Belgium Nationals or World Championship?

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I’ve had nearly 24 hours to let the Elite Cyclocross Worlds mull around in my mind and I’m not good with it. Something is amiss here, but I can’t exactly put my finger on it. It most likely started with the “stacked” results by the Belgium team. The results were not good for anyone involved other than Niels Albert and Rob Peeters. But it goes beyond that. It is a multitude of small things that add up to perplexity.

I have to state once more, the course sucked. I know the course was extreme, but it was too extreme for a World Championship. It was nearly singletrack most of the way around. That isn’t my idea of cross. Passing should be much easier. Weather sometimes makes a course less passing friendly, but it was never going to be the case on that course, no matter what the weather was going to be.

The course wasn’t long enough either. With this new 80% rule being enforced, the time to get pulled was really small, making the results look all that more wrong. I’ll state it once more, the rule sucks! When Jeromy Powers, the US National Champion and a rider that has finished top 10 in a World Cup this season, gets pulled with -2 laps, something is drastically wrong. Way over half the field was pulled. Chris Jones, one of the best cross riders in the US got pulled at 5 laps, half the race. It wasn’t a great course for him, but come on. A couple of riders only got to ride 2 out of 10 laps. I stated a couple days ago that I wouldn’t even have bothered to line up if I started more than 3 rows back. I’m sticking with that. Niels Albert had a 0 % chance of winning that race from the 4th row. I understand the line up procedure and the fairness of it, but it is the World Championships and it is its’ own race. Let’s give the other riders that aren’t on the front row a little chance to show themselves if they are having that day.

The results were pretty predictable. The women’s race was too easy to pick the winner. It was a given. And Niels Albert wasn’t really a stretch either. I really don’t follow the Euro cross season super closely, close enough to know each and every guys abilities on each course and I didn’t have much of a problem guessing a couple guys that finished in the front. It was a reach throwing in Rob Peeters in my pre race predictions, but I’ve seen a couple videos of him motoring through the sand recently and thought he might have a stellar day on home turf.

Stybar cracking wasn’t something that I expected. But, it is sport and everyone has good and bad days. Having a good day on a course Koksijde is as much mental as physical. Mentally, losing the gap on Albert so early into the first lap seemed to destroy him. He was never really a part of the mix. Too bad, it would of legitimized the race some if he would have been in contention more.

16 riders at the Belgium National Championships and then they finish 1st through 7th at the World Championships. It seems weird, to say the least. It’s like the Russian Team Time Trial Teams of the 80’s. I remember a story when the Czech National TTT team went to ride the Russian National Championships one year and finshed 19th place. Then a couple weeks later, at the World Championships, the Russian Team won and the Czech Team finished 2nd. That means there were 18 TTT teams in Russian that could have won the World Championships. Viatcheslav Ekimov, who won the Olympics twice on the track, once said it was harder winning the Russian Nationals than the Olympics. That could now be said about cyclocross in Belgium.

I have to be astonished that I didn’t witness one male rider fall in the Elite race. The bike handling skills of those guys in the sand was phenomenal. And it was completely amazing the 61,000 + spectators lining the course. Belgium is crazy for cyclocross, that is for sure. When the King of Belgium is in attendance, that is something special. (I don’t think Obama, or whoever, is going to be in Louisville next January.) I’m sure most of the people there are still shaking heads about the results. As I am. I’m sure I’ll post more about this later when I can get a handle on what I think really happened and try to make more sense of it.

Picture is worth 1000 words.

22 thoughts on “Belgium Nationals or World Championship?

  1. Dan Seaton

    I more or less agree with a lot of your assessment of the race — especially that the course wasn’t long enough. We were standing on the side of the course in the press area in total disbelief about the guys who were rolling past us off the course and out of the race.

    You’re right about the Belgian dominance too, I think. More than one American has told me that they believe it’s often easier to get good results at Worlds, where the Belgians only have seven guys, than at a random Superprestige or GVA Trofee race where you have to go up against everybody.

    About the course itself, though, I talked to Tim for a while after he got pulled and I thought he had an interesting take:

    “It’s like golf. This is like St. Andrews, and not every golfer can play St. Andrews to their potential. It’s beyond belief when you’re out there. We don’t do this kind of course every year (at the worlds). …This is totally to an extreme, and that’s awesome. It’s a spectacle and an absolute success on every level of the sport. So if it’s not my kind of race, oh well. I can deal with that.”

