Belgian Cross – For Show Racing???

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I’ve been following most of the Belgian cycloc-x races that have been shown live this season. More and more of the smaller races can be seen live via the internet. After watching most that have been shown this season, I realize that the front guys aren’t really racing most of the day. It’s not like they are necessarily sand bagging, it’s that they aren’t “trying” 100 percent the whole day.

Yesterday, watching the Druivencross Cyclocross at Overijse, Sven Nys just got an okay start. At the start of this races, no one is really going nuts and fighting for their positions. They know they have to do it day after day, and it doesn’t do any good to make any enemies in such a small group. Anyway, Sven was kind of split off the front group the first couple laps. He finally did his normal thing and bridged up to the front 3 in about 1/2 a lap. Just then, he got to the pit and went in and changed his bike. He came out of the pit back in 8th or so, well behind once again. I was thinking, why would he do that when none of the others he was riding with didn’t pit. The only answer was that he was riding well within himself and knew the guys at the front weren’t going to go full throttle at that time in the race. He’s done 100’s of start money cross races and knows how it works better than anyone.

I don’t blame them. I do understand that this is their livelihood and that the amount of racing that they do in a season would kill a person if they went full tilt the whole season. But, after watching them, it sort of looks like the post Tour criteriums where the results are decided before the start. I assume that isn’t the case, but it is definitely not like racing here in the States, where the riders race full on for their results each time they clip in. The Belgian races do get going fast the last couple laps.

I read an article last week somewhere where Sven Nys was urging all the other riders that they needed to honor their contracts with the races and not be skipping events to rest up for other races that maybe are more important to them. He said it didn’t really matter to him so much, because he is planning on retiring soon, but to keep the sport healthy, each rider needs to go to each race. The circus isn’t circus if some of the performers fail to show.

He used Niels Albert as an example last season, where Niels got hurt and had to sit out a month, so was much fresher by the time the Worlds came around, thus smeared them. I do understand his concern.

There really are only about 15 Belgian cyclo-x pros. Plus, a handful of riders of other countries that make some start money. So, when guys start missing events and focusing on specific races, then the whole thing falls apart. They all can’t be racing full out, weekend after weekend, in mucky and sandy messes, as it is so often in Belgium. They are truly racing for the start money.

The start money at these events are pretty substantial. I don’t have any personal knowledge of what each guy gets, but back in 2008, Sven was asking for €8000. I’m sure that Niels and him are getting quite a bit more than that nowadays. So, when you multiply that by the dozens of races that these guys do a year, it a big number. Plus, the prize money. Yesterday, Sven won €12500 for winning. I’m sure that is one of the big paydays. But, compare Svens €20000+ day to that our guys that were racing for a total prize list at the C1 USGP race in Bend yesterday of $8494 and $2013 on Saturday. It is completely a different deal.

Anyway, it is interesting. It seems like they race much harder at the World Cups, which is nice. Plus, it is no holds barred at the Worlds. That white jersey with rainbow stripes is worth a ton of €’s for those guys, so it is the race to win each and every season.

As I wrote yesterday, the sport is very, very hard. These are very tough bike racers, even if they aren’t going 100% each and every race. It is lucky they can drive their motor homes just a couple hours for most of the races. The coast to coast travel that we do here in the United States is insane compared to short distances in Europe. Hopefully by the time Louisville Worlds roll around, the Belgian guys will be all equally tired from racing, thus giving our guys a better chance for good results.

From an October 2008 Belgian newspaper. The article was about how according to a promoter, Sven wasn’t worth his €8000 start money.

A big trophy and big paycheck for winning the Druivencross Sunday

14 thoughts on “Belgian Cross – For Show Racing???

  1. pierre from montpellier france

    i’m loosing my breath when i’m watching cyclo cross races, what a speed!

  2. KevinK

    So, let me get this straight – it is not ok for these guys to not try their hardest, but when you try your hardest at the race Saturday, it is ok for you to go up to the winner and apologize for trying your best?

    You really are an enigma; I wonder how the other competitors in Saturday’s race feel after reading your blog: an old man, out of shape, feeling like crap, comes in second….. does this mean you are racing far below your category?

  3. Jason

    Steve, I sometimes feel that pro cycling is very similar to pro wrestling. I thought this a lot last year during the tours. Riis saying he will chase down any break that does not include one of his guys. I believe there is a handful of predetermined winners, kind of like an cage match, and u know the two or three that will win. Then throw in the PEDs and is just like it at times. That is why I favor the one day races. That is where you have a wild card among the “favorites”. In Europe it is about the money plain and simple. Cycling is an entertainment biz.

  4. Noel

    You race as hard as it takes to win. If the guys behind aren’t pushing them why should they push each other.

