By: Zach Nehr
Ethias Cross in Essen
The headline names in Essen had little to do with the current crop of CX racing talent – Marianne Vos and Zdenek Stybar were the names on everyone’s lips, despite the latter finishing in a lowly, but still respectable, 12th place. Vos is a name well-known to CX fans, a legend of the sport who found success in the Elite ranks when she was still only a junior. The now 32 year-old is an Olympic and World Champion on the track, a 3-time Road World Champion, and a 7-time CX World Champion. But in recent years, Vos’ focus has shifted towards the road, while cyclocross has been demoted to a fun, but still competitive, off-season activity. On Saturday in Essen, Vos, in her first CX race of the season, shot off the front with Belgian veteran Ellen Van Loy in the early moments of the race. Halfway through, Van Loy lost contact, and from there it was Vos who cruised to a solo victory. 18-year-old Hungarian champion Blanka Kata Vas finished an impressive second place, with another young rider, Brit Anna Kay beating Van Loy in the sprint for third.
In the men’s Elite race, Stybar made the headlines while the absence of Van Der Poel and his many rivals also did so. Quinten Hermans won solo win by nearly a minute after going clear in the middle section of the race. Laurens Sweeck couldn’t make up for his poor starting position in time to respond to Hermans’ winning move, but Sweeck was still able to go clear of the main chase group to take the second spot on the podium. Another impressive young Brit, Tom Pidcock, earned one of his best Elite race results by finishing third. Former CX World Champion Zdenek Stybar put in a valiant effort, fighting from the back of the field to finish 12th in the end.
Mathieu Van Der Poel’s absence – he opted for a warm weather training camp in Spain with his road team, Corendon-Circus, this week as a short break from a busy CX schedule – opened the door for another rider to take the win on a sunny Sunday in Zonhoven, Belgium. The unique course is characterized by a mammoth of deep and steep sand pits. Riders run up one side, and go flying down the other. Grabbing the brakes on these descents is a terrible mistake; attempting to steer will only end in disaster. Spectacular crashes – riders going face-first into foot-deep sand – have stood out in the highlight reels of previous editions. And on this December day, such an incident would even decide the race. A large lead group formed early in the men’s Elite race, with upwards of ten riders riding off the front together. Tom Pidcock made some early moves, but eventually it was the Belgian duo of Toon Aerts and Laurens Sweeck who drew clear of the field. They rode together until the final lap, when a mistake from Sweeck saw him going headfirst over the handlebars and face-first into the Belgian sand. Aerts cruised to a comfortable win, with Sweeck holding on for second, and World Cup overall leader Eli Iserbyt finishing third.
In the early goings of the women’s Elite race, familiar Dutch faces formed at the front – Ceylin Carmen del Alvarado, Annemarie Worst, and Yara Kastelijn – but this time they were joined by World Champion Sanne Cant, who has been consistent but far from dominant this cyclocross season. Cant had won at Zonhoven five times previously, but this year she wouldn’t be able to repeat the feat. After Cant fell off the pace midway through the race, Alice Maria Arzuffi and Inge van der Heijden soon neared the front group made up of Alvarado, Worst, and Kastelijn. Throughout the race, Alvarado and Worst were the most aggressive, and in the closing laps, the Dutch duo pulled clear of their flagging rivals. Alvarado attacked inside one lap to go, but Worst was able to match it. The two entered the finishing straight side-by-side, and in the drag race to the line it was Worst who narrowly came out on top. Alvarado finished second and Kastelijn third, again cementing the Dutch dominance of the 2019/2020 cyclocross season.
American CX Report
Spring-like weather greeted riders as they arrived in Garland, Texas this past weekend for the Resolution ‘Cross Cup. Big names lined up in both Elite races, with French champion Caroline Mani taking the holeshot in Saturday’s women’s Elite race. Maghalie Rochette, Courtenay McFadden, Raylyn Nuss, Jenn Jackson, Sammi Runnels, and Ellen Noble made up a large leading group for most of the race. On the final lap, Rochette was able to ride clear and take her 10th win of the season which includes a World Cup, Pan American Championship, and Canadian National Championship. Mani finished in second, with McFadden earning the final podium spot on Saturday.
Canadian National Champion Michael van den Ham led from the gun in Saturday’s men’s Elite race. After last weekend’s win on Day 1 of Ruts ‘n’ Guts, van den Ham confirmed his flying form by sailing solo for the entire race on Saturday, finishing comfortably clear of second place, Jamey Driscoll, with Cody Cupp rounding out the men’s Elite podium in third.
On Sunday, Rochette repeated Saturday’s success, taking the win ahead of McFadden and Jackson who finished second and third, respectively. Texas experienced a weekend of Canadian domination with van den Ham, too, repeating his Day 1 win by finishing first on Sunday. Driscoll and Cupp also repeated their results from Saturday, taking second and third, respectively, on the Day 2 podium.
Upcoming CX Schedule
Scheldecross in Antwerpen and Vlaamse Druivencross in Overijse are the headline races in Belgium next weekend, on December 14th and 15th, respectively.
Other UCI races will take place in France, Great Britain, Spain, the Czech Republic, and Japan throughout the weekend.
The biggest week in all of American cyclocross: the USA National Championships begin this week in Tacoma, Washington. Masters, Junior, and collegiate racing takes place mostly during the week, with the Elite races – Junior, U23, Women, and Men – coming over the weekend. Katie Compton will look to extend her already record-setting run of 15 consecutive National Championship titles in the women’s Elite race, while Stephen Hyde will look to defend his title in the men’s Elite race.
The 2019-2020 Telenet UCI Cyclo-cross World Cup returns the following weekend in Namur, Belgium on December 22nd.