Yesterday’s World Cup in Heusden-Zolder, Belgium had fast, peloton-based cyclocross racing at the Formula 1 track. The front of the race looked like a United Nations gathering, with no less than four national champions battling at the front (in Stybar, Van der Haar, Walsleben and Vantornout).
“When I looked, I saw guys I did not recognize right away,” a surprised Vantornout told the Belgian media about racing at the front of the World Cup.
The fast, tight racing of Zolder certainly brought last-lap drama, but is that what spectators want? Last night we Tweeted:
— Cyclocross Magazine (@cyclocross) December 27, 2013
However, the Belgian legend Sven Nys pondered if that’s the right direction for fans. Sporza reported that Nys asked, “But is this also what people want? They want tension until the end or spectacle?”
According Nys, the fast courses of the World Cup are the result of a conscious decision by the UCI. He should know, as he sits on the UCI Cyclocross Commission.
It’s not like you can’t have both late drama and spectacle, as races like the snowy, epic 2009 World Cup in Kalmthout and even the 2013 World Championships in Louisville come to mind, but there, weather played a big role in the drama. Should a course design ensure more spectacle over last lap drama? Today’s race in Loenhout seemed to offer spectacle and late suspense.
Regardless of whether fans prefer faster courses, both Nys and Belgian coach Rudy De Bie seem to agree that they are are good for the internationalization of the sport.
“The sport can only gain by this,” says De Bie. “Next week in Rome, we’ll get an identical match picture.”
“”The World Championships in Hoogerheide, the World Cups Tabor, Zolder, Rome and Nommay: these are ideal matches if you want to start the final round with a squad of 15 riders,” said Nys.
Tabor does happen to be where American Jeremy Powers raced to a best-ever-by-an-American World Cup result, finishing seventh in the fast, dry 2012 event. However, the Belgians seem concerned about their own chances going forward.
“This can also happen in Hoogerheide…if the weather conditions go against us [fast, not muddy], you should not be surprised if we get a similar result,” predicts Nys.
This should be good news to some Americans, especially Powers, given his tendency to excel on fast, open courses. Powers finished as top American in 35th at the 2009 World Championships at the same venue, on a cold, relatively dry course.
Of course, the beauty of cyclocross is that Mother Nature holds all the cards, as last year’s snowy, slippery Hoogerheide World Cup provided plenty of drama and spectacle and still yielded an international, non-Belgian podium.
What’s your opinion?