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Cyclocross fans, fear not – the season ain’t over yet.
Race organizers are pushing on with upcoming ‘cross events in the face of a new wave of COVID through northern Europe. And better still, Wout van Aert and Tom Pidcock will be there to provide the fireworks when they make their season debuts this Saturday.
Officials behind Saturday’s Superprestige race in Boom will continue December 4 – albeit with some restrictions – and that two of ‘cross’s “big three” will be there.
“The race will continue, with Wout van Aert and Tom Pidcock,” Koen Monu, organizer of Saturday’s race in Boom, told Belga news agency. “There will be no VIP tent, nor will there be a fan marquee. And the extra staff are being deployed to monitor the public.”
The news make for some well-timed succor after organizers recently pulled the plug on Sunday’s classic World Cup round in Antwerp, sparking speculation that the cyclocross calendar was closing down just when it was getting revving.
- COVID strikes the ‘cross calendar – Antwerp World Cup canceled
- Here’s a full CX race schedule for WvA, MvdP, Pidcock
Organizers of races in Essen and Namur on December 11 and December 19 are also committed to making the adaptions necessary to safely stage their races amid a surge in coronavirus cases through Belgium, the Netherlands, and surrounding nations.
The bad news?
As in Boom, the Essen and Namur events will see VIP and public tents – typically a melting-pot of frites, beer, and fervent fans – closed down to minimize mingling and ensure safety.
Big-name debuts from van Aert, Pidcock
Saturday’s race in Boom will see the much-awaited race debuts of triple world champ van Aert and young challenger Pidcock.
So what to expect from the two “toppers” this weekend?
Both van Aert and Pidcock will parachute into Boom after long breaks following arduous road seasons. They will land squarely into a ‘cross scene that has seen a series of heated battles between Eli Iserbyt and Toon Aerts, who now have some two months of running, remounting, and bunny-hopping in their legs.
“It’s a big question mark for me whether I will immediately participate for the prizes,” van Aert said while attending last weekend’s race in Kortrijk. “I think I will definitely miss some rhythm in the beginning.”
“I keep in mind that I shouldn’t expect too much for those first four races before I leave for training camp [with Jumbo Visma, –ed]. After that, I hope to gradually get better. The intention is to be really good during the Christmas period.”
Pidcock’s crew are similarly tamping down early expectations. The young Brit, whose participation in Boom has been confirmed after some confusion over race contracts and fees, has spent much of his off-season rehabbing a nagging knee injury and will be coming in cold.
“Tom will start in Boom in basic condition, with zero preparation,” Pidcock’s coach Kurt Bogaerts told Het Laatste Nieuws. “I don’t expect much from it, it’s been a long break. But he is very excited about it.”
Despite being denied to race in Antwerp on Sunday, Pidcock and van Aert both have jam-packed cyclocross calendars ahead of them.
Pidcock has plans on peaking for the world championships in Fayetteville lat January, while van Aert intends to use the eyeballs-out efforts of ‘cross to hone his engine for the spring classics.
Despite their illustrious palmarès, van Aert and Pidcock won’t have it easy this winter. Iserbyt has amassed 12 victories across circuits of all surfaces and shapes and is undoubtedly the Belgian to beat.
“I am curious how I will fit in,” van Aert said. “I think the level of Eli Iserbyt has definitely increased seriously. It’s impressive.”
And as if that’s all not a juicy enough prospect, reigning world champ Mathieu van der Poel will dive into the fray in Rucphen on December 18.
Applying lessons from last winter
Will we get to see MvdP, WvA, and Pidcock battling it out with die-hard crossers like Iserbyt all through a season of COVID concerns?
Despite the cancelation of Saturday’s race in Antwerp and the looming threat of the “Omicron” variant, race officials are staying positive.
“We are very happy that after the cancellation of Antwerp and the associated doubts, everyone realizes that the cross can be organized in a safe way,” said Tomas Van Den Spiegel of Flanders Classics, coordinating body of the Superprestige series.
Racing raged on through last winter as organizers put their events “behind closed doors” and imposed health and safety measures on attending media and staffers.
Van Den Spiegel said the learnings were there and ready to be applied if organizers were willing.
“Cycling last year already showed that there is a framework within which it can be organized perfectly safely,” he said. “Within the current measures, a ‘cross can take place perfectly and also be commercially successful.”
Keep fingers and toes crossed for ‘cross.