Category: Cyclocross

Jeremy Powers retires from pro cyclocross racing

Perhaps the most decorated and influential American cyclocross rider of the last decade, Jeremy Powers retires from pro racing.

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Rising Dutch ‘cross star Betsema fails anti-doping test

Denise Betsema was the breakout star of the last cyclocross season, but she returned an adverse analytical finding in an anti-doping test at a January World Cup.

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VN podcast: Talking ‘cross with Helen Wyman

Welcome to the VeloNews cycling podcast, where we discuss the latest trends, news, and controversies in the world of cycling.

This week, we talk with cyclocross veteran Helen Wyman (Xypex) about some of the storylines shaping international women’s cyclocross in 2018. Why are some races still too short? What impact will the junior women’s division have on elite racing? And which riders are the favorites to win the world title?

If you like what you hear, subscribe to the VeloNews podcast on iTunesStitcher, and Google Play. Please give us a review and a rating, if you have time! Also, check out the VeloNews Fast Talk training podcast with Trevor Connor and the VeloNews tech podcast with Dan Cavallari.

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Wyman funds first major junior women’s CX race at DVV event

International cyclocross took a muddy step forward on Friday in its long journey toward gender equality.

Organizers of the DVV Trofee race in Loenhout, Belgium staged a standalone event for junior women between the ages of 14 and 18. The race is the first of its kind within international cyclocross’s three major racing series: the World Cup, DVV, and Telenet Superprestige. While there are separate races held for junior and U23 men at these events, the junior and U23 women are traditionally lumped together in the elite women’s field.

The junior race was the brainchild of British national cyclocross champion Helen Wyman. Organizers titled the event the “Helen 100 Trophy.”

“It’s really cool — I think this could have a massive impact on women’s cycling in a few years,” Wyman said. “You could see a whole new group of talented women coming into the top end of the sport.”

Earlier this year, Wyman staged a fundraiser in the UK called the “Helen 100.” The raffle collected donations of 10 pounds each to pay for British women aged 16-23 to attend the UK national cyclocross championships in January. Wyman surpassed her target of 2,500 pounds, and wanted to put the extra funding toward a separate cyclocross project for young girls.

Through her contacts in Belgian cyclocross, Wyman reached out to production company Golazo, which organizers the DVV series. She proposed the idea of funding a junior division at the Loenhout race with the extra money from her drive.

“It’s just a matter of trial and no response from my initial contact to a few race organizers, followed by a random email that hit Golazo’s desk at exactly the right time,” she said. “Sometimes everything just aligns perfectly when you have the right contacts.”

Wyman believes the standalone junior race could help women achieve longer racing times in the future. In 2016, the UCI’s cyclocross commission set a standard for international women’s race times, stating that the events should be a minimum of 40 minutes and a maximum of 50 minutes. Organizers often fail to live up to that standard, however. The Superprestige race in Hamme, Belgium was won by Annemarie Worst in just over 39 minutes. The UCI World Cup round in Tabor, Czech Republic, was won by Lucinda Brand in 40:19.

Wyman said organizers often reference the presence of teenage riders in the elite women’s field as an explanation for the short races.

“Holding back the entire women’s elite field by saying, ‘they can’t do more than 40 minutes because there are junior girls’ is counterproductive,” Wyman said. “It should make us have a junior category, so the elite women can do 50 minutes. Eventually it will come.”

Wyman also believes the junior category could improve the competitive dynamics in the elite ranks. In 2016, the UCI created its own U23 division for the World Cup and world championships, a move that Wyman believes has improved the competitive balance in the elite women’s field throughout 2018.

“Right now we have seven or eight riders doing really well who came through [the U23 division], and I think we could double that in a few years,” Wyman said. “It’s going to make it so much harder to win a race five years from now.”

Wyman hopes Friday’s race persuades other promoters to create standalone fields for junior women. The UCI will stage its first junior women’s world championship race at the 2020 world championships in Dubendorf, Switzerland.

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What has the U.S. gained by hosting cyclocross World Cups?

In early December, a string of articles and tweets by several Belgian cyclocross promoters, pundits, and analysts suggested the sport may be losing its footing, even in the sport’s epicenter. TV viewership was down year over year by a double-digit percentage. Mathieu van der Poel’s domination was leading to predictable racing. A lack of strong rivalries in the men’s field was eroding any narrative to drive fan interest. And the calendar of races? That schedule, suggested the critics, was also to blame for the decline in energy surrounding the sport.

As an answer to cyclocross’s woes, Flanders Classics head Wouter Vandenhaute suggests redrawing the cyclocross season to mimic the classics road season as a unified, streamlined, more digestible entity. Cyclocross commentator Carl Berteele also proposes an entirely new calendar for the sport, with individual races at the start of the season, and then series racing starting in October and a maximum of one country per weekend for the majority of the season.

Another of Berteele’s proposals, however, was what most caught our attention: lose the U.S. World Cups.

“I am in favor of internationalization, but I am not a fan of the American competitions: it did have something a few years ago — a new world that seemed to be opening up,” Berteele said. “But what is the surplus if we take stock after a year or three? I happily drop the names of Kenny [sic] Werner, Curtis White, and Anthony Clark. Do you know them? They are the best American riders this season, Werner and White even won seven times. True? In the States, of course, but nobody knows that.”

Harsh? Probably. Uniformed? Seems to be. Simplistic? Definitely. If we look past the fact that he misspells Kerry Werner’s name, and he completely disregards the American women who have proven their athleticism and talent for years at the highest level of the sport, it does raise an interesting question: what has the U.S. gained — from the athlete perspective, fan perspective, community perspective — by hosting two World Cups, in Iowa (at Jingle Cross) and Wisconsin (at Trek), on American soil?

We spoke with racers, promoters, and team owners who gathered at the recent USA Cycling Cyclocross National Championships in Louisville, Kentucky, to answer that question. Here are their thoughts.

Kris Auer, race promoter, Charm City Cross

“We’ve gained a lot of perspective on where ’cross is in America. And those two World Cups are amazing events. So well done. That said, it hasn’t born fruit in the way that I think cyclocross needs to grow globally, and it hasn’t really demonstrated what the U.S. has to offer. We had 16 American athletes and 16 Canadian athletes just to fill the field, which shows that globalization is not happening. We’re spending a lot of money on these big events when maybe we need to take a step back and focus on U.S. cyclocross. In my opinion, the U.S. World Cups aren’t really providing that domestic focus. It eats up a couple weekends where you can’t really do anything else in America.

“I’ve looked into hosting a World Cup, and it was like, ‘Wow, it would be rad to host the best in the world.’ I think it’s what we want to see: the best racing, on our turf, and show what we can do. But we’re certainly not getting support from the rest of the world on that. They need to do what we’ve always done — [travel across the ocean] — and they don’t want to do it. And they don’t have to do it. There’s so many UCI races in Belgium alone, so ‘Why come to the U.S.?’ It’s so expensive; they want to do it not with two bikes and two sets of wheels, they want 12 sets of wheels, four bikes, and guarantee their comfort zone. I just don’t see the world wanting to do it right now.

“I want to believe [Berteele] looked at it like, ‘Hey, we’ve done his grand experiment and it hasn’t worked yet.’ What sucks about his comments is he likely hasn’t been to the U.S. He probably knows zero about racing in the U.S. He’s uninformed. If he wants to have a great opinion, he should come watch some U.S. racing and look outside his very small box. I love Belgium, I have a Belgian announcer at my race, I’m all in. But I think that guy needs a lesson in reality. Someday, Belgium is going to step away from ’cross a bit and they’re going to be left holding nothing. They’re cycling mad, but nothing lasts forever. He’s shortsighted. I don’t think he’s looking at it like it’s a failed experiment, I think he’s saying, ‘Why bother?’ And I think he’s dead wrong. We should bother. Maybe it is a failed experiment. But we had to try. Nothing great happens by saying, ‘It’s cool.’ Something great happens when people get fired up about something. That’s when greatness comes.”

