Euro Dominance on American Soil

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Bart Wellens comes in for his second win in as many days. © Kenton Berg

Bart Wellens finishes the Rapha-Focus GP with his second win in as many days. © Kenton Berg

Unless you’ve been sleeping through the beginning of cyclocross season, you’ve noticed the prevalence of Euros racing on American soil, and the impressive results they’ve been racking up. Helen Wyman led a trio of Brits, and she took home an amazing nine straight wins, while Bart Wellens, Rob Peeters, Lars van der Haar and others added plenty of pep to the sharp end of early season events. Some folks are already headed back home to race in the Motherland, but several are here for longer – like Ben Berden, French champ Caroline Mani and Swiss champ Christian Heule. But who the heck are all these people?

To date, this season only two American men – Jeremy Powers and Ryan Trebon – have scored UCI victories on US soil. The Euros came over to score early season UCI points, and they certainly have. While the Americans proved they can compete with some of the best European riders, and the best domestic riders put up valiant fights, the edge still went to the invaders. As Bart Wellens said when Cyclocross Magazine spoke with him after his StarCrossed victory, racing on American soil gave him a whole new respect for the US racers who travel to Europe, and revealed the difficulties and disadvantages inherent in making that long journey. Nevertheless, Wellens (StarCrossed and Rapha-Focus GP), Lars van der Haar (CrossVegas), Ian Field (Nor’Easter), Tom van den Bosch (Charm City), Heule (Gloucester) and Nicolas Bazin (Catamount Grand Prix) all took home big Ws, while Wyman and Gabby Day exerted their influence on the women’s side. If we count Katerina Nash as a European rider – she is Czech national champ, after all, even though she does live in Truckee, California – then Amy Dombroski and Teal Stetson-Lee are the only American women on the UCI board so far.

We profile these invading stars in detail in our latest issue. Here’s a sample to whet your appetite.

An excerpt from the “Euro Invasion” article in the just-released Issue 14 of Cyclocross Magazine:
Is there a connection between a Mod mop-top and a Euro mullet? Probably not, I’m stretching an analogy. When British rockers stormed American shores in the mid-60s, the attractions were the roots of rock ’n’ roll, a new fan base and – of course – money. Now there’s a slew of Euros queuing up to tear into America’s ’cross courses. The US can’t claim domain over cyclocross’ early history as it can with blues, jazz and rock, and the American ’cross scene certainly doesn’t have the cash that the European one does. But one recurring theme many Euros mention about American cyclocross is its rich grassroots, participation-heavy structure that’s not all about the pros. There’s an appeal to that, and to our crazy fandom. They look across the Atlantic and see the future of the sport, as well as a unique opportunity to improve their standings before the European calendar ramps up. Ian Field, of the UK, said it most simply: “In Europe, the starting position is so important that I really need to score some early season UCI points.” Welcome to the US, Ian.

Helen Wyman took control in Gloucester © Natalia Boltukhova | Pedal Power Photography | 2011

Although the cross-the-pond pros heading stateside have a variety of plans, one thing is clear: The level of European participation is unprecedented. Some athletes, such as Bart Aernouts and U23 world champ Lars van der Haar, are coming over just for CrossVegas and to support their sponsors in town for Interbike. Former world champ Bart Wellens and his Telenet-Fidea teammate Rob Peeters will extend their early season swing to include Seattle’s StarCrossed and Rapha/Focus GP weekend. For Peeters, those early UCI points could prove crucial in claiming one of the hotly-contested World Cup start positions allotted to Belgians. British national champ Helen Wyman and her compatriots Ian Field and Gabby Day opted for a unique East Coast season kickoff to minimize travel between events, while Belgian Joyce Vanderbecken will combine Vegas with some East Coast races. French national champ Caroline Mani adds to the flag array, and she’ll spend two full months racing on American soil, while six-time Swiss champ Christian Heule and Belgian Ben Berden will focus on the US calendar all the way through December’s USGP finale in Bend.

The 2013 World Championship in Louisville, Kentucky, has certainly drawn more attention to the States, but even that colossal American score doesn’t encapsulate a bigger move that’s afoot. While there’s plenty of Euro fetishizing rampant on American ’cross courses with frites, Lions of Flanders, corked beers and waffles with Nutella, we’re watching the New World exert a powerful influence back on the sport. For generations, the trend has been for eager American ’crossers to venture to the European motherland to compete against the sport’s best. That will largely continue to be the case, but now we’re seeing more of a give-and-take relationship between European and American ’cross.

The US has seen its share of Europeans venture over to mix it up in cyclocross races over the years—former world champions Daniele Pontoni (Italy) and Erwin Vervecken (Belgium) were early visitors, and before that Jan Wiejak defected from Poland in the late ’80s to raise the game and bring home some US National Championships along the way. More recently, Italians Davide Frattini and Luca Damiani have relocated to the States for road contracts, and they’ve stayed active at the front of regional and national-caliber cyclocross races in their offseasons. And of course Worlds’ bronze medalist and Czech national champ Katerina Nash calls Truckee, California, home [See Issue 13, “America’s Fastest Import”].

Those predecessors notwithstanding, the fact that notable European riders such as Heule and Berden have chosen to base themselves in the States and race for American teams for 2011/2012 is huge news. And the number and caliber of competitors coming over for early season swings – we’re talking national champions and former and current world champions – as well as the length and the reasons for their trips are all exciting signs. Heule may have said it best: “That one hour of racing is the same all over the world, but all the ambiance around the race [in the US] makes it more fun than in Belgium.”

Berden echoed that point: “American cyclocross is very good already – it’s a driving force in international cycling. In Belgium, we have the culture of people paying to come watch races. But in the US you have huge amateur racing fields – something we totally don’t have in Belgium.” With a strong, points-heavy early calendar, a unique vibe that appeals to many of the riders and, in many cases, a more equitable treatment of women’s fields, US cyclocross has a lot going for it, and the westward flow of talent will only increase. That’s only going to raise the level of our homegrown racers. Programs like the Philadelphia Cyclocross School, which hosts Europeans in the Mid- Atlantic ’cross hotbed and looks to bolster the region’s competition along the way, will accelerate that process.

This year the Union Jack, French tri-coleur, UCI rainbow stripes and Swiss Cross will all be in our midst. Just like it took The Beatles and Stones to bring about The Doors and Jimi Hendrix, a new generation of American ’crossers – and the sport as a whole – is sure to benefit from the international flavor.

We got a hold of each of these Euro Invaders to introduce you to the folks who will be helping to shape the American ’cross scene over the next several months. “I definitely think a lot more riders will be doing what we are doing this year,” Helen Wyman told us. “With flights so cheap when you get them in advance and US race organizers so helpful, I don’t see why more people wouldn’t.” We can’t wait.

Want to read more about the Euro Invaders? Not to worry: As our Issue 14 cover indicates, we have profiles of all of the major players. Check it out! For less than a single race entry fee, you can get your cyclocross fix year-round with a subscription to our print or digital magazine. Live overseas or want more Cyclocross Magazine on your computer or iPad? Consider our new Digital Subscription, which, for only $20 gets you instant access to archives of Issues 8-12 (a $40 value) PLUS all future issues for the next 12 months, including Issue 14 soon. As one fan said, that’s merely the cost of glue for your tubulars.

 

 

Cyclocross Magazine, Issue 22, Print and digital subscriptionsHave you subscribed yet? You're missing out if not. Get all-original content and your cyclocross fix throughout the year with a subscription and Issue 23 back copy, with features on Lars van der Haar, Jonathan Page, Elle Anderson and more!
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