WATERLOO, WI—Fans may have hoped for a double dose of the fast, tight, pack racing seen in the women’s race, but Mother Nature had other ideas as the men lined up for the final showdown of the day.
A Once-Tacky Track Turns Greasy
While the women saw a fast and furious race with pack racing and lead changes, the men encountered entirely different challenging conditions. The skies were a moody shade of grey the entire day, with off and on showers in the morning. Sprinkles of rain showed themselves before the men lined up, but it wasn’t until the race was underway that the precipitation started to fall within the first lap. It wasn’t enough to cause a repeat of the heavy 2019 World Cup Waterloo conditions, but enough to add a greasy layer of slick on top of the tacky mud lines throughout the course.
Quinten “Holeshot” Hermans won the race off the line to lead out the pack through the series of turns, turns he likely railed in practice but now found himself sliding through.
The men’s first trip down and up Factory Hill made for a rude awakening of what was to come. The racers hit the entrance at full speed, suspecting the ground to respond the same way it did in course recon, and aiming for pre-practiced lines to take for the steep climb out.
All that knowledge and practice washed away with the steady rain.
Their anticipated lines were no longer ideal, and their carefully planned tire choices and tire pressures became regrettable decisions.
It was the first trip down the off-camber that leads onto the pavement before the run-up that claimed many victims including early leader Hermans, along with Baloise Trek Lions’ Toon Aerts and Thibau Nys. Nys was carried away on a cart and went on to DNF because of the crash.
It was clear throughout the race that the pavement wasn’t the only spot that claimed victims to a crash. You could see many muddy hips and legs from crashes throughout the course.
Iserbyt Slows to Perfection
The Europeans raced in their typical fashion, battling for the top positions and to stay upright on the greasy track.
Up front, Eli Iserbyt was showing teammate Michael Vanthourenhout how to ride flawlessly in these conditions. Iserbyt had the confidence from conquering a muddy course the last time the World Cup stopped in Waterloo, but had added assurance from his legendary team director. He explained:
“I saw Toon have a really bad crash on the pavement, and when you have a crash like that, I know it’s not normal to come back from that, so I knew he was out of contention from the victory. Quinten had a crash too, I think.
“Richard, our Director, told us beforehand that it’s better to go a little bit slower and not make mistakes. I really kept that in mind and in the sections of the race where you could really push hard, I did it, like on the uphill and on the technical zone, so I think there I made the biggest difference.”
Unlike the group racing in the women’s race, the men’s race split fairly quickly leaving all men to themselves to race the course.
Vanthourenhout recalled his attempt to stay with his teammate:
“It was pretty hectic with a little bit of rain. Every corner, with the rain, was more and more slippery, and that made it very hard. I fell one time, so it’s good only one time!”
Halfway through the nine-lap race, Iserbyt rode away from Vanthourenhout in dominant fashion. Vanthourenhout explained the moment, saying, “Eli was too strong, and I was always on the wheel to follow him, but then Quinten was getting closer and closer so Eli decided to ride on, and I was dropped so it was just focus for me from then on. From three laps on I was riding my pace, but I think every rider was on the limit there.”
Iserbyt continued on solo to take the win, defending his 2019 title.
Vanthourenhout secured second for a Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal 1-2, with Quinten Hermans completing the podium in 3rd.
Behind the leaders, Kerry Werner put on a show, impressing fans with his fight all race long with a group of three Europeans comprised of Kevin Kuhn, Thijs Aerts, and Davide Toneatti. Werner went on to finish 14th, besting 2 of the 3 in his group.
The Race in the Pits
The pit crews worked just as hard as the racers during the men’s race.
Iserbyt won not only with his skills and strength, but also by effectively using the pits. “I had three or four bike changes in the race, and I yelled another six or seven times for different tire pressure,” the Belgian said after the race. “It was raining, then it was drying up, then it was raining. I kept changing the pressure and was constantly adapting to the course. That’s something I really like because it’s not only pedaling, it’s actually using your head.”
Top North American finisher, Kerry Werner, said the conditions were right up his alley, even if they kept his pit crew racing for the right tires and wheels. Werner welcomed the wetter conditions. “They were perfect, I started on files, went to mids, and then went to muds, I had the full spectrum today,” he recalled. “The flatter turns where there were grooves from the last couple of races were really packed hard. As soon as you would cross that when you were jumping from grass to grass you would start to slip.”
Michael Van den Ham described the ever-changing conditions and challenge (no pun intended) to find the right tires. “I went four times into the pits!” he recalled. “I was out there and I was like oh no, these are not the right tires. I was running 25psi on Grifos and I had actually gone up before the start of the race because I felt it was really grippy and I was rolling the tires around a little bit too much. I wish I would have kept them down.”
The difficulty was finding both the right pressure and tread. Van den Ham not only reduced air pressure but swapped treads. “I went from Grifos to Baby Limus, and then I stuck on Baby Limus for the entire race,” he explained. “That was the right tire, I just kept going down in pressure each time. I think I could have ridden 20 [psi] today.”
The men live to fight another day on Wednesday, October 13th in Fayetteville, AR for the second round of the UCI World Cups.
Full results are below the photo gallery.
2021 UCI Cyclocross World Cup Waterloo Elite Men Photo Gallery by Dave Mable: