Cyclocross Magazine’s Christine Vardaros was on the ground at 2017 World Championships in Bieles, and seized the opportunity to chat with Hungary’s #1 ‘crosser for some insight on his race season and the future of Hungarian ‘cross.
When we think back to the Luxembourg World Championships, the foreign countries that come to mind are likely Belgium, the Netherlands, and Great Britain. We watched their riders dominate the races this year, as we have in years past. But one country that will almost always slide under our radar is Hungary. Yes, they sent racers to Worlds, too.
One such athlete is 35-year-old Hungarian National Champion Zsolt Búr (Vialand Racing Team) who competed alongside the likes of Wout van Aert (Crelan – Charles) and Mathieu van der Poel (Beobank – Corendon). “I went five laps out of eight. This was enough for 50th place. I think I am satisfied with this regarding my season, and that I was competing against the world’s best on terrain I had never raced on before. I really went all in,” said Búr. Currently 123th out of 618 in UCI rankings, Búr is taking Hungarian ‘cross to a new high.
Flat Out Dedicated
For a financially-challenged country like Hungary, cyclocross is not easy for athletes, as it remains a mechanical sport. To be competitive at the top level, racers likely need to match or at least come close to the same level of material and support as those dominating the sport. This was especially evident in this year’s edition of Worlds where strings of flat tires afflicted almost every rider in the Elite Men’s event.
There were 34 flat tires shared between the top ten finishers. Lars van der Haar (Telenet-Fidea), who finished in fourth in the Elite Men’s race, had enough wheels to cover six flat tires. Former elite World Champion Lars Boom (LottoNL-Jumbo) had to abandon after his fifth flat tire, as he simply did not have any mud wheels left.
Búr suffered only one flat tire. He finished the race on his second of two bikes, which was thankfully also equipped with Challenge Limus mud tires. The three other wheelsets he owns are one Baby Limus, one Grifo and one Chicane.
Given the chance to ride those last three laps, he too may have fallen victim to a string of flats. Determined to finish out his race at all costs, he would have taken on the technical muddy course on his Baby Limus, then the Grifo, and lastly the Chicane, which is primarily intended for dry, fast-rolling conditions. One more flat after that (assuming they were all front or rear flats) and he would have run out of all the wheelsets that he owns.
Búr explained, “Yeah, today the circumstances were hard but the race wasn’t all about strength, power and technique. The support mattered as well, including who had how many bikes and spare wheels, etc., and how far they can go with the support they have. It’s a bit difficult for us [himself and junior rider Erik Fetter] to afford these kinds of races abroad without additional support. We have to work next to training and racing.”
Without the support of his personal sponsors, as well as much of his own money, he never could have made it to Worlds.
Levels of Privilege
As an American racer who has made the trip over to Europe on many occasions, I can relate to this feeling of inadequacy. In fact, many Americans who’ve made the trip over to Europe are very familiar with this feeling. I will never forget when the USA National Coach came up to me a couple of hours before a World Cup and said, “Don’t you think you should pre-ride the course?” I just smiled as I didn’t know how to tell him that I only had one bike, and no spare wheels. I was afraid to damage the bike in the pre-ride through thick sticky knee-deep mud. I have also competed at one of my three World Championships with one bike. That’s all. But my situation was mainly due to logistics, and the cost of flying over with two bikes and multiple wheelsets was a limiting factor. From Hungary, they simply got in their van and drove. Pure finances determine what they have to work with, material-wise.
Eyes Set on Belgium
Even though Búr is fully aware that he will continue to line up at the start alongside riders who may have had their own race campers and a fleet of bikes and wheels since the age of 14, it doesn’t stop him from working towards his goals. “I think I have a couple of seasons in me. Next season my dream is to race in Belgium. The difference between courses like Worlds or Belgium and ours back home is that ours are made so that hobby riders could race on them too. On the Worlds course for instance, that is not an option [for hobby riders to compete]. And if I make it to the next Worlds, I would like to end up around 30th place.”
A Future Generation of Hungarian Crossers
Búr plans to pass all his accumulated experience and knowledge onto the next generation so that they are more prepared to do battle with the powerhouse cross countries. Junior racer Fetter is one such “next generation” rider. He finished 29th out of 63 riders. Búr explained, “We saw how the teams are preparing for [Worlds], how it’s done or supposed to be done. Hopefully in the future we can bring it… do our best.” Búr is currently coaching the national MTB reserve team. After his racing career ends, his goal is to dedicate more of his efforts towards grooming these future ‘crossers so that they can one day put Hungary on the map of cyclocross hotspots.
Home Town Hero
Directly after the race, Búr exclaimed, “The most uplifting experience at Worlds was that the audience is not only cheering for the top riders, they cheer for everyone. For the spectators, every rider is a hero.”
In Hungary, Búr is also a hero. Mozgásvilág newspaper wrote about Búr’s Worlds performance, “That first step has been done, from Zsolt’s part for sure. We wish that in the future, we could cheer for our best in this spectacular and hard sport.”