he says. “Most of the time we go out with just two and do all our trainings together. We are in the same team. It’s something that creates a bond.”

There is less sibling rivalry than a healthy sense of competition. And although Mathieu seems to have pulled away in competition, he says his brother can still make him suffer on the bike. “It’s not really a rivalry,” he says. “But in training we can hurt each other and bring each other to a higher level.”

Van der Poel won the Middelkerke Superprestige after a disappointing world championships race in 2016. Photo: Tim De Waele | TDWsport.com
Van der Poel won the Middelkerke Superprestige after a disappointing world championships race in 2016. Photo: Tim De Waele | TDWsport.com

Meanwhile, Mathieu van der Poel has been focused on carving out his own identity. He is not just the son of a racing legend, but the grandson as well of Raymond Poulidor, an eight-time Tour de France podium finisher and one-time Vuelta a España winner.

“[My dad] helped me a lot in the beginning especially,” says van der Poel. “Now I’m sort of going my own way and making my own decisions. But in the beginning when you don’t know a lot about the sport, it’s helpful that he could give advice.”

He jokes now, about how much advice his dad gives him and how much of it he ignores. He laughs about the universality of parents who continue to act like parents long after their children consider themselves grown. “I think that’s the same in every family,” he says.

Maybe, but not every family has fatherly advice that flows from one world champion to another. For a kid who has seemed destined for cyclocross greatness his entire life, van der Poel seems remarkably normal, grounded. He talks about racing with maturity and poise — says he always races to win, because that’s what the fans expect.

It’s never been a better time to be a cyclocross fan. And you can thank Mathieu van der Poel for that. And, in Gieten he’ll remind you why that is.

He talks about his fellow riders, thoughtfully. Says he thinks the American World Cups are good for the sport, but hard on the teams who foot the travel bill, and he would prefer to invest in attracting a more international field to races in Belgium. Genuinely, he seems to care about the sport and recognizes his responsibility, as a former world champion, to be an advocate and ambassador for it.

At 21 he really is still just a kid, but, entering his third year as an elite, he is poised and professional, a veteran.

When Nys announced his impending retirement a few years ago, there were murmurs of worry. Nys is a singular figure, the most prominent and successful racer in the sport’s history. At the height of his career, his presence alone could determine the financial success (or not) of a race.

Now Nys is gone, busy with a new career as leader of the Telenet – Fidea squad, but the sport has never looked better. In Van Aert Belgium has a champion and likely successor to Nys. In van der Poel, the Dutch have a perfect counterpoint, their own champion, a skillful and crafty rider, to help restore balance to one of the great international rivalries in cyclocross. Still young, the pair could dominate for another 15 years, even if they can’t match the longevity of Nys’s incomparable career.

It’s never been a better time to be a cyclocross fan. And you can thank Mathieu van der Poel for that. And, in Gieten he’ll remind you why that is.

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Jingle Cross Photo Essay: Field of dreams http://www.velonews.com/2016/09/feature/jingle-cross-photo-essay_421476 Mon, 26 Sep 2016 16:58:25 +0000 http://www.velonews.com/?p=421476 Jingle Cross transforms a little hill in Iowa into cyclocross's version of the "Field of Dreams" with the second World Cup of the season.

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You think about sports and Iowa and, after Hawkeye football, it’s hard not to think about “Field of Dreams” and its mystical baseball field out in the corn. You wonder if maybe Dr. John Meehan, who started Jingle Cross about a decade ago, heard that same enigmatic whisper — “If you build it, he will come” — when he decided to build a world-class cyclocross course out in the cornfields south of Iowa City.

Maybe not, but somehow he and his race captured some of that same magic. Because Jingle Cross, second stop in the Telenet UCI Cyclocross World Cup, really was magical. According to the race organization, perhaps as many as 10,000 people came, and they poured out sound and support and won a lot of hearts in the process.

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Two things to know about Jingle Cross: First, it moved from a long-held place in the winter ‘cross calendar to September to accommodate the World Cup, but still offered cyclocross fans a taste of Christmas on a scorching hot day. Second, the race has always been about kids, from the everybody-wins kids races early in the day to the money it raises for the University of Iowa Children’s Hospital. Many young fans sported a look commonly seen in the fields of Flanders in Belgium, but perhaps not so often in the fields of the American midwest.

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The course was a sprawling, labyrinthine tangle that snaked around the barns of the Johnson County Fairgrounds before climbing the steep slopes of “Mount Krumpit” and plunging back down a descent that might as well have been the steep and technical Koppenberg. After heavy rains on Thursday night, the course was a muddy mess, despite temperatures close to 90 degrees on Saturday.

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In the rider parking area, it was like any other World Cup. Generators and power washers hummed, riders of the Telenet – Fidea Lions sorted tire choices, and American Courtenay McFadden got some help pinning up one last number ahead of the women’s race.

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The early lead in the women’s race went to Dutchwoman and World Cup leader Sophie de Boer, who got special dispensation to race in her trade kit instead of the series leader’s jersey thanks to the fact that UCI only had clothing suited to colder temperatures. De Boer could not sustain her early tempo and eventually faded to seventh place.

“I never raced in this heat, even in the summer. It was really warm,” she said later. “My heart rate was stuck at 80 percent, and I couldn’t go harder. I don’t know. I only was thinking, ‘I want to stop’ because it was so hot. The running parts there was no wind, it was insane. It was so warm. I don’t know how the other girls in the front can handle this.”

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As the early leaders faded, the race became a battle between U.S.-based riders: Czech Katerina Nash, American champion Katie Compton, French champion Caroline Mani, and others, with Kaitlin Antonneau chasing into the group from behind.

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Compton blew the race open with a series of attacks near midpoint of the 37-minute race. Only Nash could stay with her, and the two appeared to be headed for a classic duel before Nash suffered a mechanical.

The short running time sparked some minor controversy, and UCI officials acknowledged an error, saying they expected the race to slow as riders tired, but instead it sped up as the course continued to dry out. Few of the women in the race complained about the length though.

“It was hard. I definitely struggled,” said Compton. “I’m kind of glad they ran us a little short. Initially I came through with one lap to go and thought, ‘We’re running short!’ But then halfway through the lap, I decided it was OK. It’s just so hot, and when you’re not drinking — we’re all out there suffering the same, but I struggle a little bit towards the end of races that are warm.”

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For Belgian and European champion Sanne Cant, it was a second ugly day after a ninth-place finish in Vegas on Wednesday. Cant is a back-to-back World Cup series winner but appeared to struggle in the heat and finished 13th. She is now in 10th place and more than 60 points off the series lead.

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For Compton, meanwhile, the tables were turned. After a frustrating 2015–16 season, a World Cup victory looked like an enormous relief. If she was suffering in the final meters, she didn’t show it.

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Meanwhile, others clearly had suffered. Antonneau, who finished third behind Compton and Mani, collapsed on the ground in a tiny patch of shade just across the finish line. De Boer, meanwhile, sought cool in a bottle of water.

“My first lap wasn’t as good as some of the other people,” said Antonneau. “I think I was out of the top 10, 13th or something. But then towards the end of the last lap, I got into my rhythm and got going. These are the type of courses I excel at and like to do, so I’m happy to be able to finish on the podium here in the U.S. in front of my friends and family.”

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American Ellen Noble, who leads the World Cup’s under-23 category, earned a stunning fifth-place result, well ahead of a host of more experienced and accomplished women. If there had been any doubt about the present — or future — of American women’s cyclocross before this weekend, the first-, third-, and fifth-place finishes, won by a long-established veteran, a rising star coming into her own, and a comparative newcomer, respectively, dispelled them.

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Meanwhile, fans went crazy for an all-Colorado Springs podium. Compton, Mani, and Antonneau live within a few miles of each other at the foot of the Rocky Mountains.

“It just cool,” said Antonneau. “Everyone was yelling and you could hear everyone saying your name, and it was so fun to be up there with Caroline and Katie. We all live in Colorado Springs, and they’re my friends. It was cool.”

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By the time the men blasted off the line about 30 minutes later, the sun may have been a little less intense, but the race was still swamped by the heavy, mostly windless weather. It was still hot, and the hazy early evening sunshine dappled the fields almost gauzily. The calendar may have said autumn, but the air said early August.

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Fans had thronged the hillside of Mount Krumpit, while others crowded into the barns of the fairground at its foot. A wave of sound followed the riders as they plunged down its slopes. It was classic American cyclocross. They don’t cheer like that in Belgium.

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The climb took a toll on riders like Marcel Meisen, who grabbed his bike and pushed, propelled by an enthusiastic crowd that mobbed the sides of the course. The descent might have offered a bit of relief from the heat, but the nasty off-camber turns demanded perfect concentration from riders like Thijs van Amerongen.

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Belgian Michael Vanthourenhout, who days ago looked like he might be headed for the win in Las Vegas before Wout Van Aert overhauled him in a dramatic final charge to the finish line, gave it another go. Vanthourenhout led, significantly, at mid-race. But the attack came too early; this was a race to be won with the slow burn.

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It was a long, lonely day for American national champion Jeremy Powers. Powers, normally all but unbeatable in domestic races, has struggled since a hard fall in Wisconsin the weekend prior. In spite of overwhelming support from a partisan home crowd, Powers could only manage 43rd place, two laps down.

Meanwhile, Laurens Sweeck, third in Vegas, was next to take a shot. But by the time he reached the front of the race though, Van Aert, who had been hampered early in the race by a jammed derailleur and was racing with a broken toe, was moving forward as well.

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“In the beginning I had a piece of wood in my derailleur, so it was a small problem, but I knew 20 seconds on this course is not the same as 20 seconds on a fast course,” said Van Aert later. “So there was no panic at that moment. Today I just focused on my own race and not what the others were doing. I tried to get back in my own rhythm, and it worked out.”

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Americans like Anthony Clark wrestled with a course more difficult than anything they typically encounter outside Europe. It was full of viciously off-camber turns, deep ruts, and rapid transitions between surfaces. It was enough to keep even the best riders off balance. Still, the unforgiving course was offset by the enthusiasm of the fans of all ages who poured into Iowa from around the country for the race. Screaming, ringing cowbells, they all but propelled riders around the track.

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And it was spectacular. The course offered dramatic views and generous sight lines, and was packed with features that gave it its own offbeat character. Like Belgian classics such as nighttime urban assault-style Diegem race or Zonhoven’s otherworldly moors and epic sand pit, Jingle Cross carved out its own identity with barns and corrals and barbecue smoke.

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By the final laps, it was clear Wout Van Aert had control of the race, easily distancing Laurens Sweeck and Kevin Pauwels, who himself overtook Sweeck late in the race. Racing with a broken toe — and a only couple of acetaminophen and ibuprofen pills to dull the discomfort — did little to slow the world champion down.

“There was pain, of course,” said Van Aert. “More in the beginning because, when we got in the field on the first running sections I felt it. But when the legs were suffering more in the second part of the race I forgot the pain. Only on the barriers I had some pain. So it was not the biggest suffering of the day.”

