Koksijde, Belgium, is about to set new records for attendance at a UCI Cyclocross World Championship. What’s the story with this little town and its sandy course? We take a look back at the history and racing in Koksijde today, and will have an in-depth feature on the event and venue in our upcoming Issue 16.
by Robbie Carver
Old-school cyclocross. You hear that term come up often when the big races look more like grass criteriums than the boggy, treacherous, every-racer-for-himself courses of legend. Sure, there’s a lot to be said for many of the new course designs, of the crowd-pleasing cat-and-mouse games and tight racing that result, and a bit of rain can turn even the most benign course into a slog-fest. But sometimes we want a course that reminds us of the crazy roots of cyclocross, when the mentality was I bet I can ride that, and you can’t. Sometimes we want a course that requires the Holy Trinity of Cross: Incredible Power, Insane Skill and Inspired Luck.
Koksijde, home of this year’s World Championships, is just such a course. Set on a military base hugging the North Sea coast, the course boasts long stretches of deep, beach-quality sand dunes spread across climbs, descents, endless off-cambers and 180 degree turns. When the weather is dry, the sand is loose and deep, causing ruts that change without notice, stopping wheels cold and bucking riders – as happened to Katie Compton in 2009. When it’s wet, the sand clumps together, sucking energy out of your legs. Regardless, Koksijde provides racers with one of the most technically difficult courses on the world circuit. And the fans know it: Organizers are reporting as many as 60,000 spectators have descended onto the small town to watch the world’s best battle it out, making this one of the largest attendances in cyclocross history. Needless to say, it’s already sold out.
For over 40 years Koksijde has been a flagship of Belgium cyclocross – and the Belgians have proved it by winning 35 of the 42 men’s races there. The list of winners shows that Koksijde has been the backyard playground sandbox of Belgium’s greatest champions, beginning with the De Vlaeminck brothers, through Roland Liboton and Dannie de Bie, and to today with Sven Nys, Kevin Pauwels and Niels Albert. The only time Koksijde previously hosted the World Championships, in 1994, Belgian Paul Herijgers took the title. The Belgians have been so dominant, in fact, that defending world champion Zdenek Stybar is the only non-Belgian Elite male to have taken the highest step of the podium in the past 10 years. It’s perhaps fitting, then, that the Quick Step rider is the only name being thrown around as a rival to the likes of Nys and Pauwels.
How will history repeat itself? Stybar wants to take the title for his third consecutive year – a feat not seen since Liboton’s win in 1984. Yet the Belgians believe that Koksijde belongs to the Belgians, and Sven Nys certainly has laid his claim to this course on numerous occasions.
On the women’s side, the three women who top the UCI rankings won at Koksijde, with the powerful and technically-skilled American Katie Compton particularly suited to the deep sand, but saddled with the monumental task of attempting to dislodge a Marianne Vos who has shown the best form of her life. Compton destroyed the field in 2010, and told Cyclocross Magazine in an interview earlier this month that she hopes to have similar luck in her second attempt on the course this season.
With all that in mind, we here at Cyclocross Magazine wanted to take you back through a few years of Koksijde’s history, offering select photos of the battles that have defined the Word Cup race as it set its eyes on determining the 2012-13 World Champion.
2011 – Nys Returns To The Top, Vos Proves Beatable
A rain-saturated course saw Niels Albert take the 2010 win ahead of Zdenek Stybar and Sven Nys. Despite a poor start, Albert moved up quickly and managed to reach the lead group of nine riders. Halfway through the race, a strong looking Nys attacked but was slowed by a dropped chain. Taking advantage of the situation, Albert countered the move ahead of the sand and managed to grow his solo lead to the finish. Albert’s lead grew as Nys and Stybar played tactics with each other, a game that nearly allowed Bart Wellens to grab the second spot on the podium when he attacked the pair a few laps before the finish. Stybar proved to have the stronger legs, but Nys still managed to scrape by Wellens for the final podium spot.
The 2009 women’s edition saw a hard-fought battle between Marianne Vos and Daphny van den Brand for the win, with Katie Compton slowly pulling riders back in after a number of setbacks at the start. Up front, Vos and Van Den Brand worked together to fend off the US Champion. Taking turns at the lead, the two worked until they made the left turn onto the final stretch of road, successfully keeping Compton at bay.
Katie Compton overcame a slow start on a day that saw Koksijde’s sand deep and difficult, catching race and World Cup leader Hanka Kupfernagel to beat her in the sprint for victory.
2008 Women’s Highlights:
2008 Koksijde Elite Men’s Last Lap Highlights:
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