  2. Me

    They use to call “Motocross” the “National Sport of Belgium!” Americans changed the sport of Motocross into what it is today. They used “Stadium Motocross” to do that! Next year, Kentucky has the ability to bring “Cyclocross” into the U.S. national spotlight! If promoted properly, it has the capacity to do for “Cyclocross,” what the “Superbowl of Motocross” (at L.A. coliseum,) did for Motocross in late 1970s.

  3. andy

    I had a cursory look at the course layout on the site, it looked like they had removed length from the course vs. what they ran for the world cup in 2010. I was there for that race and it was a similar affair with pretty much all Belgium at the front, with Stybar being the exception… and Albert ended up winning the race solo off the front.

    It was pretty predictable.

    And it’s Rob Peeters, nephew of Quickstep DS/former Domo/Mapei rider Wilifried…

  4. tilford97 Post author

    Dan-I have to disagree with Tim’s take on the race. It isn’t like St. Andrews because of the start order. At St. Andrews, everyone, in theory, has the same opportunity to play the game and have a good result. The way this race is set up, if you don’t have a zillion UCI points and line up in the front, it is done. None of those Belgium guys could have had the results they did if they didn’t line up on the front. I’m not saying they aren’t all the best riders, I’m saying it is the World Championships they need to make sure the race course is suitable for such a race. I don’t think that one was.

  5. jpete

    This also reminds me a little of the Gewiss boys- Berzin et al, and the mockery they made of some of the races in the early-mid nineties. of course, they had some pharmaceutical help…

  6. JimW

    I don’t see the big deal here Steve.
    I think Tim is on point. Horses for courses or courses for horses in this instance. It was a spectacle of extreme proportions which the Belgians love.
    As for pulling guys. How could you not pull racers on that course. More to the point it’s worlds and having lapped riders interfere with the lead is way more wrong than pulling them.

    Think about it like this. Road worlds uses different types of courses that suit sprinters, rouleurs and climbers from year to year. Same thing happened in cross the numbers and types of specialists in cross is just that much smaller.

    I think the CAS delay should have you scratching your head more the CX WC’s. ; )

  7. Guy

    You said in an earlier post that a good cross racer can race on any kind of course. The guys that had the highest UCI points got the call up. As it should be. You are a great racer Steve. I wish you would come over here to Europe and race against our caliber of rider. I race your class in masters and we were in the same group at Mol last year. I had a last row call up and of course after the mass jam in the sand after the start I was out of luck. Thats CX. You had a great race and finally raced against guy^s your caliber. Congrats on your gold in Louisville, but if it were me, I would value my broze from Mol more. Love your blog

  8. tilford97 Post author

    Guy- The start in Mol was not random. It was fixed. It still irks me some. I got to the front for about 1 lap. I never saw the winner. It took me that long to get up there. And the race was 30 minutes long. For being cyclo-x experts, the race was run really badly. The bronze medal still leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

  9. Dan Seaton

    Fair point on the start order, Steve. I think there are definitely plenty of people — even a lot of Belgians — who share that point of view.

    On the other hand, it is not impossible for a good rider to go from the back to the front on that course. Arnaud Jouffroy did it in the U23 race and Katie did it in the Women’s race. Neither had the result they wanted in the end, but both had a real chance to get on the podium.

    Personally, I’m kind of undecided on the question, I can see both sides. It’s good for the sport to have such a spectacle for a World Championships once in a while, isn’t it? But I agree that a championship race where almost everybody gets pulled and only a handful of guys even have a ghost of a chance to race for the win is a definitely problematic.

  10. Nancy

    @ Dan Seaton: Katie was on the front row at the start. I did not see the start of the race but she missed it and was delayed at the back. Then, she fought her way to the front group.

    Stybar was on the front row too and did not have a great race too.

  11. Bri

    I don’t ride cross but follow it some. It seems the same title could almost be applied to this scenario: US Cross Masters Nationals or Worlds Cross Masters? I looked at the results and noticed that almost every rider was from US and a few from Canada. The one Belgian I see in the results from Worlds Cross (Sven) won his age. Obviously you are competitive in cross on a global level but how would the rest of our masters compare once it goes back to being held in Europe? It appears that cross is much more popular in Europe than in the states.

  12. tilford97 Post author

    Guys, I understand the whole idea of being a well rounded cross rider. And like I put in my post, I haven’t exactly came to a definitive decision whether I think the race was alright.

    My problem with the event is the amount of sand and how it made the race seem unfair. There is no place in the whole world to race cross that has sand like Belgium. Those guys have been racing in sand since square one. You’d have to race in the sand lots and lots of times to be proficient at it. Sand definitely has a place in cyclo-x. But, not to the extent of what was going last weekend.