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It was all a gift to American cyclocross fans: seeing so many national champions so close up, enjoying a hard-fought race on a late, lingering summer afternoon.

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It was a gift to the riders as well. Sweeck, on the line, applauded the fans, pointing to them, thanking them for the support. It was something totally unique, he said later.

“The people here are really — they are also [cheering] for the second or the third or the 10th guy. It is different than in Belgium,” he said.

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In the end there were high fives for fans, handshakes for teammates and rivals, and more bottles of cold water.

“It was amazing! It’s incredible!” said Stephen Hyde later, top American in 10th place. “I had never — the only time I’ve ever heard anything like this was, not to compare myself to him, Sven in Europe. Sven goes through and everybody erupts. It’s the first time in my life it’s ever happened. It’s unreal. I couldn’t have imagined it. It gave me so much motivation.

“I think every single person cheered for me. It gave me an extra set of legs. It was unreal. I loved it.”

He wasn’t alone, there was plenty of love to go around. People came, lining the slopes of Mount Krumpit, which loomed over the cornfields of eastern Iowa like the Koppenberg looms, grassy and green, over the Flemish Ardennes.

Most of the time, hills like the Koppenberg are silent, lazy with the grazing cows and puffy summer clouds, sleepy and softened in the autumn rain. But you go there and you feel it: History has been written there, magic has happened there, and happened more than once.

So too with the ball field out in the corn. The movie magic that brought Shoeless Joe back to life became something deep and abiding.

Mount Krumpit has it too, for cyclocrossers, anyway. Long after the crowds depart and the muddy scars become faint tire tracks in the tall grass, cyclists go out to the Johnson County Fairgrounds and just feel it: Something special happened here.

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Cross Vegas Photo Essay: Europeans dominate desert http://www.velonews.com/2016/09/news/cross-vegas-photo-essay-european-dominance-in-nevada-desert_421305 Thu, 22 Sep 2016 21:49:10 +0000 http://www.velonews.com/?p=421305 Cross Vegas returned for its 10th year — and the debut of the 2016–17 of the Telenet UCI World Cup — on Wednesday night in Las

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Cross Vegas returned for its 10th year — and the debut of the 2016–17 of the Telenet UCI World Cup — on Wednesday night in Las Vegas. The race has grown into one of the most successful and difficult in America, but it is also a party, a boisterous celebration of cyclocross.

The “Wheelers and Dealers” race, for bike industry insiders in town for the massive Interbike trade show, is a Cross Vegas classic. Pure spectacle, a little goofy, and all about fun. Costumes have always featured prominently.

Photo: Dan Seaton | VeloNews.com

Photo: Dan Seaton | VeloNews.com

Cross Vegas genuinely seems to have captured the spirit of the classic Belgian races that are the beating heart of cyclocross, then injected them with American spirit and some local color. Among the things you are not so likely to see on the cobbled slopes of the Koppenberg or the sand pit in Zonhoven are fish tacos or a former Belgian champion like Joyce Vanderbeken sitting among the fans and taking in an early race.

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Cross Vegas has taken a cue from Belgian races like the Superprestige race in Ronse, building an arena-like atmosphere where fans can sit on the hillside overlooking the course and see nearly the entire race. The enthusiastic hillside crowd only adds to the spectacle. Premium seating goes to the early arrivals.

Photo: Dan Seaton | VeloNews.com

Sven Nys, a two-time Cross Vegas winner, returned to the race in a new role. Retired after the 2015–16 season, Nys now leads the Telenet – Fidea Lions as a sport director. Nys, who won a world championship in the U.S. in 2013, is now an outspoken proponent of the expansion of big-time cyclocross to North America. The legendary Belgian rider was in high demand in Vegas.

Photo: Dan Seaton | VeloNews.com

Italian champion Eva Lechner finished second in the inaugural Vegas World Cup in 2015. Her fluorescent glasses were hard to miss under the lights at Desert Breeze Park. Her rather anonymous 16th place finish, unfortunately, was not.

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Belgian Ellen Van Loy was the first to hit the sand in a women’s race that ripped off the line and screamed around the thick grass course, strung out single-file. But Van Loy faded as the race developed and eventually finished 17th.

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Meanwhile the race developed into a four-way battle between American Katie Compton, Dutchwoman Sophie de Boer, and two Luna Chix teammates, the American-based Czech Katerina Nash and Canadian Catharine Pendrel. The quartet traded attacks until Pendrel cracked, then they raced to the finish in a three-way battle.

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It was a night of mixed performances for stalwarts of the American ’cross scene. Elle Anderson, preparing to return to Europe after recovering from a trying year there during the 2013–14 season, was isolated for much of the race and finished 18th. Colorado-based French champion Caroline Mani, the 2016 worlds silver medalist, couldn’t quite match the leaders, but still finished fifth.

Photo: Dan Seaton | VeloNews.com

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Finally it was de Boer who emerged victorious, gapped on the last lap before charging back into the race and taking the sprint from Compton and Nash. De Boer picked up right where she left off: She won the final World Cup last season and kicked off the year’s campaign with another victory.

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“I’m not sure, I mean, if [Katie and Katerina] could have done better, I’m sure they would have,” said de Boer. “In the last lap Katerina attacked, and I also tried to attack, but I couldn’t drop them. So they dropped me. And the only thing I thought was that I had to get back. And if I could get back to those two, I have to be the first on the stairs. I don’t know, maybe they were both a little bit tired from battling each other and I could take advantage of it. But I thought I had to be the first one on the stairs and I did. I sprinted, and, yeah!

“I didn’t really expect this today. It’s my first race and it’s very special and wonderful to start the season like this.”

It was a well-earned victory and there was little doubt that the top-three women had left everything on the course. Nash crumpled to the grass, exhausted, just across the finish.

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Meanwhile, there was plenty for women who didn’t quite reach the podium as well. The Amy D Foundation rider Rebecca Fahringer finished sixth, earning a big embrace from Dan Dombroski, who runs the foundation. Cross Vegas was a special race for the late Amy Dombroski, who twice finished second in the race.

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“I’ve seen the race develop and it’s really amazing,” said Renaat Schotte, one of Belgium’s best known TV commentators, who knows a think or two about big cyclocross races. “It’s more than World Cup level. It’s world championship level. If you look at the way the course is built now, after the total makeover, the women’s race was really perfect propaganda for the sport. To have the decision on the final stretch — we had to wait for the finish line — and the tactical play was really nice.

“I think it has characteristics from certain French races, they also take the slopes up and down. But I’d say the course here has more fantasy than those forgotten French World Cups. This one is more vivid. It’s spicy. I love the sand dune — it’s a sand dune because it’s uphill, they have to run it.”

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The women’s race was a celebration of the sport, arguably one of the best battles the World Cup has seen in some time. Behind de Boer, Nash finished second and Compton third. It was the return, in some respects, of two legends: Compton back on form after a trying season last year, Nash back on the ’cross bike after a fine Olympic performance that kept her away from this sport for much of last season.

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Meanwhile, the men were lining up. It was a big race for American Jeremy Powers, who finished sixth at Cross Vegas last year, one of the best-ever World Cup performances by an American man. And, of course, it was a big race for world champion Wout Van Aert, seeking to extend his CrossVegas win streak begun last season.

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American Stephen Hyde was the first man to reach the sand, leading a furious chase through the churning dust. The clouds billowed under the bright lights, and the fans who crowded the hillside overlooking the race were treated to a second duel. The race ignited when Wout Van Aert bobbled on the stairs and fell.

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“I was for one moment not concentrated as I should have been, and I hit the first step with my feet,” explained Van Aert later. “And then I fell on my wrist. It was a quite stupid crash and actually painful also. But afterwards I made it very quick back into the front of the race.” (Van Aert later went to the hospital and was diagnosed with a broken toe.)

With Van Aert distanced, Michael Vanthourenhout attacked, sprinting to a quick 15-second gap over Laurens Sweeck and the rest of the chase.

“It was not a plan, but Wout made a mistake, and I went. But with six laps left, it was a little bit too early,” he said. “[After that] it was more tactical. I was always in second or third place, and Wout did a very good effort just as I made a little mistake, and he was away.”

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The huge surge at the front blew the peloton apart. Dutch rider David van der Poel was one of the victims, fading precipitously to 48th place, pulled from the race with two laps to go.

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His younger brother, former world champion Mathieu van der Poel, was one of several conspicuous absences on the start list along with countryman Lars van der Haar. Both riders skipped the trip to the U.S. to rehab injuries. Their absence did not dampen the enthusiasm of the fans, nor did it appear to diminish the vigorous competition.

Meanwhile, European racers were treated to some of the more esoteric traditions of American cyclocross, dollar and beer hand-ups among them. More accustomed to seeing fans tossing beers than waving dollar bills from the sidelines, maybe some were flummoxed. At least one hand-up apparently went badly wrong, leaving a handful of bills strewn on the course as racers flew past

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It was Van Aert, of course, who surged away in the final laps, riding to what has become a classic Van Aert solo victory, while countrymen Laurens Sweeck and Vanthourenhout battled behind. The sprint for second may have done more damage than Van Aert’s attack. It belonged to Vanthourenhout, who promptly collapsed on the ground, smiling, apparently satisfied with his night’s effort.

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There was something to celebrate for others as well. Quinten Hermans, still officially an under-23 rider, earned an impressive sixth place and celebrated afterwards with his former team director, Hans Van Kasteren, who sold the Telenet – Fidea team to Sven Nys last winter but made the trip to Cross Vegas anyway.

“It was a good race. It was really fast. I liked it,” said Hermans afterward. “It was just really hard with Wout and Laurens and Michael. There were three really strong riders on the podium. It felt like they were controlling the race and it was really hard to pedal in front. It was really hard to be in front of the group, and I was just trying to keep following.”

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And, in the end, there was plenty of celebration to go around. Two new Cross Vegas victors, and a successful 10th anniversary celebration for a race that director Brook Watts has built from a curiosity into the biggest and, arguably, most important race in America. Back in the spotlight, American cyclocross shone brightly.

The celebration was short. Riders, teams, and supporters would make an early start on Thursday morning, hurrying to Iowa City and the second American World Cup. The calendar says September, but here comes Jingle Cross.

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Star ‘crossed: International cyclocross preview http://www.velonews.com/2016/09/news/star-crossed-international-cyclocross-preview_420914 Tue, 20 Sep 2016 12:44:08 +0000 http://www.velonews.com/?p=420914 Wout Van Aert and Mathieu van der Poel battle on the course, while retirees Sven Nys, Bart Wellens, and Niels Albert resume their rivalry.

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Cyclocross fans have long speculated what the sport would look like after Sven Nys retired. This year, we’ll find out.

Nys, arguably the sport’s biggest-ever star, has 292 professional wins and rode his final race at the beginning of 2016. His popularity and advocacy for the sport made him its center of gravity, even as his dominance began to fade. Without him, where would the sport go? Would Belgian fans still turn out by the thousands to watch a Nys-less race?

