What a two weeks in cyclocross it’s been. Okay, it’s not been that huge, but it has seen the introduction of rain to the scene and that makes me infinitely happy. It’s also included Koppenberg, the European and Pan-Am Champs, Canadian Nationals, plus the classic event in Gavere.
A New Youth Movement
Some great races have taken place, with big winners especially the double victory for Maghalie Rochette. I’m always happy to see a rider who’s made the commitment to the sport succeed and in only her first fully dedicated ‘cross season, Maghalie has just expanded her wardrobe with two new jerseys.
Now this kind of commitment does leave me with a problem; another set of fast legs to chase. The reality is that’s just fine by me. I want this sport to grow as quickly as possible.
One clear shift we are seeing this season is this rise of young riders at the top of the sport.
Although not always winning they are always challenging. On one of the many long drives I’ve had, as well as essential hours laying down on the couch (aka recovery) to think about things, it’s really become clear that we seem to be seeing riders choosing the sport who’ve had a chance to race in the newly separated U23 World Champs. Prior to 2016 we regularly have seen these riders leave the sport for mountain biking, track or road.
Sunday’s winner in maybe the biggest race of the weekend in Gavere was Alice Maria Arzuffi. She finished seventh in Zolder in 2016 in the inaugural World Champs for U23s.
Class of 2016 riders continue to impress like the huge early season performances by Sofia Gomez Villafane (19th), Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado (28th) and Fleur Nagengast (17th) that have put these riders firmly on the map, the latter two are currently in places 1 and 2 in the u23 World Cup.
Ruby West (33rd) has won the U23 Canadian Champs this past weekend, Emma Swartz (32nd) is now part of the Trek Factory Team alongside 2016 and 2018 u23 world champion Evie Richards, who is perhaps the future of the sport. Maud Kaptheijns (3rd) dominated large parts of last season, and Ellen Noble (6th) is, well, Ellen Noble. She’s as good as anyone in the sport right now. This list ignores many more.
So, for you readers who say I push too much for change or talk too much about it, firstly shame on you.
Secondly, this is why. These changes are essential to the future of our sport. From 2000 to 2015, women’s cyclocross was treading water. Now we’ve learned to swim, and fast. It’s wonderful.
The Helen100 and a Peugeot 205
Some more positive news this week is on a personal note with the success of the Helen100 campaign so far. I’ve been working hard to create an opportunity for 100 (hopefully a lot more) young women to be able to ride in the UK Championships for free. Seeing these riders get a chance to perhaps be inspired and hopefully one day have their names next to those above is a big dream for me.
Cyclocross is an expensive sport and every little bit helps. Stef and I were speaking to a fan at the weekend while I warmed up for Gavere, and he commented that ’cross is for rich people. That made me sad.
I remember going with my bike in the back of a borrowed Peugeot 205, loving it and going home still covered in mud and poop (not mine of course). I actually had Peugeot bikes as well, but I’ve just realised they didn’t match the car, which looking back, it would have been a hugely pro move I missed out on.
Imagine where I could have been now if I’d thought that through at the time.
I didn’t have a jet wash, airline, generator, spare shoes and all the other luxuries we have at the top of the sport. Perhaps a rethink is needed in the young categories to try to welcome riders from all backgrounds. I’m not saying one bike racing is a solution, but perhaps there are good ideas out there.
Something I’m seeing a lot in the press this week, certainly in Europe right now, is folk questioning if Mathieu van der Poel is killing ’cross with his dominance. That’s certainly not the case in my opinion; he hasn’t had it all his way this season either.
To me, he’s a pleasure to watch and his flair, style and ability are going to raise standards in the Elite field around him. It might take time, and riders like Tom Pidcock and Eli Iserbyt might be the next level to be able to challenge him.
I’ve ridden in many seasons dominated by single riders. Sanne Cant, Hanka Kupfernagel, Marianne Vos and Daphny van den Brand have all proven more or less unbeatable at times, but we just go away and raise our games.
To me it’s progress. Seeing Mathieu win is a pleasure and seeing him leave the sport will be a really sad moment. Equally, in the women’s side of the sport, we may well have periods of the season dominated by certain riders.
People may look at riders’ results and say, “oh not so good as last year,” however from the inside, I feel that the quality of the women’s field has risen to a new level this year. The progress so many women riders have made this season have made a top 10 the new podium. I’m incredibly proud of that, not frustrated, although as I’m a last-lap hero maybe we could come to some arrangement about the speed of that first lap?
Now it’s on to the Czech Republic for the next round of the World Cup followed by Switzerland, France and Belgium as the cyclocross travel season continues at full pace.
‘Til next time
If you missed it, check out our profile of Wyman’s Kindhuman Küdü.