Stu Thorne, general manager of

“It’s just good for the sport. It’s a World Cup series, so why should they all be in central Europe? If we want to make it a true World Cup, being in the States is a good thing.

“You’ve gotta have that pinnacle series that people aspire to. You’ve got to have something at that top level that people can latch onto.

“A good number of U.S. racers would love to race in the World Cups. Are they all going to be at the front of the race? Some of them, for sure they will not. Are they there just to participate and gain experience? It’s not the worst thing in the world. Every league has their team that doesn’t do well. Does that mean they should be kicked out of the league? These riders that are trying to gain experience, I don’t think they’re there just to fill out the grid, even if that’s ultimately what they’re doing. It’s important for everyone to be there if you’re going to be inclusive and have a true World Cup. Otherwise, we ought to just call it the Belgian Cyclocross Cup.

“I have friends that don’t know anything about cyclocross. But when I say, ‘Kaitie Keough won a World Cup,’ it legitimizes it when I tell somebody that. It brings people into the sport; if we could do that with a lot of people that would be phenomenal. How do we do that? I don’t know. But a World Cup across the world is a start.”

Katie Compton (KFC Racing), 15-time national champion

“We get points and don’t have to travel across the ocean, which is an issue. We’ve got our support from teams, and families, and friends, and bikes, and equipment. But beyond that, it shows the world what the U.S. has to offer for ’cross. It’s different from Belgium. It’s never going to be like Belgium. And it shouldn’t be like Belgium. Our business model is totally different. But having those World Cups puts us on the world’s stage and shows what we have to offer, which are really fun, challenging courses, a different scene, spectators who are really into bike racing and know the athletes and support first through 50th place. And if we’re going to grow the sport of ’cross, we need to leave that little pocket in Belgium where it exists now. For a true World Cup, it doesn’t need to be a Belgian Cup.”

Kerry “Kenny” Werner (Kona)

“From the fan perspective, for one, it’s cool to see those guys come over here. For people that are passionate about the sport, that’s what keeps the sport alive: ‘Holy s***, those guys are fast, and for real!’ For kids that see Wout [van Aert] and [Mathieu] van der Poel, from a development standpoint it … I’m of the mindset that the reason they’re so good at ’cross over there is that they’re exposed to the highest level of racing when they are 12 or whatever. And it’s getting better here.

“From the racing perspective, there’s the exposure. And I don’t know if we gain much from that in the short term — from those two weekends, it’s not like it necessarily makes us better; to do that you need long-term exposure to a higher level of racing — but it keeps you hungry. I’ve had a pretty good season, but I know I’m not that good in the grand scheme of things. My world ranking right now is 18th, and I’m proud of that, I worked hard for that, but if I got a top-20 result in a European World Cup, that would probably be the best result of my career.

“It’s hard. I understand what [Berteele] was saying because it’s true, it is an inconvenience for them to come over here and race. But we do that all the time. Otherwise, we’d all wait until the end of the season to head over there.”

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Van der Poel’s dominance continues at Zolder World Cup

Mathieu van der Poel (Corendon-Circus) is on a winning streak that dates back to early November when he won the European cyclocross championships. Wednesday’s World Cup round in Heusden-Zolder was victory #12 in that impressive run. Reigning world champion Wout van Aert (Cibel) was second ahead of youngster Joris Nieuwenhuis (Sunweb).

Van der Poel was content to let the first two laps play out on the fast, dry track. He sat at the back of the front group as Michael Vanthourenhout (Marlux-Bingoal) and Toon Aerts (Telenet-Fidea) escaped.

Van Aert lost touch with the four-rider chase, making a bike change in the pits.

At the end of the second lap of racing, van der Poel swept up to the two leaders, indicating that he was merely biding his time with a subdued start.

It was only a matter of time before the Dutchman rode clear of Aerts and Vanthourenhout.

Around the race’s halfway point, Vanthourenhout jammed his chain and was forced to run to the pits, a setback for the chasers.

As Aerts faded out of second place, van Aert found his rhythm, bringing along Nieuwenhuis to chase van der Poel.

With two laps to go, van Aert dropped the under-23 world champion and stayed on the gas, keeping van der Poel within 30 seconds.

The trio finished in that order. For van der Poel, a win was practically a foregone conclusion. Van Aert continued his search for a way to challenge his Dutch rival. Nieuwenhuis, on the other hand, was thrilled to earn his first career World Cup podium in the elite category.

The World Cup resumes January 20 at Pont-Château, France.

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Vos wins third World Cup of the season in Zolder

Seven-time world cyclocross champion Marianne Vos (Waowdeals) extended her lead in the UCI World Cup overall with a win Wednesday at Heusden-Zolder, Belgium. Vos took her third World Cup of the 2018-’19 season, right ahead of fellow Dutchwoman Lucinda Brand (Sunweb). Reigning world champ Sanne Cant (Corendon-Circus) was third.

On a cold, dry day after Christmas, Vos went to work right away, taking the holeshot on the high-speed paved start straight on the Zolder auto racing track.

A three-rider crash on the first corner and her fast start off the line saw Vos with an early solo lead. Though she tried to ride away on the first lap, the race was bound to regroup given the conditions.

When it did, Vos found herself joined by Cant and her Corendon teammate Carmen Alvarado, Brand, and Niki Brammeier (Mudiiita-Specialized).

While the race for the win came down to Vos and Brand, the two had to overcome setbacks early in the race.

In the first two laps, Brand crashed while Cant was piling on the pressure. This forced the Dutch champion, winner of the previous World Cup round, to chase along with Alvarado and Brammeier, who had been held up by the crash.

When they returned to the front of the race, around two laps to go, it was Vos’s turn to lose touch with the leaders. In her case, the issue was mechanical.

However, despite Cant’s best efforts to shred the front group apart, Vos was back in the mix by the final lap of racing and she still had plenty of matches to burn. She attacked and only Brand could follow. Brand made a small bobble in the closing moments of the race, opening the door for Vos to win. It was her seventh win at Zolder over the course of her decorated career.

The World Cup resumes January 20 at Pont-Château, France.

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CX World Cup: Van der Poel dominates muddy Namur

Mathieu Van der Poel (Corendon-Circus) rode faultlessly through a heavy, technical course to win by over a minute at Namur, Sunday.

“Now that we’ve raced here a couple of years, it’s becoming a little bit easier, but it’s still difficult,” said the winner about the tricky course.

The race went out hard as the pack went straight up the opening climb. The field was led to the summit by Laurens Sweeck (Pauwels Sauzen-Vastgoedservice), with Van der Poel, Michael Vanthourenhout (Marlux-Bingoal), and Corne van Kessel (Telenet-Fidea Lions) close behind.

Wout Van Aert had a poor start, missing his pedal on the line, and found himself mid-pack before the race had truly begun.

Through the opening lap, the lead group shuffled many times, made up of Sweeck, Van Kessel, Van der Poel, Vanthourenhout, Kevin Pauwels (Marlux-Bingoal), and Toon Aerts (Telenet-Fidea Lions), with these six all within seconds of each other.

Van Aert was not phased by the unfortunate start, and worked his way through the field. By the start of lap two, he had fought back to 16 seconds off the lead, and was approaching the six leaders.

With the front six locked together in lap two, the decisive attack of the race came on the greasy off-camber straight, where Van der Poel accelerated hard and passed Aerts, who was then in the lead of the pack. The attack’s ferocity was evident in that the leader had a five second lead over Aerts within a few bends.

As the race approached lap three, Van der Poel had a 23-second advantage over Aerts, who lead the chasers. Vanthourenhout and Van Kessel came next, with Sweeck, Pauwels, and Van Aert fighting for fifth.

The off-camber that cost Aerts the lead position caused him difficulty again on lap three, as he lost the bike beneath him and crashed hard, allowing Vanthourenhout and Van Aert to catch him and form a trio fighting for second.

Aerts soon slipped back off this group, leaving Van Aert and Vanthourenhout around 30 seconds behind Van Der Poel through lap four. At the head of the race, Van der Poel was imperious, sliding the bike around bends and looking totally at ease.