Have no doubt. There are plenty of storylines to follow on cyclocross’s international circuit this year. There’s the emerging rivalry between Belgium’s reigning world champion Wout Van Aert and last year’s world champ Mathieu van der Poel of the Netherlands. There’s the complete dominance on the women’s side by Belgian Sanne Cant. There’s also Nys’s return to the fold as a team manager. Get ready.

“I want to honor the rainbow jersey as much as possible by winning a few classics and scoring in the championships. But I also hope I can give the fans some really nice duels with Mathieu van der Poel.”
– Wout Van Aert

The biggest change to the season calendar, of course, was the addition of a second World Cup stop in the U.S., in Iowa City, just a few days after CrossVegas, which again served as the World Cup’s kickoff.

Back in Belgium, the sport is still growing too. A new entry on the calendar, the Brico Cross Geraardsbergen debuted on the legendary Muur van Geraardsbergen in early September. Races come and go all the time in Belgium, but few seem so poised to become instant classics.

One more new stop on the calendar — arguably the most important of all — will be Bieles, Luxembourg, which will make its cyclocross debut with the world championships at the end of January. It’s a venue that bears considerable similarities to previous championship courses in Hoogerheide, Netherlands, and Sankt Wendel, Germany.

It’ll be a long ride from the season’s first big races in Las Vegas and Iowa City to its climax in Luxembourg. With so much intrigue before the season even kicks off, it’s hard to imagine it will be anything but exciting.

LAST SEASON, EUROPEAN CYCLOCROSS started — and ended — with one name: Wout Van Aert. Van Aert won 14 out of his first 20 races and he didn’t finish worse than second until after Christmas. He finished the season by winning both the Belgian and world championships.

In late August, Van Aert told Belgian outlet Veldritkrant he hoped for more of the same next season.

“Actually, I have a dual objective,” he says. “On the one hand, I want to honor the rainbow jersey as much as possible by winning a few classics and scoring in the championships. But I also hope I can give the fans some really nice duels with Mathieu van der Poel.”

Photo: Tim De Waele | TDWsport.com (File).
Photo: Tim De Waele | TDWsport.com (File).

Questions still loom over van der Poel, who has struggled with the same knee problems that ruined much of the fall of 2015 for him. He had another surgery at the end of July and announced in late August he will miss the early-season World Cup races in the United States. He hopes to make his return in time for the Superprestige kickoff in Gieten, at home in the Netherlands, on the first weekend in October.

“Not riding in Vegas or Iowa wasn’t really a hard decision, it was just the right decision,” Van der Poel says. “I’ll give myself a few weeks to train, and I won’t suffer from the long flight and jetlag.”

Van Aert, for his part, says he wishes his biggest rival a speedy recovery. “I hope from the bottom of my heart the knee problems don’t become a recurring story,” he says. “Cyclocross needs Mathieu van der Poel. The fans are looking forward to big duels. And, to be honest, I need him too.”

Van Aert may have to wait for van der Poel, but there are other emerging rivals. Young Belgian Laurens Sweeck is growing “slowly but steadily,” according to Van Aert. Former Dutch champion and 2015 worlds runner-up Lars van der Haar is always a threat. The Dutchman stole three wins from Van Aert last season, and has long been on the cusp of a dominant season, but has never delivered. Perhaps that year is now, as he’ll race this season under the tutelage of Sven Nys (more on that in a moment).

The veterans will want their say as well. Belgian Kevin Pauwels has a slew of big race wins and medals from both Belgian and world championships, but has never fully delivered as an elite. He won just three races last season. Pauwels’s Marlux – Napoleon Games teammate Klass Vantornout, a two-time Belgian champion and multiple worlds medalist, battled illness and injury all last season and landed on the podium only once. Countryman Tom Meeusen managed four wins but only one in a major series race. Both will look to be bigger factors this year. Meanwhile, 18-year-old Belgian Eli Iserbyt, the reigning under-23 world champion, will line up against the elites in several races for the first time this season as he looks to establish himself in the sport’s highest ranks.

Photo: Tim De Waele | TDWsport.com (File).
Photo: Tim De Waele | TDWsport.com (File).

ON THE WOMEN’S SIDE, the story will be about old stars and new challengers trying to figure out Belgian Sanne Cant, who won 20 races and all three of the major series last season. The 25-year-old is also the seven-time defending national champion. With her dominance, she has attracted a new audience to the women’s side of the sport, which has long been marginalized, particularly in her home country.

A few years ago, UCI rules forced promoters to move women’s races to more favorable timeslots, but Belgian crowds often viewed these races as a chance to visit the course-side concessions. Likewise, Sporza, the Belgian sports network that was regularly drawing millions of TV viewers to some ’cross races, carried only brief summary rebroadcasts of women’s races. That has quickly improved, and today more and more fans are lining up to cheer the women course-side. Sporza has begun broadcasting complete women’s races just ahead of the men. The network reported nearly 600,000 viewers for the women’s race in Overijse last December, more than 50 percent of all Flemish viewers at the time.

Cant might not deserve all the credit — women’s cycling has a growing number of advocates in Belgium, including race promoters and UCI rider representatives like pro rider Helen Wyman — but her success has helped elevate the profile of women in cyclocross.

On the women’s side, the story will be about old stars and new challengers trying to figure out Belgian Sanne Cant, who won 20 races and all three of the major series last season.

Behind Cant, things become much less clear. Seven-time world champion Marianne Vos missed all of last season due to a series of nagging injuries, including a serious mountain bike crash in April 2015 that left her with fractured ribs. It ultimately led to a long struggle with overtraining syndrome. She had a solid road campaign this summer, and will continue on the road through the world championships in Doha in October.

“After having missed last season, I surely want to come back to competition, but I will only decide after my road season what I will do,” Vos says. “For sure I will take some rest first and start with a proper build-up, so it won’t be a full season.”

France’s Pauline Ferrand-Prévot, the 2015 world champion, also missed last season while recovering from a knee fracture. It’s possible she could miss this year as well. In a recent Facebook post she chronicled a season of setbacks, injuries, and frustrations in pursuit of an Olympic dream, which ultimately concluded with an abandonment in the Olympic mountain bike race. She did not know when she would return to the bike.

With Vos and Ferrand-Prévot out, Cant may leave everyone else fighting for scraps. But for all her success, she’s never won a world championship. Last year, in truly miserable conditions in Zolder, Belgium, she could match neither the power nor the finesse of Dutchwoman Thalita de Jong. She eventually faded to a bitterly disappointing third place.

De Jong, meanwhile, who will not turn 23 until November, was a surprise winner in Zolder, though rivals probably should have taken notice after her upset win at the Dutch national championship and a second-place finish at the World Cup finale in Hoogerheide, Netherlands. De Jong posted solid results on the road this summer and has said she intends to focus much more on cyclocross this season. Also in the mix will be Jolien Verschueren. Balancing a career as a schoolteacher with her racing, the diminutive Belgian broke through to the top ranks of the sport last season with wins on the challenging Koppenberg, in Overijse, and Mol, alongside impressive podium finishes and wins in a number of smaller races. Her Telenet – Fidea teammate Ellen Van Loy posted a handful of wins out of more than a dozen podium finishes — including two at World Cup races — and will likely be a factor as well.

Other wildcards include Britons Helen Wyman, a former European champion and worlds medalist, and Nikki Harris, coming off a road season that included a ride in the Olympic road race in support of Lizzie Armitstead. Their countrywoman, under-23 world champion Evie Richards, has been primarily focused on the mountain bike but could shake things up in the women’s field as well.

Photo: Tim De Waele | TDWsport.com (File).
Photo: Tim De Waele | TDWsport.com (File).

LAST SEASON WASN’T just the end of the Nys era. Hans Van Kasteren, founder and director of the powerhouse Belgian Telenet – Fidea team, also retired and put the team up for sale.

Van Kasteren’s may not be a household name, even among dedicated ’cross fans, but it’s impossible to overstate his influence on the sport. Telenet has been unmatched in scouting and developing cyclocross talent: The team was built around two-time world champion Bart Wellens in 2000, and three-time champion Erwin Vervecken joined in 2002. Three-time world champion Zdenek Stybar, reigning elite and under-23 world champions Van Aert and Iserbyt, and Pauwels and Vantornout are all among riders who spent time on its roster. Telenet was also the first major Belgian team to field a full women’s roster. Harris, Van Loy, Sophie de Boer, and the late Amy Dombroski all spent time in Telenet colors as well.

When Van Kasteren retired, there was a flurry of interest in the team. Then Nys announced in December he had purchased it and would take over as sport director in 2016.

Meanwhile, Wellens, one of Nys’s biggest rivals, made his own retirement official in a ceremony at the Ruddervoorde Superprestige stop last season. After a year of puttering and making occasional appearances in old-timers races, Wellens was tapped to lead the new Steylaerts Cycloteam, launched by Christoph and Philip Roodhooft, brothers who are also responsible for two other squads: the Beobank – Corendon team of van der Poel and Cant and the ERA – Murprotec team of Sweeck.

Wellens and Nys, now as team managers, will be reunited in rivalry with two-time world champion Niels Albert, who has managed the Crelan-Vastgoedservice team of Van Aert for the past two years. As a racer, Albert was one of Nys’s most tenacious rivals, and he has since become a savvy manager. Albert is widely credited with Van Aert’s development into an elite world champion and undisputed king of cyclocross last season.

Nys and Wellens, meanwhile, find themselves as rookies in their respective managerial roles after a combined three decades of success as racers. Whether the pair can nurture the talent in their charge to match Albert’s hugely successful protégé is likely to be a central storyline on Belgian sports pages all season long.

Nys wasted little time in signing a new headliner for Telenet, announcing this spring he would bring van der Haar from Giant – Alpecin to the squad in January 2017.

“I had a beautiful period with Giant – Alpecin and I’m grateful for the opportunities they gave me, but as the only cyclocrosser on a great road team, that hasn’t always been obvious,” Van der Haar told Het Nieuwsblad in May. “Now I choose a team where cyclocross comes first. That is a serious advance, and I think I can continue to grow here.”

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UCI may seek lifetime suspension in motor cheating case http://www.velonews.com/2016/03/news/uci-reportedly-seeking-lifetime-suspension-in-motorized-doping-case_397708 Mon, 07 Mar 2016 18:18:45 +0000 http://www.velonews.com/?p=397708 U23 cyclocross racer Femke Van den Driessche may face a lifetime ban and a hefty fine of 50,000 euro.

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According to a report in the Belgian newspaper Het Nieuwsblad, the International Cycling Union is seeking a lifetime ban for Belgian cyclocross racer Femke Van den Driessche, who is accused of starting the under-23 women’s world championship race with a hidden motor in one of her pit bikes. UCI is reportedly also seeking to fine Van den Driessche approximately 50,000 euros.

UCI has responded to rumors of so-called “motorized doping” with labor-intensive manual bike checks at select races in the past, but used newly developed technology to check for suspicious bikes at the cyclocross world championships in Zolder, Belgium, last month. Although the UCI has not revealed how the test was conducted, there has been speculation that its equipment can detect the magnetic field of a hidden motor.

