Fans make it clear who they support in Tabor
Cyclo-cross, an admittedly small niche in a relatively small sport, has a passionate fan base, especially in Europe.
The world championships this weekend in Tabor in the Czech Republic have attracted fans from across the continent. Busloads of Belgians, trainloads of Dutch and long car caravans of Swiss have descended on this Czech city.
And with them, they bring all the markings of true fans, hoping to make their affiliations quite clear. Flags are everywhere, but hats and the occassional spike-spined orange jumpsuit can do a lot to clarify who it is you’re cheering for.
Racing begins again this morning at 11:00, with the junior men’s event and then resumes at 2:00 with the men’s elite race.
Up front on today’s slippery, icy and slightly wet 2.8km course, the top contenders, including World Cup winner Richard Groenendaal, Belgians Sven Nijs, Bart Wellens, Erwin Vervecken and Mario De Clerq, will be battling for a good spot going into that first corner before things narrow out.
With Dutchman Groenendaal facing a solid wall of Belgians, one might expect him to be at a disadvantage. But there’s enough bad blood on the Belgian side to ensure they probably won’t be working as a single unit.
Recall, for example, two years ago in Poprad, Slovakia, when De Clerq charged off the front, denying his own teammate Vervecken the chance at a rainbow jersey. Vervecken still seems to hold a grudge.
But it won’t necessarily be a cakewalk for Groenendaal, either. In addition to the Belgians, there are other strong contenders hoping for something of an upset.
You can’t count out 1997 world champion Daniele Pontoni and the hometown crowd will be bellowing in support of a full Czech squad, headed by 1998 Under-23 bronze medallist, Petr Dlask and 38-year-old Radomir Simunek, the 1991 world elite cyclo-cross champion.
The entire Danish team — also known as Henrik Djernis — said he is here to ride what is probably his last world cyclo-cross championship. Who knows? The three-time world cross-country mountain-bike champ — who also finished third at the ‘cross world’s in 1998 — may have a strong performance left in him as he ponders retirement.