    Mud is a different deal. There is mud everywhere and it is part of cross. And most elite cross riders have payed their dues in mud. But unless you are planning on moving to Belgium, very young, and learn to race cross, I think you’d always going to be schooled in

  13. Mark

    Local riders will always have an advantage when racing on courses they are used to. You can travel around the United States and see completely different course set-ups on the East Coast than on the West, Midwest. Racing cross in the Midwest in January is very different than in January in SoCal. Riders that can generally go fast on anything, will always go super-fast on the stuff they ride everyday. World Cup mtb races are even worse of a bottle neck at the start, when 100 guys are sprinting for singletrack. Some of those courses set up a “start loop(s)” to allow the field to get sorted out first before heading into the actual course laps. Had the Koksijde course had a short, 1/4mile, no-so-sandy loop to nagivate just at the start before hitting the regular lap course with the dunes, results may have been different. If they build a 100meter long man-made beach at Cross Vegas, the results sheet might be turned up-side-down.

  14. TheRaceRadio

    As usual a good review from Tilford. FYI, Stybar was sick, he woke up with a fever this morning. That might explain his bad day

  15. Brad Carvey

    Steve said, “It was nearly singletrack most of the way around. That isn’t my idea of cross. Passing should be much easier. ”
    I agree that a cross course has to have room to pass. If people can’t pass it’s not very interesting for the spectators and it’s painful and frustrating for the riders.
    Tim is making the point that courses vary and some people are better on some courses and not others. But, I think the point Steve was making, is that any course that does not adequate opportunities to pass, make it almost impossible to be competive if you are a few rows back. This is independent of the type of course.
    I would also say that single track courses encourage people to do stupid stuff trying to get to the front.

  16. tilford97 Post author

    Here’s some of what Niels Albert said about the race-

    “First of all, this is a course and a Championships on Belgian soil so it’s a bit of a home match. Secondly from when we started racing, we were taught to race in sand. So when this trail comes with sand, it’s something that we’ve been doing since when we were small. Third, there were seven Belgians in the first seven places, that’s not our fault that’s the competition’s fault.” Albert replied.

  17. TLeveille

    I don’t agree with your opinion about the start order. The start order is made out of the world cup classification. If one rider believe he can do well in the world champs, he should first try to place well in the world cup.

    The french and czech guys were well placed at the start. Page was in the top 10. In the end they all got dropped. If you look at the lap times, you can clearly see that the belgians were just out of reach.

    What is needed for a better growth of the sport outside belgium is more world cups events all over the worlds and with more money involved to counterbalance the superprestige and gva trophy. Then the global level of the sport would raise and the belgian would not dominate the sport as easily.

    This world championship was probably a little too special with all the sand involved, but the other nations would be more prepared if they were more accustomed to race on these type of courses. Americans, french, dutch, italians, spaniards, germans, canadians, japanese…they all have beachs, they could all organise races on the beachs ? Then why is the first non belgium racer a czech ?

  18. rick

    Good call TLeveille…The US guys have a ton of UCI points partly due to the glut of early season US races and they still have issues at World Cup races even from the first or second rows..These guys are awesome and getting better every year and most certainly will do better in Loiusville but the fact of the matter is that there is a ways to go. As far as the courses go, it is what it is, George Hincapie didn’t grow up riding cobbles but still finished on the podium in Paris-Roubaix. How? Living and racing in Europe. That’s really whats its going to take especially with how much easier most US cross courses are…Again the US guys are killing it but as usual they need more support to be able to travel more..

  19. Mark

    U.S. only has one rider committed enough to race over there full time: PAGE. As expected, he is the best American rider (on average) when if comes to racing there. He does occational get beat by 1 other American, but generally speaking, he is the best at racing those courses at those speeds. It will take some of the other U.S. pros to buck up, forgo the U.S. circuit for a while, and split an apartment in Ruddervoorde for a year or two before we’d start seeing a significant change. I’m sure Geoff Proctor’s Euro Cross Camp facilities could be used on a more season-long basis but it would still require the riders committment to leave the comfort level of home soil behind for a while. The sacrifices that Page has endured over the years is well documented and probably deters most of attempting what he has done.

  20. Jim

    Still thinking about the sand. It’s not fair, but it’s not unexpected since there are no rules governing what a fair course is, as far as I know.
    PacBell park was built for Barry Bonds, so that’s blatant yet part of the sport, not so for many others.
    I think it’s ok, since we got to see some miracle sand riding and most of the strongest guys there.
    I guess if you want to showcase how great Belgians are on the beach this was it.
    If you’re talking about drugs that’s a different story.


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