According to the Nieuwsblad report, Van den Driessche and her family say they are ready and willing to accept responsibility for the bike’s presence at the race, but that a lifetime ban was too steep a price. “We want a fair chance, not a show trial,” said her lawyer Kristof De Saedeleer according to the report.

“We expected that the sanction would be more than the minimum requirement of a six-month suspension,” said De Saedeleer. “But this is very extreme. Knowing that for EPO you can get a maximum suspension of four years, this is a very serious demand, especially for a first offense.”

UCI officials, on the other hand, seem eager to stamp out motorized cheating as quickly as possible, and might make an example of Van den Driessche. Battered by years of doping scandals, there is little doubt that many in both national federations and the UCI would like to demonstrate that they consider this to be a serious matter and are willing to take whatever steps are necessary to ensure fairness in the sport.

“It’s clear that this technology, the testing, is working,” said UCI president Brian Cookson in a press conference about the case last month. “We are catching people. Yes, it gives out a very strong message. There were many people who laughed at the idea that people might be using electric motors in bike races. Now we see that there is a possibility, and that people may well have been doing it. I think it’s a major step forward in our efforts to protect the integrity of our sport. And the clear message is, ‘Whoever you are, whatever level you’re competing at, if you’re going to cheat in this way we now have the means to catch you, and you will be sanctioned.’”

According to Nieuwsblad, a hearing in the case is scheduled for next week at the UCI’s headquarters in Aigle, Switzerland.

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Photo Essay: 2016 UCI cyclocross world championships http://www.velonews.com/2016/02/news/cyclocross/394428_394428 Mon, 01 Feb 2016 17:13:17 +0000 http://www.velonews.com/?p=394428 The grand finale of the cyclocross season, world championships, in Zolder, Belgium, had controversy, drama, and plenty of muddy action.

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Powers’ disappointed with Worlds result http://www.velonews.com/2016/01/news/powers-disappointments-continue-at-worlds_394305 Sun, 31 Jan 2016 22:21:02 +0000 http://www.velonews.com/?p=394305 Jeremy Powers was not pleased with his result in Zolder

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ZOLDER, Belgium (VN) — Jeremy Powers came in to the world championships with high expectations after a successful season capped off by his third-straight U.S. national cyclocross championship. Powers enjoyed a front-row starting position on Sunday, and the course at Zolder seemed fit for Powers’ strengths.

Powers’ result — he finished 34th, 11:21 down — did not match his expectations. Powers ran into trouble immediately, and although he bounced back, he was never able to regain the front of the race.

“I slipped my pedal at the start, and I was immediately first to third row. That was not ideal by any stretch,” he told VeloNews after the race. “Then I settled in, but it just turned out not to be my best day. I don’t know. I’m not pumped about it, I definitely wanted more from myself.”

The trouble didn’t stop there. Later in the first lap, Powers tangled with his American teammate Travis Livermon, losing even more time.

“That was unfortunately Travis Livermon, who I apologized to during that moment,” said Powers. “I was just going wide and coming across and I ended up T-boning into him. That didn’t make it any better for any of us. It was just a bunch of us running into each other for that first lap.”

Powers bounced from group to group during the middle of the race, and at one point was riding in no-man’s land. But he struggled to  make up time on the leaders, and eventually settled into the mid-30’s.

The sandy course in Zolder usually drains well, but the torrential rain that fell on Saturday left the course a muddy mess on Sunday. Powers said that the unusually sloppy conditions didn’t help his bid to gain places.

“It was definitely hard,” he said. “The course was changing, but the ruts were super deep for our race. A lot of these steep bits hurt me, even more than at the World Cup last time, just that extra climb. Doing that eight times was hard on me. My back, specifically, was killing me today.”

By all accounts, Powers has had an impressive season, including a sixth place at the World Cup race at CrossVegas — one of the best ever in the elite men’s race by an American — and a fourth national title a few weeks ago.

But he told VeloNews on Sunday that he struggled to maintain his form and focus late in the season. Powers’s results on the World Cup circuit reflect his comments. Powers was 31st at last weekend’s World Cup in Hoogerheide, the Netherlands, and 23rd at the previous weekend’s World Cup in France. He finished the season ranked 26th in the series.

“When I think back to Rochester, or even before that, it’s just a long time ago,” he said. “It always is. I wouldn’t say things are bad. It’s just not a great result for me, period.”

Powers will finish his season with a race in Japan, but said after the championship race that he was ready for a break.

“I can tell when it’s time, and it’s definitely time,” he said. “It’s February.”

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Worlds fans pelt van der Haar with beer, spit http://www.velonews.com/2016/01/news/worlds-fans-pelt-van-der-haar-with-beer-spit_394292 Sun, 31 Jan 2016 17:23:09 +0000 http://www.velonews.com/?p=394292 Bad fans at Sunday's cross worlds spat, threw beer at van der Haar

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Some fans at Sunday’s UCI world championships took to throwing beer and even spitting on riders during the elite men’s race. After finishing second to Belgian Wout van Aert, Dutch rider Lars van der Haar said he weathered the abuse during his effort.

“There were some points in the course where [fans] were spitting on me, and I got a lot of beer on me,” van der Haar said. “At that moment you’re so focused on the race and you’re doing your own thing, that you’re not really paying attention to that.”

Video from the race confirmed that van Aert was splashed by beer in at least one corner of the Zolder course.

Heckling is endemic to cyclocross, but fans occasionally take things too far. In 2012 Belgian great Sven Nys abandoned his bicycle during a bp Post Bank Trophy race and chased a fan who had pelted him with a cup of beer. In 2006 Belgian rider Bart Wellens kicked a heckling spectator during a round of the World Cup. The 2014 Cross Vegas event was also marred by beer spraying.

Van der Haar gapped the field midway through the eight-lap race, and rode with a 20-second gap over his chasers. That’s when fans at the Zolder race track began booing the young Dutchman and pelting him with liquids.

Van Aert eventually caught van der Haar, setting up a dramatic finish.

At the post-race press conference, van der Haar said some fans were, “not so respectful,” while the majority of fans cheered him on. The abuse, he said, did not impact the overall outcome of the race.

“No, some guy next to me influenced that result,” van der Haar said, pointing at van Aert.

After the race, some riders and fans took to Twitter to discuss the abuse.

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Antonneau makes strides in muddy Zolder http://www.velonews.com/2016/01/news/antonneau-makes-strides-in-muddy-zolder_394266 Sun, 31 Jan 2016 01:40:09 +0000 http://www.velonews.com/?p=394266 "I’m just so happy. I couldn’t ask for better,” says Antonneau, who was the top American finisher at cyclocross worlds in Zolder,

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ZOLDER, Belgium (VN) — Saturday was a bleak day for cyclocross, and not just because of the monumentally bad weather that battered riders and fans on the former Formula One track in Zolder, Belgium. On a day of gloomy weather, gloomy crowds, and even gloomier news, American Kaitie Antonneau’s eighth-place finish was a ray of sunshine piercing the darkness.

“I’m super, super happy,” Antonneau told VeloNews after the race. “I’m proud to finish off the season on a good note. I finally got my top-10 world championship in Europe, and that’s my best place. So I’m super happy. I couldn’t have asked for more.”

Antonneau’s ride in Zolder capped a fantastic season, one during which she took the biggest strides yet in her still young career. In October, the 24 year-old earned her first World Cup podium place, finishing second behind Italian Eva Lechner, at the second race of the series in Valkenburg, Netherlands. She followed that up with a top-10 finish in Namur, Belgium, in December and a fifth-place finish in the penultimate World Cup in Lignières-en-Berry, France.

On Saturday, Antonneau battled again with Lechner and with Luxembourg champion Christine Marjerus, but she also battled a stupendously sloppy course and some of the worst weather the sport has seen during an unusually temperate season.

“Oh man, it was totally night and day from any time I’ve ever done this course,” she said. “It was still fast, but it was just muddy and it just changed the way that — you know, by the last lap my arms were tired, because when this course is dry there are parts where you can rest. But it’s technical this time, so it just made it hard the whole time. It was exhausting.”

In 2011, when Antonneau was still a protege of perennial U.S. national champion Katie Compton, Compton predicted Antonneau’s ride.

“She’s such a hard worker and a talented rider; just a really nice girl,” said Compton then. “She’s learning fast, and she’s got so much potential. She’s going to develop as a bike racer on the road, on track, on the mountain bike, and in ‘cross. I just want to see her develop as a bike racer, and 10 years from now, be an Olympian.”

But increasingly, Antonneau has been the ‘Kaitie’ to beat in American cyclocross. On Saturday she finished nearly a minute ahead of her similarly-named mentor, an achievement by any measure, much less at a foul weather world championships. The two still share a close relationship, and Compton was quick with a huge and congratulations on the finish line.

For Antonneau, though, the biggest prize remains the progress she is making. At only 24 she still has plenty of room to grow. And, if this season is any measure, she’s headed to great places.

“The French World Cup where I was fifth … If only that had happened I would have walked away super happy,” she said of her most successful season yet. “But to be on the podium at the World Cup, to have two top-fives and the finish here, I’ve grown so much this season. I’m just so happy. I couldn’t ask for better.”

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Sven Nys prepares for a final championship race http://www.velonews.com/2016/01/news/cyclocross/sven-nys-prepares-for-a-final-championship-race_394241 Sat, 30 Jan 2016 18:58:22 +0000 http://www.velonews.com/?p=394241 Two-time world champion Sven Nys talks about what to expect in his final outing at UCI cyclocross championships in Zolder, Belgium.

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ZOLDER, Belgium (VN) — Sunday’s elite men’s world championship race will be the last for Belgium’s undisputed heavyweight champion of cyclocross, Sven Nys. Though Nys has won only two world titles in his career, he is arguably the most successful rider in the history of the sport. At 39 he will retire this year and take over the Telenet-Fidea team, which he and a group of backers purchased in December.

VeloNews caught up with Nys on Friday to talk about his feelings ahead of his final championship race, his Belgian team, and how to beat race favorite Mathieu van der Poel.

VeloNews: What are your emotions ahead of the race tomorrow? It’s your final world championships.

Sven Nys: Well there are not many emotions for the moment. It feels like it’s a normal world championships for me, and maybe that’s a reason that I feel it’s OK that I’m going to retire. For the moment, I don’t feel anything different than the years before. It’s just business as usual, that’s what I feel. It’s crazy, but it’s like this.

VN: How do you feel about your preparation for the race?

SN: For me, it was really important to have two really good results the last two World Cups, in France and in Holland, and that was not what I got. So it’s, mentally, not ok to have that result two weeks before the worlds.

But maybe I was a bit tired. I had the most races during the the Christmas period, and a race before France in Zonnebeke. So maybe that’s the reason.

I trained also maybe a little bit too hard the days before Hoogerheide. And I felt that the basic condition is OK, but my explosion, my power was not there. And if you can rest three, four days after Hoogerheide, then you feel that it’s coming back a little bit. And that’s what I need to have a good result in Zolder.

So, okay, we’ll see. It would be better that I had a good result in Hoogerheide, but it’s like this, and it’s okay.

