On the eve of this Sunday’s Koksijde UCI Cyclocross World Cup, we caught up with Cyclocross Magazine team racer (and former CXM editor) Andrew Reimann and his wife Kathryn Cumming, as they prepare for Sunday’s race. Koksijde will be Cumming’s first World Cup, and in this rider diary, Reimann writes about some of pre-race barriers that they needed to overcome to get an up-and-coming cyclocross racer on this weekend’s Koksijde World Cup start list.

Cracking the Code to the Nifty Fifty

After spending the last month planning to travel to Koksijde for my wife and teammate, Kathryn Cumming to race with the Elite Women, I have a deeper appreciation for the relatively recent (made just before the 2014-15 season) rule change on allowing all of the top 50 UCI-ranked riders to get a guaranteed slot. In many ways, this opinion is brimming with irony. Kate is ranked just outside the top 50, which meant that most of the tension of whether she was selected or not depended on the decision of the American women in the top 50 to attend. If eight of them opted to go, she wouldn’t make the cut.

Anyone who has talked to me since the rule change knows that I like to refer to the top 50 as “The Good Ole Boys and Gals Club.” My reason? The insane amount of points offered, especially at the bottom end of World Cups, is almost laughable. Let me put it in perspective: even if no one pulls themselves from Koksijde, the rider who comes in dead last (even if she’s about to get lapped with three laps to go) will get more points than the rider who works her tail off getting fourth place this weekend at Los Angeles or the SuperCross in New York.

Even better for Koksijde riders, the World Cup points don’t compete with other UCI points, whereas for C2 races, only the best eight results go towards the ranking. Those in the top fifty can elect to keep racing in the World Cup, get mind-blowing points, stay in the top fifty, then keep electing to race in World Cups, ad infinitum.

But I wouldn’t change this back to the former way of doing things. The best part about this rule is that it destroys some of the mystery around national selection processes while giving a chance for many riders to plan their travel schedule ahead of time. The last few weeks have been a whirlwind of planning for sure.

In all honesty, we didn’t start the season with a World Cup on our radar. Even after Kate became the first American woman to stand on the podium in China, neither of us gave much thought to traveling to the homeland of cyclocross.

Jaunslaviete, Cumming and stood on the Women's Elite Podium. © Ricoh Riott

Jaunslaviete, Cumming and stood on the Women’s Elite Podium. © Ricoh Riott

It wasn’t until she took UCI points at Gloucester, which I consider to be the most difficult C2-C2 weekend for a woman to get points at in the world, that we gave the World Cup events a consideration. (By we, I mean her as a racer, and me as her pit mechanic. I belong racing in a World Cup as much as my couch-loving dog deserves competing in the Kentucky Derby.)

Barriers Taller than 40cm

The Cyclocross Magazine Racing Team submitted Kate’s application to Koksijde four weeks ahead of time, but we didn’t have a firm confirmation until two weeks later. The application is actually kind of amusing, and leaves me wondering how a few top-level athletes answer the questions.

For instance, there’s a big section that asks for your references. What does USAC mean by that, you ask? I have no idea. I reached out to a few UCI race promoters and they willingly allowed me to put their names on that list, but we didn’t know whether we needed endorsements of her sand-riding ability, good hygiene, or podium celebration.

There’s also a section that asks for three different ranks, such as Pro CX standings, UCI rank and USAC points rank. Near the end, there is also a big section to list all of your sponsors, which I found strange since we already gave a team name at the top of the form. I’m hoping that consideration for a World Cup isn’t dependent on a team’s ability to sign “Joe’s Energy Goop” and “Jerry’s Bike Shop,” but if it is, I’d brush up on Craig Richey’s “Secrets of Getting Sponsored” in Issue 29.

After a week of polite, proactive and persistent reaching out to USAC (three emails and four phone calls over seven days), I was able to get a direct connection to Marc Gullickson (“Gully), who is in charge of the selection for mountain bike and cyclocross World Cups, and a former cyclocross National Champion. After telling him I was the team manager, and looking to finalize booking plans, I hear a shuffling of a big pile of papers in a search for our application. After a while, he simply asked me one question: “What’s Cumming’s UCI rank?”

This question was a relief since I knew it meant that less than eight Americans in the top 50 elected to go to Belgium, and he was looking to see how close Kate was in comparison to the other applicants. I would later learn that Emma White, who was also just outside the top 50, was also in our same boat, and awaiting the final decision. I reached out to her before our trip, and she told me that she was relieved to hear she was going, as she has been welcoming every opportunity to get back up in the UCI rankings since her crash last year at Ellison Park.

In the end, my fears of us not going to Koksijde were completely unfounded. Only five total American women are going, with only two riders, Katie Compton and Ellen Noble, who were pre-qualified to race as top 50 UCI athletes. Belgian-based Christine Vardaros was the last and final member who will be on the American squad in the Women’s Elite face.

Of course, qualifying fears are different than security fears, with increased security due to terrorist concerns and US embassy recommendations, but we’re still planning to start.

Playing in a Belgian Sandbox

The not-at-capacity roster was one of the reasons Kate and I elected to go to Koksijde. The race is built on a specialist’s sand course that is not everyone’s cup of tea, and so it doesn’t get a huge turnout from the North American contingent. For instance, although the men of Canada have an unseasonably large contingent this year, top American Jeremy Powers is skipping it, and Robert Marion will be the only man representing the United States.

Often only the leader gets to ride the dunes on early laps. 2014 Koksijde UCI Cyclocross World Cup, Elite Women. © Bart Hazen / Cyclocross Magazine

Often only the leader gets to ride the dunes on early laps. 2014 Koksijde UCI Cyclocross World Cup, Elite Women. © Bart Hazen / Cyclocross Magazine

Our second reason we’re making Koksijde our first European race is that, in my humble opinion, Kate is one of the most ferocious runners in the sport, which we hope will translate into forward progress on a course that typically forces gobs of running.

“Most people run, because deep down they want to be chased.” -unknown

Even so, we found ourselves running in circles until two weeks beforehand when we got the definitive green light, and so booking the hotel, renting a utility van (which is manual, so I had to remember my high school driving days), getting airline tickets, and formulating all of the other small details of the trip in a compressed timeline was a stressful whirlwind.

With the constant elevation of Women’s Elite racing in the United States, we knew a spot here was far from guaranteed. The rushed planning was actually exciting, but I know it’s also a little stressful for many, and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone who should be pre-qualified to go. I almost can’t believe that not but two years ago, there were top-level athletes who had to wait until weeks beforehand to get the go ahead for a spot in a World Cup, especially in federations that have a history of keeping their top women out do to age or refusing to play political games.

In the end, we are just excited to be here. We arrived Friday morning and are leaving Monday as Kate has a full-time job (like many top women cyclocrossers) managing corporate wellness centers for UBS, and so of course her vacation days are sacrosanct.

Kate is a Continental Europe veteran, but this is my first time here. She’s excited to represent the team and the country at Koksijde, and as per usual, she’s not letting me know what her goals are for finishing. All I know is that she won’t be taking her opportunity lightly, and even if it means running around the course with two broken wheels, she is planning on not pulling herself out.

I’m sure it will be an incredible experience racing against the best in the world. Stay tuned for her report after all of the racing has finished.