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COVID strikes the cyclocross calendar: World Cup Antwerp canceled, Rucphen without fans

Surging coronavirus cases in northern Europe see Antwerp race shut down with risk of further cancelations later in winter.

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COVID-19 has struck the cyclocross calendar.

A new surge of coronavirus cases through northern Europe and the emergence of the “Omicron” variant has seen the cancelation of next weekend’s World Cup round in Antwerp. Two weeks later, the Rucphen round of the competition in the Netherlands will be raced without spectators.

The decision to cancel the classic Antwerp World Cup came late Sunday night.

The race – originally scheduled for December 5 – was set to see Tom Pidcock and Wout van Aert in action for the second time this season.

“After a thorough evaluation, the parties involved agreed that a full-fledged cross, such as the one in Antwerp has always been and should be, lives by the grace of the massive public turnout and ambiance,” read a statement from event organizers Golazo. “With the current measures, the World Cup cyclocross threatens to become only a faint decoction of this.”

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Current measures in Belgium place no restrictions on public gatherings provided attendees can show a “COVID Safe Pass” proving vaccination. Racing through Europe has drawn huge crowds in the past month after all competition went “behind closed doors” last winter.

Antwerp race boss Christophe Impens explained Sunday that the added measures around VIP tents, bars, and spectator areas required to guarantee a fully safe event rendered it unfeasible.

“Cyclocross in Antwerp lives from the public and it is traditionally a meeting place for all Antwerpers who love cyclocross and atmosphere,” Impens said. “But to optimally guarantee the safety and health of everyone, we would have to impose a lot of extra measures that are also hardly controllable.”

Last week, organizers of the World Cup round in Rucphen on December 19 confirmed the race would be closed to crowds after the Netherlands mandated all sporting activities be without spectators due to a recent surge in COVID cases.

The Dutch event was set to see Mathieu van der Poel make his season debut on home soil, where he would meet Pidcock for the first time this winter.

Large crowds have attended races through northern Europe so far this season. (Photo: Luc Claessen/Getty Images)

The news of COVID’s impact on the ‘cross calendar comes after a 2021 road season largely unaffected by race cancelations and postponements, although sanitary measures were still in place for fans and racers.

Similarly, this winter’s CX schedule has until now emerged relatively untouched by the looming threat of the pandemic.

Race organizers Golazo added that Antwerp may not be the first of its many leading ‘cross races to be written off this winter.

“We are waiting for the next federal consultation committee on December 15,” Impens said. “Depending on the decisions made there, we will look at our next cyclocross races one by one, of course always in close consultation with the local government.”