VN: What do you hope for on Sunday?

SN: I hope that I have the feeling that the power is in my legs, that I can have one hour full gas, full power, and then I can have a result like I had during the season: going for the podium, going for the top five. I think that is possible when I have my maximum capacity.

VN: Can you be satisfied when you don’t win?

SN: Definitely. I think that you see during the season that there are two guys who are stronger than us. I beat Wout in Koksijde, but it’s a completely different track. When we could race today on a track like Koksijde, then it’s different, then there could happen many more things than here in Zolder. It’s more technical, it’s more — when you have stress over there you can make so many mistakes. Here that’s completely different.

Okay, it’s going to rain, and that helps me a bit. But we’ll see. I’m ready for the race, and I’m going to do my best to have a good result.

VN: Mathieu van der Poel is the big favorite. You’re about to take over the Telenet-Fidea team and be a team manager. What would you tell your guys to do tactically to try and neutralize Mathieu?

SN: Stay as long as possible in his wheel. Don’t work. Let him do the work because he is the big favorite. And then he’s going to be nervous. And in the other way, when there is a problem with Wout in the beginning of the race and he loses a lot of places, another guy from our country needs to help him. Definitely on the road, so he can sit out of the wind and come back a few seconds, that’s going to help him. He’s going to recover a bit, and maybe he can take a place again in the first group.

So, it’s not so difficult. You need to follow Mathieu, but don’t work with him. Let him do the work. Then he’s going to be nervous and then you can do something.

VN: Do you think the Belgians can work together as a team, or do you think ego and ambition could get in the way of that?

SN: In cyclocross, it’s not so easy to work together. But if there is a problem, you can help each other. And mentally, that helps the rider who is in really good shape.

You can’t say, ‘Okay, we’re going to ride in a group, Belgians, and we’re going to create a strong group that goes to Mathieu. That’s not possible, that’s not cyclocross. But on the other hand, if there is a problem, you can help each other. And if you know that that there are guys from the same country who are going to help you, mentally that’s important.

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‘Technological fraud’ discovered at Zolder cyclocross worlds http://www.velonews.com/2016/01/news/uci_detains_bike_cyclocross_worlds_394233_394233 Sat, 30 Jan 2016 17:48:59 +0000 http://www.velonews.com/?p=394233 UCI official: “For the UCI, this is the first time we have established a technical fraud and for us that’s a downer. Most people are

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ZOLDER, Belgium (VN) — In what appears to be a first in cycling, the International Cycling Union confirmed that it had impounded the bike of Belgian rider Femke van den Driessche following the women’s under-23 championship race Saturday. Van den Driessche was a pre-race favorite, thanks to solid results in the World Cup and a stunning second-place finish at the Koppenbergcross, one of the most difficult races on the calendar, in November.

In an interview with Belgian TV network Sporza, Peter Van den Abeele, UCI’s off-road manager, said the bike was caught thanks to new technology the UCI has been developing for several years. “For the UCI, this is the first time we have established a technical fraud and for us that’s a downer. Most people are bewildered [by this].

“Was this a specific control? We’ve been doing tests for a while now at the world championships. In recent years, there’s been some hoopla, and we’ve adapted the technology. The people of the UCI’s technology commission were here in force with good equipment.”

A separate report on Sporza filled in some of the apparent details of what exactly happened.

“After one lap of the world championships, UCI took Femke’s bike in the pit area and tested it with some sort of tablet,” said Sporza journalist Maarten Vangramberen. “The bike was immediately sealed and taken. The UCI then called in the Belgian federation. When the saddle was removed, there were electrical cables in the seat tube. When they wanted to remove the bottom bracket, which is normally not difficult, they could not because the crank was stuck. Inside there was a motor.”

Van den Driessche’s day did not go according to plan. The race was battered by drenching rain and blustery winds, and she did not manage to crack the top 10, abandoning the race with one lap to go, with a broken chain. Whether there was a connection between her departure from the race and the technical control of her bike remains unclear.

The Belgian rides for the Kleur Op Maat-Nodrugs cycling team, on Wilier bikes. And it was, apparently, a Wilier that she was on when the control happened.

“I feel really terrible,” Belgian national team coach Rudy De Bie told Sporza. “This is a disgrace. I never imagined something like this would happen to our team. Why would a rider do this? Especially at such a young age. And who is responsible for her? I’m embarrassed on her behalf.”

A report in the Belgian newspaper Het Nieuwsblad, meanwhile, quoted her father as saying that the bike in question was not used in competition.

“It’s not Femke’s bike,” he reportedly said. “Someone from her team, who sometimes trains with her, brought the bike to the pit. But it was never the intention that she would ride it. … Femke has absolutely not used that bike in the race. We are strongly affected by what’s happened. Femke is totally upside-down.”

According to UCI rules, technological fraud is punishable by disqualification, a suspension at least six months, and a fine of up to 200,000 Swiss francs. A team found guilty of mechanical fraud also could face a suspension and a fine as large as one million francs.

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Van Aert happy playing the underdog at cyclocross worlds http://www.velonews.com/2016/01/news/van-aert-happy-playing-the-underdog-at-cyclocross-worlds_394185 Fri, 29 Jan 2016 20:06:29 +0000 http://www.velonews.com/?p=394185 Wout Van Aert is keeping a cool head ahead of the season's biggest race in front of the home crowd on Belgian soil this Sunday.

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ZOLDER, Belgium (VN) — Reigning world champion Mathieu van der Poel may be favored to repeat as world champion in Sunday’s elite championship race in Zolder, thanks to a strong showing in the past month of ‘cross racing. But it’s Belgian champion Wout Van Aert who has been the king of cyclocross for most of the season, and it’s Van Aert who will have the highly partisan home crowd behind him come race time.

Van Aert narrowly missed out on a chance to wear the rainbow stripes at last year’s championships in the Czech Republic, finishing second despite a host of technical problems during the race. But this year is another chance, and he seems unlikely to repeat last year’s mistakes. VeloNews caught up with the race’s top underdog in Zolder for a chat about his chances, his preparation, and his feelings about leading his country in front of the home fans in Sunday’s race.

Q: How are you feeling ahead of the race on Sunday? What’s your mentality right now?

A: For now I feel really relaxed. I have the feeling I’ve already achieved a lot of beautiful things this season. So I can already be happy with that. I think the stress will come up on Sunday morning. I’m motivated, but that’s all. I would really like to go for the world title, but I can be relaxed until Sunday.

Q: How much pressure do you feel because the race is in Belgium? The fans are going to want you to win very, very much.

A: A lot of people expect something from me, and also from all the Belgians. But I’ve learned to live with that feeling, and I think the only pressure I need to feel is the pressure I put on myself. So I think that’s important to know. For me, I learned a lot in the last year, and I think that’s why I can be relaxed at this moment. That’s really important.

Q: How do you keep from getting caught up in the excitement of the race, from going out too hard or making mistakes?

A: I learned a few tricks for that, but I think it’s really important to enjoy the crowd and not be afraid of it. That’s one important thing to keep in your mind before. I think you have to see it as something positive. There are a lot of people who will be out there on Sunday, a lot of Belgians for sure. I think they’ll support me, but they only can give me a boost.

Q: You said in some interviews last week you had specifically trained on, and for, this course. Can you talk a bit about how you prepared for the race?

A: We saw already at the World Cup right after Christmas that it’s a really explosive course. You really need to accelerate many times during the lap, and normally that’s not my best quality. I love more the long, straight parts. When we knew that after the Christmas World Cup, we worked on it in Spain and really worked on some attacks and steep parts and things like that. And I think that will work out on Sunday. I hope it.

Q: Mathieu is the top favorite. Do you think that gives you any kind of tactical advantage in the race, if people are looking at him and not at you?

A: Yeah, I hope so, but I don’t know. Mathieu is a really strong rider, and his biggest capacity is to stay cool in the head always. He is never impressed by anything. So I think he is going to do his own race. But I know his strenghts after racing with him for so many years. So I think that’s a big advantage for me, I know how to answer his attacks — or I’ll try it, at least — and then we’ll see what the second half of the race brings.

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Niels Albert: The next chapter http://www.velonews.com/2016/01/news/cyclocross/niels-albert-the-next-chapter_394140 Fri, 29 Jan 2016 19:38:15 +0000 http://www.velonews.com/?p=394140 Albert emerges as a successful coach and mentor, finding real satisfaction in his new work, despite ending his racing career early due to a

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It all ended in Oostmalle, though it wasn’t supposed to be that way.

On a riotously sunny Sunday at the end of February, 2014, the temperature pushing 60 degrees, Niels Albert won his last race. It had been a long, hard season for the 28 year-old two-time world champion, one that produced a handful of important wins — notably at World Cups in Koksijde and Rome — but far fewer than he was accustomed to and neither a major series title or championship.

Belgian winters are long and dark, chilly and damp, and when the weather breaks and the sunlight pours out, golden and warm, it is as if someone has lifted a cold, heavy blanket from the countryside. That’s how it was that day in Oostmalle.

And, just a week after watching his last hope for a major series title evaporate, thanks to a poor result at the final Superprestige race in Middelkerke, Belgium, you could almost feel the sigh of relief Albert breathed on the start line as well. Lining up for the last race of a disappointing, stressful season, Albert looked relaxed and comfortable in a short-sleeve skinsuit unzipped to the chest. You could definitely see the sigh of relief he breathed at the finish, his arms outstretched, head back, taking his sixth career win on the sandy course that was something of his specialty. One last victory to cap a season of struggle.

Who could have guessed then that the struggle was so far from over?

Less than three months later, in a tearful press conference, Albert announced he would leave the sport immediately.

In a hastily announced press conference, Albert read a prepared statement. Haltingly, his voice wavering, he said, “Much sooner than I myself had expected and, particularly, than I had wished, I am today, for health reasons, forced to say goodbye to my professional cycling career.

“During a routine check it was discovered that I have a heart arrhythmia, and further research has shown that this problem could become fatal in extreme exertion, with a cardiac arrest as the result.”

Read the VeloNews feature on heart health and cycling >>

Albert took the summer off, attracted a little bit of media attention when he went to Rock Werchter and Tomorrowland — two big Belgian music festivals — but more or less disappeared from public view.

Then, in September, he was back. Albert signed on as sport director at Vastgoed Service-Golden Palace, a new team and the new home of then reigning under-23 world champion Wout Van Aert.

Under Albert’s tutelage, Van Aert emerged as a major force in cyclocross, taking a controversial win over Sven Nys at Koppenbergcross in early November 2014, and following it up with a resounding World Cup win on the sand dunes of Koksijde a few weeks later. On the finish line there, Van Aert hopped of his bike, took a couple of running steps, and hopped back on. The gesture, he told reporters, honored the two men to win a world championship in Koksijde, Paul Herygers and Van Aert’s sport director, Niels Albert.

“I live in the same town as Paul Herygers who did it the first time in 1994, and last year Niels [Albert] did the same,” said Van Aert. “[Niels] asked me to do something special, and the last two laps I was thinking, ‘Something special, something special, I have to do something the people can see, I’ll do it for him.’ And I think it was beautiful to cross the finish line like that.”