  5. SalRuibal

    Racing in Belgium is a different world than racing in the U.S. It is an entertainment as much as a sport and the big names are cultural stars as well as sports stars. Huge crowds come out to see their favorites and many only see the race from the comfort of a big tent supplied with lots of beer and sausages and a giant TV screen showing the action. Cyclocross is difficult at any level, but you can’t always judge effort by the perceived speed, especially on a small TV or computer screen. The 2012 CX Worlds on the dunes looked slow, but they were riding through very deep sand (and not sandbagging). Go to Belgium and ride the courses. Feel the chill off the North Sea. They may not work hard every minute of every race, but they work hard for the races that count.

  6. tilford97 Post author

    KevinK – I apologized to Shadd because I made him put in an extraordinary effort at a race that he had already won.

    Racing far below my category? I was racing the Pro 1/2 race at the Kansas State Championships in my hometown. There isn’t a “better” category. I was racing far below my ability though. I’m not sure what my competitors thought. Most of them are friends and have seen me at my best and worst lots of times. I guess Shadd probably thought that he’s glad that was all I had that day.

  7. Eric Nelson

    Saturday was even more obvious, Nys was off the front and pretty much sat up to let the race come back to him. I agree with the sentiment and your point about them having to do what they have to do with it being a long season and their livelyhood and all. Definitely makes the races where they’re full gas that much better to watch.

    I have a website where I put all these up for my friends and stuff to download without having to jump through hoops getting em from newsgroups/torrent sites

    Cya in Madison/Louisville!

  8. burnt

    Interesting discussion of the racing back east.

    Nys has been riding well in this middle part of the season. We will see how well he is doing when he has to venture state side. His personal history is not on his side. He is the dominant ‘cross rider of his generation but my money is not on Nys for the rainbow jersey this season. When he has been riding this well for this long in the past he has faded at the end of the season. Now that he is in his mid 30s it can’t be any easier.

    I think the tell though is how our US riders have been doing. J Pow has not done that well in Belgium this year. Page, sadly, is getting old but he is fighting the good fight. No male USA riders are going to be on the podium in Louisville. In fact, for the senior men I predict a Belgian sweep despite the north american venue. As for the women Compton is going to win despite Vos’ SA training (if you know what I mean by SA training).

    I am a homer so I hope some man on the USA squad makes me eat my words but the Belgians are going to eat us for lunch. Look at the results of the World Cups this year. How many non-Belgians are in the top 8 in those races? And then look at how many non-Belgians are in the top 5 in those races. Ouch.

    I think the future looks bright for the USA. I wish Bjorn Selander had stuck with ‘cross instead of heading for the road, but oh, well. Zach and Danny S. show promise. In terms of numbers even if it’s mostly a lot of old farts racin’ US ‘cross participation numbers are high. Some young punks have to rise out of our racing scene. And when they do I hope those talented kids to go over to northern Europe and show the Belgians who is boss.

  9. Mr.Frack

    The only thing that bothers me about your whole analogy is that when the US guys go over there the get their ass handed to them and you know they are racing as fast as they can go, cause if you only get to race 5-10 races over there a year you need to try and get the results. Those guys are so good.
    With that said I think you are right Steve, that they aren’t always going 100%, and some arrangements are very likely. I am just so happy to be able to watch those guys. I just can’t stop admiring their fluid movements and making something very hard look so easy. I know how I feel going up some of those runups, and how hard it is to even get around some of the PNW courses when the mud sets in. They just do it much faster and with ease.

  10. fluxi

    Steve, most “Post-Tour-Style” races are after the worlds until late February although there are “besproken” races all year around . This year here are just 3 Belgian riders with a chance to win races (plus maybe Vantornout). Nys, Albert and Pauwels are in a league on their own. There is no Boom or Stybar putting the pressure on and crazy Wellens is not as strong as before, not even in the mud. If 90% are enough to destroy the competition, why would they invest even more? Sven explained it perfectly after Roubaix, he just went hard with the other guys and made the descisive move 500 meter naar de aankomst – success. In a regular C1 race, it’s just unfair. Do you want to see everyone outside the podium being lapped?

  11. Billy

    love reading the blog, thanks for posting.
    So…with the exercise/heart health thing you’ve given my mind a preocuppying thought whenever the going gets tough…I should let off the gas, it might be the healthy thing to do….
    It’s only fair I suggest one in return…do you ever feel guilty about the magnitude of your carbon footprint? flying and driving k’s of miles to these races to pursue a hobby. It might be our given right to burn massive amounts of fossil fuels in pursuit of an ego boost (my opinion on what bike racing boils down to for most people), but that doesn’t make it right.

  12. Mark

    Fixed or not, those guys still race those courses at speeds no American guys can touch for the most part (We’ll see it first-hand in Louisville in January). If the last few guys at the head of the race want to “negociate” things based on who needs points, money, who’s neighbors with who in Baal, so be it. Check out the average speed those post-Tour crits are contested at. Good luck faking that speed for 90 minutes and having to “play along” on top of that.


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