Vanthourenhout started to fade slightly in lap four as the course became heavier and boggier, with Aerts and Joris Nieuwenhuis passing him. Van Aert by now had formed a significant gap over this fight for third place, though it looked unlikely he would bridge the significant gap across to Van der Poel.

As the race entered lap five, Van Aert was 32 seconds behind the leader, and Aerts was 18 seconds behind him, as gaps started stretching throughout the field. Nieuwenhuis rode confidently through the second half of the race, passing Aerts to take third place. Vanthourenhout held fifth place.

At the front, Van der Poel and Van Aert remained locked around 40 seconds apart, and with neither rider making a mistake nor tiring, the gap looked unlikely to shift.

In the final lap, Van der Poel stretched his gap out slightly and wheelied his way across the line to take the win in 1:03:37.

“The crowds were awesome again here today; I love racing here,” said Van der Poel.

Van Aert crossed the line 1:04 back, with Aerts 46 seconds behind him in third, after managing to overhaul Nieuwenhuis in the final lap.

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CX World Cup, Namur: Brand leads home all-Dutch podium

Lucinda Brand (Sunweb) went solo from the middle of the race to take a confident victory in slippery, tricky conditions at Namur, Sunday.

“[This victory] is super important, it’s such a tough race to win, it shows I’m definitely on top of this level,” said Brand.

Racing was furious from the gun, as the pack tackled the steep uphill off the start line. Ellen Noble (Trek Factory Racing) took the lead and immediately gained a few seconds, with Eva Lechner (Creafin Tüv Sud), Marianne Vos (WaowDeals), and Annemarie Worst (Steylaerts-777) behind.

After her fast start, Noble tired and slipped back. Halfway through the first lap, Vos, Worst, and Denise Betsema (Marlux-Bingoal) took the lead. After a slow start, Nikki Brammeier (Mudita) had worked her way through the pack to take fourth position, with Brand, Lechner, Ceylin Del Carmen Alvarado (Corenden-Circus), and Kaitie Keough ( forming the chase group.

The technical course with slippy off-camber sections and steep descents favored Brand’s strong descending skills. By lap two she had caught the front trio, with Brammeier on her wheel; leaving Brand, Vos, Worst, Brammeier, and Betsema all within seconds of each other. Lechner chased behind in sixth.

Brand’s ease on the fast descents showed as the race went on, and by midway through lap three, she had pulled away, effortlessly gaining 16 seconds as those behind her struggled with the technical course. Brand set the fastest lap of the race so far in the third lap as she started to build her lead. Vos lead the chase in second, with Worst behind her. Brammeier and Betsema were shortly behind Worst.

Behind, Jolanda Neff had chased from the fifth row of the grid and worked her way through the field, and caught and dropped Lechner to take sixth. By lap four she had made contact with those battling for the remaining podium spots behind Brand. This bunch of five remained close to each other, with only seconds separating each.

As the race crossed the line for the final lap, Brand had a 21-second lead, with Vos in second and Worst six seconds behind her.

Brand continued to stretch her lead during the final lap, looking at ease throughout. She crossed the line for the win in 45:40. Vos came in 27 seconds behind her, and Worst five seconds after her. Brammeier held on for fourth.

Neff continued to improve throughout the race, and gained further places in the closing stages, taking fifth, setting the fastest lap of the race as she did so. After such a strong start, Noble finished 17th. Keough came eighth.

“It’s a super tough course here anyway, and with all the slippery dirt, it makes it even tougher,” said Brand.

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VeloNews Show: How to ride mud like Katie Compton

This video includes images and footage from YouTube/USA Cycling, @pinnedgrit, YouTube/Cannondale p/b, Tom Moran, Twitter/USA Cycling Live.

If you like muddy racing, then you loved this edition of USA Cycling’s National Cyclocross Championships in Louisville, Kentucky. Stephen Hyde and Katie Compton triumphed with their bike-handling skills and raw horsepower.

So what does it take to ride such a muddy ‘cross race? We bring on Chris Case to explain three fundamental tips for riding and racing in the mud.

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