It was, in some sense, Albert’s first real triumph in his new role, forging a bond of trust with the team’s young star, and coaching him to a major victory on a course that once all but belonged to Albert himself.

Now, a year later, Van Aert has emerged as a nearly unstoppable force, beaten only a handful of times this year, and earning what is sure to be the first of many Belgian national titles. And Albert has emerged as a successful coach and mentor, finding, he says now, real satisfaction in his new work after the turbulent — but not unsuccessful — season that saw his transformation.

“It’s now my second year as team leader,” says Albert, who is now a few pounds heavier than he was at his peak, but still flashes the same dashing, boyish smile as he always did when he talks about racing. “The first year was a little bit like finding my way, the situation was all new. Now I’m a little bit more used to making some comments and sometimes to make myself angry [to help fire up] the boys.

“I wanted to try to do this after my career, but my career stopped too early. For me it was brand new. I didn’t expect to have to do it at this age. I wanted first to try it, and I asked Geert [Vanhoof] — the chief of the team — I asked him last year, ‘Okay, I want to try it, I don’t know if I’ll have a good feeling or the self-confidence to give the right information to the guys.’ I had to learn also, and the first year was a little bit of learning everything, but now I’m coming into the position and I like it.”

On race days, Albert helps the riders on his team — now a mashup team called Crelan-Vastgoedservice, sporting a combination green-orange kit that must be the single ugliest in the sport — with mental preparation and pre-race strategy. He also runs a team workout midweek.

“Before the race I try to get the riders together with a WhatsApp group, on the iPhones, and I say to all the riders, ‘Okay, think about that, think about this. You see here a picture of the track, this is a little bit difficult, here are stones, here is a big gap for a crash or something,’” he tells VeloNews. “That’s how I always give the right information to the guys. For the moment it’s a good situation that works. But I give it to all the riders. I don’t pull Wout before the rest, as we say in Flemish. All the riders are the same for me. But we do some great results with Wout now and it’s good for the team, and we’re quite happy.”

Though his experience and skill at analyzing the dynamics of a course have clearly paid off for the riders, he plays down the significance of his part in their success and in Van Aert’s in particular.

“Wout has a good team from trainers and massage guys, but I think I make a little bit the difference to give him trust and self confidence,” says Albert. “I [want to] give him the right information before the race. Maybe it’s five percent to bring him to the victory, but that five percent is enough.”

In some sense, Albert’s success as a sport director might be linked both to his unique combination of youth and experience. Other teams employ former racers as well — three-time world champion Mario De Clercq announced this month that he will retire as sport director of Belgium’s recently rechristened Marlux-Napoleongames squad after nearly a decade in that role — but Albert is not only a champion, but a peer. Until barely more than a year ago, he shared the course with the same riders he now directs. As a result, the level of trust and camaraderie he has fostered, along with his still-acute awareness of what life as a young rider is like, has lifted up the team.

Still, Albert is modest about his importance.

“I want not to take the results as my own,” he says. “They have some individual trainers and [my job is] to make them happy and have a good feeling on Wednesday on the training, and to give them self-confidence on the trainings. And to push them to the limit, but on Tuesday and Thursday, when they have to train long rides on the road, then they’re alone. I’m just a piece of the victory.”

And in spite of his team’s success, Albert says he still feels a familiar ache when he watches a race, a deep sense that, in spite of his good fortune to have caught his heart problem before it put his life at risk, something fundamental was lost, a piece of his identity that can never be put back in place.

“Sometimes it’s difficult,” Albert admits. “Sometimes I watch to the riders and to the track, and I say, ‘Shit. It’s bad luck, it’s quite stupid that I’m over here now and not racing.’ It’s shit, but it is what it is.”

It is a strange, contradictory feeling. Life is good. On the one hand, he is successful in work and will probably live to an old age, spared a terrible fate by a chance medical exam. On the other, he is surely not the same man he was just 18 months ago.

Nonetheless, taking the long view, he does not deny his overall good fortune.

“I have a problem with my heart, but I don’t have pain or anything,” he said. “I don’t feel anything. And that’s strange. I have a problem that I don’t feel, and sometimes it’s hard to understand. But after everything, my life is in a good situation. I have a new girlfriend. I have a good bike shop. The team results are very good. The guys are accepting me and have some respect for me. And that’s why I’m doing this for the guys. When the guys are happy, then it’s okay.”

In addition to the team, there is that bike shop in his hometown, Tremolo, just a couple of kilometers down the road from the site of his one-time top rival, Sven Nys’s, namesake race in nearby Baal. Albert spends most days when he’s not racing there, puttering with the bikes, chatting with fans who come to visit the former champion. Signing the occasional autograph.

“The bike shop is,” he starts to explain, then pauses and rethinks. “It’s a lot of work, but I think it’s a good investment. Normally I’m right there the whole week long when I’m not at the races [or] at the [team] training. On Monday, Tuesday, Friday — Saturday when it’s not a race — then I’m in the shop. So, yeah, people come in and ask to take a picture or to get my advice and, yeah, we sell a bike.”

You talk to Niels Albert, and you get him started talking about the bikes, and you immediately see why he was so successful as a rider, how he wears his love for the sport — and for the bike itself — on his rainbow-striped sleeve. You see why he seemed to be having so much fun in a goofy old-timer’s race earlier this season, a non-battle between five retired former world champions: Albert, Bart Wellens, Erwin Vervecken, Paul Herygers, and Danny De Bie to raise money for charity. It is his pure love for the sport.

He was not always the fastest or the most skillful, but he won because he loved what he was doing so much that he could turn himself inside out to take a victory. And maybe, somewhere along the way, he went a little to far, pushed a little beyond the limit when he should have been resting, and it cost him almost everything.

He is glad, he’ll tell you, to be alive, there’s no doubt about it. But he knows what he lost and won’t pretend otherwise. If you’re in Belgium, you can drive down a narrow main street of the little village of Tremolo, and you’ll find the Niels Albert Bike Shop. Go in and you can ask him yourself.

“I feel [fortunate], but sometimes I’m feeling unlucky,” he’ll tell you. “If I were 33 years old or something, then I’d say, ‘Okay, bad luck, but I’m going on.’ But now it’s three or four years too early to stop. And that’s quite unlucky. But I’m happy with the victories of the team, and for me it’s okay.”

And that little contradictory reply, you’ll know, is the truth. It exactly sums up the strange dichotomy that is his new life. You take the good and the bad and you do what you can with it. At your best, maybe you win a bike race, maybe a big one. And you can celebrate that.

Another day, you take a breath, glad you’re still there to do it, take a picture and, if you’re lucky, you sell a bike. You miss the racing, you know there was more you wanted to do, but you can celebrate that too.

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Cant seeks elusive victory at cyclocross worlds http://www.velonews.com/2016/01/news/cant-seeks-elusive-victory-at-cyclocross-worlds_394174 Fri, 29 Jan 2016 15:39:34 +0000 http://www.velonews.com/?p=394174 Belgium Sanne Cant is a seven-time national cyclocross champion, but a world title is missing from her resume.

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ZOLDER, Belgium (VN) — Sanne Cant has been waiting a long, long time for this.

She is arguably the greatest Belgian woman cyclocross rider ever and comes from a country obsessed with the sport. She has been national champion since 2010, an unbroken streak of seven wins. She has won the World Cup twice, the European championships twice, and has earned two medals at worlds.

A year ago in Tabor, Czech Republic, Cant took French champion Pauline Ferrand-Prevot right down to the final meters of the race, missing out on a championship in heartbreaking fashion — especially after putting together the strongest season of her career.

But in spite of all her success, she has spent a career at the margins of the spotlight, just behind Marianne Vos, Pauline Ferrand-Prevot, Katie Compton, Daphny van den Brand, and Hanka Kupfernagle. Looking for the podiums and medals on the edges, waiting to exploit a weakness and vault, briefly, to success against older, more established competition.

That has changed this year. Cant, who wrapped up her second World Cup title last week in Hoogerheide, Netherlands, is the clear favorite for Saturday’s elite women’s world championship race here on the old Formula One track in Zolder, thanks to both her season-long dominance and her commanding win in a World Cup race on the same course just a month ago.

“It’s the first year I’m the favorite,” Cant told VeloNews Thursday night. “I’m happy with it. At this moment, I don’t feel any pressure. [All the support from the fans] makes me feel good.”

If she wins on Saturday, it will be the culmination of an all-consuming, decade-long quest, one whose roots go back to her early childhood.

“There is not much life beyond the bike for me,” she said. “I try just to focus. Sometimes I go for a coffee or something, but I don’t have any hobbies. This is it.

“I started when I was 6, in Holland. And I drove every year. This is my 10th world championships. I feel really old!”

But Cant’s success, the long arc of her life that took her from youth races for fun to being one of the world’s best cyclocrossers, has not come in a vacuum. Sucked into cycling alongside her cousins and brothers, cyclocross became a family effort.

“My parents are always there,” she explained. “If I ask something, they do everything. We are with three kids, and we all ride cyclocross. So it’s not easy, but they are just amazing.”

It’s not so unusual in Belgium, that family commitment to cycling. Cant herself still lives at home, although she will move out on her own later this year at age 25. She is frequently seen cheering for her brother, Kevin, a repeat national champion in the elite non-professional category, alongside the same course where she herself raced only moments before. Family support, she says, is a big part of of the formula that has earned her so much success.

Now she is met with arguably the biggest test of her decade-long career. She will race, in front of a highly partisan home crowd, as the favorite in a world championship. Without long-time champion Marianne Vos, who is still returning to cyclocross after a series of injuries last year, and reigning champion Ferrand-Prevot, who also is focused on returning to form after an injury, all eyes will be on Cant.

If she wins, it will be vindication for last year’s achingly close loss, a memory whose recall is still clearly and visibly painful for her.

“It was — I was so close, I can —” she trailed off, then collected herself. “After the podium it was really hard. I raced the whole year, I think I had a really good year, and I had to lose to someone in a sprint! It was not easy. But I made it a motivation. I hope it will give me some strength this year.”

Cant took some flak for comments in the post-race press conference in Tabor, telling reporters how hard it was for riders who make their living at cyclocross to match riders, like Ferrand-Prevot, who focus on other disciplines and can come to the championships fresh, having only a few, late season races in their legs. She walked back those comments later on, telling reporters she believed Ferrand-Prevot was a worthy champion. But it’s clear she took the lessons of last season — a season she started with impressive form that she struggled to maintain through the winter — to heart.

“[Early this season] I tried to win, but with less condition than last year,” she said of the slow build to form she has followed this year. “And I think I’m now at my best. I trained really hard. I don’t think I can train any more than this. I hope it was good enough. I have to wait to see now.”

Will it be enough? That’s a question whose answer depends not only on her own preparation, but the preparation of a half-dozen other women as well. Cant flags American Katie Compton and Italian Eva Lechner as top rivals, though rivals whose condition is hard to gauge right now. She taps Dutch champion Thalita de Jong, who also has a burgeoning career racing on the road, as a wildcard, capable of a very good race on the fast Zolder track.

But whether her preparation will be enough is also a question that depends on a thousand external factors: the track, the terrible weather forecast, and whether she can handle the pressure when things get busy and nervous and loud.

The truth, however, is that it doesn’t matter so much whether she wins or not — at least, not to anyone but her. Cant’s legacy is secure; she’s already the queen of Belgian cyclocross, in spite of the missing jewel in her crown. There is more to her and her career now than race wins.

“A few years ago I was asking myself why I’m doing this,” she said. “I think that’s normal. And now I just want one thing, to make [women’s cyclocross] popular in Belgium. And hope the younger riders will try to follow me. And I think we’re on a good way. We can grow, but I think this year, with the TV [race coverage], it’s already good.”

Still, she’ll savor victory, if it shines its light on her. And if she should win on Saturday?

“I think I won’t sleep that night,” she says. “We’ll have a big party.”

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Preview: Cyclocross worlds land in Zolder http://www.velonews.com/2016/01/news/preview-cyclocross-worlds-land-in-zolder_394062 Thu, 28 Jan 2016 14:00:34 +0000 http://www.velonews.com/?p=394062 The tables have turned at the cyclocross worlds, with a wide-open women's race and a predictable men's race on the docket.

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HEUSDEN-ZOLDER, Belgium (VN) — For the better part of a decade, cyclocross world championship races have been a study in contrast: a men’s race brimming with so much talent that it is all but impossible to pick a clear favorite, and a women’s race all but owned by a single rider — one who held the title seven times, including a run of six straight years.

The tables have turned.

But when the world championships get rolling on Saturday, it is the women who will arguably meet the opportunity of a lifetime — a wide-open shot at the world title — and the men who face a race whose outcome already seems like a foregone conclusion.

The race, on the former Formula One track in Heusden-Zolder, will be the first championships in Belgium since 2012’s event in the sand dunes of Koksijde. That race attracted some 60,000 spectators. Organizers here have said they anticipate beating that number, making this race very likely the best attended cyclocross race in history.

If they hit that mark, there will be a crush of people alongside the course, which is laid out in a long, narrow, out-and-back loop. The track features a considerable amount of pavement, and the long, straight, start-finish stretch leaves lots of room to set up a highly tactical race. Rain, expected on both Saturday and Sunday, could make things even more interesting, but the sandy soil in Zolder drains well, so while it may be slippery and sloppy, the race tempo will likely be very fast, regardless of the weather.

At the World Cup stop here in late December, a preview of the weekend’s championship races, both men’s and women’s races were decided on the same series of steep climbs near the tail end of the lap. In the women’s race, Belgian champion Sanne Cant was able to ride away from American Katie Compton on the course’s steepest rideable climb, putting enough distance between them for Cant to take an uncontested win. In the men’s race, reigning world champion Mathieu van der Poel did nearly the same thing to his Dutch countryman Lars van der Haar and Belgian Kevin Pauwels, summoning power on the climb that neither of his rivals could produce.

The elite men

If the showdown between Van der Poel, Van der Haar, and Pauwels in Zolder really did offer a preview of Sunday’s men’s race, two elements were missing. First is Belgian champion Wout Van Aert, runner up at the 2015 world championships. Second is Sven Nys, the wildly popular two-time world champion, arguably the greatest rider in the history of the sport, racing his final championship before retirement, and racing on home soil.

Van Aert ruled the early season, while Van der Poel was still nursing a knee injury he sustained at the Tour de l’Avenir in August. But Van der Poel has been decidedly stronger since his return, sweeping the final four World Cup races. After finishing second at the final World Cup stop in Hoogerheide, Van Aert acknowledged that Van der Poel is the clear favorite for Sunday’s race.

“I said weeks ago that Mathieu is the big favorite,” Van Aert told reporters. “It’s very clear, it’s not just me, but all the others as well, we were all distanced quite far today. Will that be the same next week? That’s a different story. I trained on the specific course of Zolder this week. I hope it pays off next weekend.”

But Van der Poel will surely have the throttle wide open on Sunday.

“I said from the beginning on that the worlds are the only thing that can rescue my season,” Van der Poel told VeloNews. “I’ve had a pretty good season after my knee surgery, but then all the classifications are gone and I want to be the new world champion again.”

Nys, meanwhile, is a bigger question mark. His season has not been his strongest, with only one truly shining weekend in late November when he won back-to-back races, but he has been solid and will surely be motivated for a strong finish. He will also have the crowd behind him like no other rider. But will he be able to stay focused in what is surely to be a very emotional race? Will he be able to match the form of men barely half his age? Neither question has an obvious answer.

Then come Van der Haar and Pauwels, both of whom are, on their best days, capable of riding with the favorites, especially on a fast course like the one in Zolder. The 31-year-old Pauwels finished third last weekend in Hoogerheide, and has been the most consistent rider not named Van Aert or Van der Poel this season. Van der Haar, 24, finished on the podium at last year’s championships, and has shown he is capable of a good race in Zolder, but he did not look particularly sharp in Hoogerheide on Sunday.

The wildcard may be a young and very talented Belgian team that is willing to work together to control Van der Poel and win one of their countrymen a championship in front of a friendly home crowd. Zolder features a course that favors team tactics; Laurens Sweeck, Tom Meeusen, and Michael Vanthourenhout have all looked strong at different times in the season. But whether everybody can keep their ego in check and settle for supporting roles in what is usually a sport centered around individual performance is an open question.

Leading the American contingent will be national champion Jeremy Powers, who is also capable of a good ride on a course like the one in Zolder. Among others, he’ll be joined by nationals runner-up Steven Hyde, who was within striking distance of a great result in the December World Cup here before a mechanical knocked him from the front of the race.

“I feel good, I feel like I’m in a good place physically and mentally and I think it’s just about putting it together,” Powers told VeloNews Sunday in Hoogerheide. “To be honest, I think on a perfect day, something in the top 10 is possible…. But I won’t really know until I’m done with the race how I feel about it.”

The Elite Women

In the absence of Marianne Vos — who with seven world titles holds just under half of all the world championships ever handed out to women — and defending champion Pauline Ferrand-Prevot, who is recovering from an injury and is focused on an Olympic run, Belgium’s Sanne Cant is the obvious favorite.

Cant has won more often than not this season, with three World Cup wins and the overall title, including that victory on the worlds course in Zolder just over a month ago. She did not look nearly so invincible in Hoogerheide last week, but it is hard to imagine she is coming to the championship race in anything less than top form. She said after Hoogerheide that a championship this year, after barely missing out on the title in 2015, has been a focus since the beginning of the season.

“The European championships were also important, and I won that. I won 15 races,” Cant told VeloNews. “I think that’s the same as last year. But there was always the world championships in my head. I hope I can do it.”

She said she felt the pressure of being the favorite, but was confident ahead of the race.

“It’s the first year I’m the big favorite I think,” Cant said. “It’s in my home country. I trained really hard and worked really hard for [this] week. I will do my best and that’s all I can do.”

Behind her is a field that defies prognostication. American Katie Compton, a perennial contender for the championships, was strong in Zolder in December and has shown glimmers of brilliance all season long. But she has not been consistently as good as in years past.

“I don’t know. I had a good race [in Zolder] earlier this season, but worlds is always so different, and you never know,” Compton said Sunday. “It’s totally different next weekend. I like the course a lot, I think it has really good features. It’s a fun course. It’s hard, but it’s fun, technical and fast. I think it’s supposed to rain all week, and that will be good.”

Other riders to watch include Italian champion Eva Lechner, runner-up in the World Cup, who was strong early on but has shifted focus a little recently, targeting a run at the Olympic mountain bike race later this summer. Rounding out a very talented field are Belgian Ellen Van Loy, who finished third in Zolder in December, Dutch riders Sophie De Boer, Thalita De Jong, and Sabrina Stultiens, and Britons Helen Wyman and Nikki Harris.

Americans Meredith Miller — who says she is riding her final world championship this year — Kaitlin Antonneau, Amanda Miller, Elle Anderson, and Crystal Anthony are all capable of very good rides in Zolder, especially if they can break into the lead group early on. But at the end of the day, with several of the sport’s most successful riders absent — in addition to Vos and Ferrand-Prevot, American-based Czech Katerina Nash will skip the race — this is the most wide-open race of the weekend.

The Youth Categories

There is more on offer, too. On Saturday, between the junior men’s race and the elite women’s race, Zolder will host the first-ever under-23 women’s championship. The UCI ran its first women’s championship in 2000, and since then there have been few opportunities for young women riders to shine at worlds, so the addition of the new event is a major step that the UCI hopes will help further boost the overall growth and development of the already highly competitive women’s cyclocross field.

Just who the U-23 race favors is hard to define. The overall top-ranked woman on the entries list is 22-year-old Italian Alice Maria Arzuffi, currently ranked 13th in the world thanks largely to a terrific ride in the elite women’s race at last year’s championships in Tabor, Czech Republic. Belgian U23 champion Femke van den Driessche has posted impressive results all season, capped by a second-place finish at the Koppenbergcross, one of the hardest stops on the Belgian race calendar. American U23 champion Ellen Noble has posted multiple top-20 results in elite World Cup races, but has only rarely gotten the better of Van den Driessche in the handful of head-to-head matchups the two women have shared.

The Netherlands’ Maud Kaptheijns has also posted strong results this season, including a third place finish in the elite Dutch national championship, and has topped both Van den Driessche and Noble in most of the meetings they’ve had. She also posted one of the best results by a young woman at the World Cup in Zolder last month. If there is a favorite for a championship, she may be it.

In the men’s U23 race, Belgians Eli Iserbyt and Quinten Hermans are clear favorites, while Danish rider Simon Andreassen, who upset Iserbyt for the junior title a year ago, is an important wildcard. Iserbyt and Hersmans, teammates on the Telenet-Fidea squad, have traded wins for much of the year, but Andreassen is a strong, savvy rider who has not focused as much on cyclocross.

The American team will be led by Logan Owen, fresh off a third-place finish in the elite category at the national championships a few weeks ago. Owen was eighth in the final World Cup last weekend and has an outside shot at a place on the podium if the chips fall his way.

But American hopes might have to be pinned on the junior men, where Colorado-based Gage Hecht may have the best shot for a win of any American rider this weekend. Hecht just missed out on a podium place at the championships last year, and he did the same in Hoogerheide last week. He will surely be a factor in the race, while his teammates — particularly Spencer Petrov — all have a shot at a top-10 finish.

Battling with Hecht for the rainbow stripes will likely be the Netherlands’ Jens Dekker and Belgium’s Jappe Jaspers, whose finish in the World Cup overall was decided by a first-place tiebreaker. Other riders to watch include France’s Tanguy Turgis and Mikael Crispin, and Dekker’s Dutch teammate Mitch Groot.

And while forecasting race outcomes is more or less fortune telling, forecasting weather is hard science. This much is clear: it will rain this weekend. The course is technical, fast, and very difficult. And if there is one thing Belgium has consistently delivered when it comes to world championships, it’s dramatic, dynamic racing.

Start your engines, ladies and gentlemen. The world championships are here.

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Photo Essay: 2016 cyclocross World Cup – Hoogerheide http://www.velonews.com/2016/01/news/cyclocross/photo-essay-2016-cyclocross-world-cup_393925 Mon, 25 Jan 2016 20:59:21 +0000 http://www.velonews.com/?p=393925 The cyclocross World Cup wraps up with muddy wins for De Boer and van der Poel in Hoogerheide.

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Van der Poel wins, Van Aert takes World Cup overall http://www.velonews.com/2016/01/news/van-der-poel-does-it-again-in-hoogerheide_393828 Sun, 24 Jan 2016 17:51:14 +0000 http://www.velonews.com/?p=393828 Mathieu van der Poel wins fourth straight World Cup, van Aert takes overall

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Defending cyclocross world champion Mathieu van der Poel made it look easy on Sunday, soloing to an impressive victory in the mud at Hoogerheide, the Netherlands. Van der Poel’s victory capped off an otherworldly second half of the World Cup season, which saw him win four consecutive rounds of the series.

 UCI World Cup Hoogerheide results:

    • 1. Mathieu Van Der Poel ,1:07:31
    • 2. Wout Van Aert ,1:08:19
    • 3. Kevin Pauwels ,1:08:30
    • 4. Laurens Sweeck ,1:09:01
    • 5. Tom Meeusen ,1:09:20
    • 6. Toon Aerts ,1:09:31
    • 7. Lars Van Der Haar ,1:09:47
    • 8. Gianni Vermeersch ,1:10:12
    • 9. Marcel Meisen ,1:10:26
    • 10. Tim Merlier ,1:10:33

 

Van der Poel (BKCP-Corendon), who missed much of the early season recovering from knee surgery, won World Cup rounds in Namur, Heusden-Zolder and Lignieres-en-Berry before Sunday’s victory. The win elevated him as the odds-on favorite to win next weekend’s UCI world championships in Heusden-Zolder.

After his victory, van der Poel played down his dominant win.

“Maybe it looked easy, but it was very hard,” van der Poel said. “Like I said before the race, I think it was one of the toughest of the season. It was really hard to get through the mud today.”

Behind the Dutchman, Belgian rider Wout van Aert (Crelan-Vastgoedservice) crossed the line in second place to cement his lead in the series overall. After winning the series opener in Las Vegas, Van Aert spent much of the season’s second half chasing after van der Poel. After the race, van Aert admitted he should have put up a stronger fight in Hoogerheide.

“On a course like this I should finish much closer to [van der Poel] than I did today, but that wasn’t the case,” van Aert said. “It’s very clear, it’s not just me, but all the others as well. We were all distanced quite far today.”

Van der Poel led the race virtually wire-to-wire, seizing the lead on the opening lap and never looking back. Behind him, van Aert dueled with last year’s World Cup champion Kevin Pauwels (Marlux-Napoleon Games), Laurens Sweeck (Era-Murprotec) and Tom Meeusen (Telenet-Fidea).

Belgian favorite Sven Nys, who was competing in his final World Cup before retirement, crossed the line in 13th place.

American Jeremy Powers notched the top-U.S. finished, crossing the line in 31st place. After the race, Powers described the mud as concrete on his Twitter page.

“TV won’t do justice to the concrete mud we raced in today. It was wild stuff – respect to the guys who made it look easy, it wasn’t,” Powers said via Twitter.

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De Boer wins first World Cup in Hoogerheide http://www.velonews.com/2016/01/news/de-boer-wins-first-world-cup-in-hoogerheide_393823 Sun, 24 Jan 2016 17:07:40 +0000 http://www.velonews.com/?p=393823 De Boer takes victory, Cant wins the World Cup overall in Hoogerheide

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The slippery mud of Hoogerheide, the Netherlands could not slow down Dutchwoman Sophie De Boer, who dominated Sunday’s UCI World Cup finale to grab her first-ever victory on the circuit. De Boer (Kalas-NNOF) surged away from her chasers on two separate occasions, and eventually left them for good on the second of four laps.

Behind De Boer, World Cup leader Sanne Cant overcame a slow opening lap to finish fifth, which preserved her lead in the final World Cup standings. Cant, the 2014/15 World Cup champion, now joins Daphny van den Brand, Hanke Kupfernagel and Katie Compton as a multi-time winner of the series.

 

 UCI World Cup Hoogerheide results:

  • 1. Sophie De Boer ,40:30
  • 2. Thalita De Jong ,41:05
  • 3. Nikki Harris ,41:08
  • 4. Caroline Mani ,41:31
  • 5. Sanne Cant ,41:36
  • 6. Jolien Verschueren ,41:39
  • 7. Helen Wyman ,41:41
  • 8. Eva Lechner ,42:03
  • 9. Christine Majerus ,42:19
  • 10. Sabrina Stultiens ,42:31

 

“Last year I was very happy [to win the World Cup] and I never thought it would be the same this year,” Cant said. “So I’m very, very happy.”

Cant and Compton suffered from the gun, with the American losing valuable positions due to a missed pedal. Ahead, De Boer grabbed an early lead, and quickly distanced herself from chasers Talitha de Jong (RaboLiv) and Nikki Harris (Boels Dolmans Cycling). The two eventually caught De Boer near the end of the first lap, but the 25-year-old De Boer distanced herself for good on the ensuing lap.

De Boer appeared to increase her gap throughout the race’s second half, eventually crossing the line with a 35-second buffer on De Jong, with Harris another three seconds in arrears.

De Boer said the home-turf advantage gave her extra motivation and played to her skills.

“I really liked this course. It’s a hard mud course, and luckily it rained the last two days,” she said. “I had a lot of people on the sideline who were screaming, ‘This is the gap!’ so I knew the gap wasn’t getting smaller and I could do my own race.”

The victory thrusts De Boer onto the short list of potential winners at next weekend’s UCI World Championships race in Heusden-Zolder, Belgium.

American riders struggled in the mud of Hoogerheide, with Compton finishing as the top U.S. rider in 12th, 2:29 down. American racer Meredith Miller completed the final World Cup race of her career, crossing the line in 26th place.

“I always want better but I can say that I am happy with what I’ve accomplished over the last 8 years,” Miller wrote on Twitter. “And when I hear my name all the way around the course it makes me feel like I’ve accomplished more than just being a cyclist.”

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American rider Page to skip cyclocross worlds http://www.velonews.com/2016/01/news/american-rider-page-to-skip-cyclocross-worlds_393023 Sat, 16 Jan 2016 14:10:10 +0000 http://www.velonews.com/?p=393023 Jonathan Page and his wife are expecting their fourth child any day now, and the worlds are slated for the end of January.

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For the better part of a decade, Jonathan Page has been American cyclocross’s link to the sport’s heartland in Belgium. Based in Oudenaarde in the middle of the Flemish Ardennes, home of the Tour of Flanders, Page was a fixture on the Belgian ’cross circuit.

He also was, arguably, the biggest success story in U.S. men’s cyclocross. The only American man to earn a medal in the elite category at the world championship — a silver in Hooglede-Gits in 2007 — Page’s palmarès boasts numerous top-10 finishes in major international races in series like the UCI World Cup and Belgian Superprestige. He is also one of only two men in the past 20 years to earn four national champions jerseys — Jeremy Powers, who won his fourth national title a week ago in Asheville, North Carolina, is the other.

But this year, now one of the sport’s elder statesmen at 39, Page has scrambled the script. In 2015, the Page family sold its Belgian home and moved to Utah, trading travel times that could often be measured in minutes for transcontinental flights. Page opted to race a full North American season.

Although there were bright moments — a handful of podium finishes and a big win under the lights at Jinglecross in Iowa City — it was certainly not his best. Page told VeloNews he had been seriously hampered by respiratory issues since his arrival in the States. Page added that he had nonetheless enjoyed the enthusiasm of the American fans and supporters this season, a striking contrast to the rowdy and highly partisan Belgian crowds he has raced in front of for most of his career.

Page earned a slot on the U.S. national team for the world championships — to be held in Zolder, Belgium, in just two weeks time — thanks to his depth of experience racing abroad and a strong fourth-place showing at the national championships, a result that looks all the more impressive considering that Page is nearly twice the age of the man who finished directly in front of him, 20-year-old Logan Owen.

It may not have been his best finish at nationals, but Page heaped praise on the event, the fans, and the organization, calling it an overwhelmingly positive experience.

“It was definitely the best course I have ever raced on at nationals,” he told VeloNews.

On Thursday, however, Page tweeted that he had decided to skip the world championship race.

With a new baby — his fourth — expected any day now, he is not eager to leave his family for an extended period. Still, he said, it was a combination of factors that led to the decision.

“There are several reasons I’m turning my slot down,” he told VeloNews. “My family was more than willing to load up and make the trip with me so that I didn’t have to leave the new addition to the family. However, the reality is that it just isn’t worth it. It’s an expensive trip whether I go alone or with the family and unless I would get on the podium again (which seems unlikely this year) there is little reward.”

Page told VeloNews that after battling through respiratory issues for much of the season, he did not believe he could be at his best for the championship race at the end of January.

“Since arriving in the U.S., I’ve been dealing with a relentless cough. It’s an allergy/asthma-related thing and I have been struggling heavily with it,” Page said. “I thought that I had it a bit under control after taking a few weeks off from racing and really intense training [before nationals], but it still wasn’t great. I struggled through nationals. I could have struggled through worlds and hoped for the best, but [I couldn’t justify] paying all that money nor committing all that time away from my family again.”

In spite of calling an early end to a season that Page has typically extended through the end of February — often with top results — he expects to be back for another season in the fall, adding that he is eager to return to America’s vibrant and growing cyclocross scene, one that very much impressed him this year.

“All of my sponsors are returning for at least one year,” he said. “During that time, I plan to do events in the spring and summer to further promote their brands. Events that I’ve done and loved in the past as well as some new events. I also may have a great opportunity to start an American-Euro, dual-based team. I hope to have transitioned out of full-time racing and into a managing or coaching position with the team within the next two years. My plan for at least the coming season is to do mostly American-based in the ’cross season but will possibly do a trip or two internationally if there is a budget for that for me. There is so much great racing in the U.S. now that I don’t need to leave here if I don’t want to. I will definitely race in Europe in the summer some.”

Page’s decision to stop his season now is a striking contrast to his choice to race a brave and emotional world championships last year in Tabor, Czech Republic, just days after revealing the heartbreaking news of his wife’s miscarriage in a post on his Facebook page. It was, he said at the time, his devotion to his family that motivated him to race in spite of the pain. This year, reveling in the joy of a child on the way, there is nothing to prove, and he is relishing the opportunity to hit the pause button and spend time with his kids.

On Friday, his season over, he told VeloNews he had been able to take his kids to their ski team practice, even jumping in for a couple of runs with them. He sounded happy and relaxed as he talked about it.

For a guy who has been at it as long as Page has, maybe he’s earned the real prize: the end of another hard-fought season.

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