The 2014 Cyclocross World Championships are being held this weekend in the Dutch village of Hoogerheide. While the presence of names familiar even to casual cyclocross fans are set to draw attendees and viewers to this event, there’s an extra layer of interest for Antipodean fans: the presence of Australia’s first official cyclocross World Championship team since 1973.
Hoogerheide is in the Dutch province of North Brabant, near the border of the Netherlands and Belgium. The village previously hosted the CX Worlds in 2009 – a race that saw Marianne Vos take the women’s prize and Niels Albert claim the men’s rainbow jersey on a technical course similar to this year’s.
More recently, Hoogerheide was the site of the 2012-2013 CX World Cup final just over a year ago – an event that was held in fairly apocalyptic frozen conditions (see video below). The winners of those races were Marianne Vos (again) and Czech Martin Bina.
Sadly for those of us watching at home, we aren’t likely to see snow in Hoogerheide like we did at the World Cup last year. Weather conditions in Europe aren’t nearly as cold as they were during last year’s freakishly chilly winter, although average temperatures are still hovering around 4 degrees celsius.
In all likelihood we’ll see a bunch of dry and fast races on the weekend, as there’s been only minimal rain in the area all week. Saying that, some weathermen are suggesting there could be rain on Saturday, which could make the women’s race a rather slippery affair.
While Aussies have contested the CX Worlds in recent years, it’s typically been a case of solo freebooters doing their own thing. The last time an Australian team entered was in London, way back in 1973 (click here for footage from that particular race).
— Lisa Jacobs (@LJridehappy) January 25, 2014
This year, Australia’s got a six-rider team over in Europe:
– Lisa Jacoba: 2013 CX National Champion; 2012 National CX Series champion
– Melissa Anset: bronze medallist, 2013 CX National Championships; third, 2013 National CX Series; runner up 2012 National CX Series
– Nick Both: current NSW champion; bronze medallist at the 2013 CX National Championships
— Nick Both (@ZeBosch) January 24, 2014
– Alexander Meyland: silver medallist, 2013 Under 23 CX National Championships
– Tom Chapman: silver medallist, 2013 Under 19 CX National Championships
– Nicholas Smith: fourth, 2013 Under 19 CX National Championships; fourth open male, 2013 National CX Series Round 6
Our riders have been over in Europe testing their form for the past few weeks. Both, Chapman and Meyland have all been putting in solid performances at warm-up races, but haven’t been troubling the top ten.
Things look a little better for the women, with Jacobs winning last weekend’s Destelbergen Cyclocross (with Anset second), followed by a second place in the Flemisch Cross-Cup (with Anset fifth).
Even so, the standard at the World Champs will be a whole level above these races and the riders are more than aware of this. Jacobs played down her chances to me a couple of days ago, saying:
“It’s hard to put a target on a particular result because I’ve never raced against a lot of the women and the calibre of competition will be higher than anything I’ve experienced before.
“My aim is to have a good race – if I can finish the day having performed to my best, in terms of my bike handling, power output and technical skills, then I’ll be happy.”
— Lisa Jacobs (@LJridehappy) January 25, 2014
Our sole Elite Men’s representative Nick Both, meanwhile, said his aim is to “finish on the same lap as the leader”.
“That’s no easy feat,” he added, “and will take perfect circumstances and the best legs I’ve ever had to accomplish.”
Click here for some great shots of the Australian CX team training over in Europe.
You can’t talk about the CX Worlds without mentioning the two big names of the sport: Sven Nys and Marianne Vos. Between them, they’ve taken home eight rainbow jerseys, with Vos accounting for six of those.
Vos is as good a bet as anyone on this course. It’s practically home terrain for her, as she hails from ‘s-Hertogenbosch (and no, that’s not a typo) 90km to the east of Hoogerheide.
The USA’s Katie Compton — who won the 2013/14 Cyclocross World Cup overall with five wins from seven events (the other two were won by Vos) — is in sparkling form and is another excellent bet for Saturday’s race. If the weather turns nasty, also keep an eye out for British strongwoman Helen Wyman, who relishes muddy conditions. And Lisa Jacobs, too, because I reckon she’s foxing big time.
The elite men’s race could go any number of ways. There are a few riders on superb form who could easily grab the race by the scruff of the neck. Sven Nys is about as complete a ‘cross rider as you can get, and can’t be discounted; he’s also in the form of his life right now.
However, Belgian Tom Muessen, winner of last weekend’s World Cup finale in Nommay, is also in cracking form. He will definitely be a factor if it’s a dry race with somewhat slippery terrain – quite likely if Saturday’s showers materialise.
Dutch rider Lars Van Der Haar, winner of the 2013-14 World Cup, is also likely to be super aggressive: watch him in the opening sprint for the holeshot, as he’s a specialist in getting to the first corner in pole position.
Other riders to watch include the 2009 winner on this course, Niels Albert, as well as Kevin Pauwels. Also confirmed just a few days ago is Omega-Pharma Quick Step’s Zdenek Stybar, whom you might remember from the incredible image below:
If you’re in Australia and you want to watch the CX worlds, you’ll need to stay up late to watch the main events. Luckily CX races are only about an hour long.
Here’s the viewing schedule, with all times in AEST:
Saturday February 1
9.00pm: U19 Men
1.00am: Elite Women (Sunday morning)
Sunday February 2
9pm: U23 Men
1am: Elite Men (Monday morning)
The races won’t be shown live on Australian TV, but they will be streamed live on SBS Cycling Central and on the UCI YouTube channel. If you feel like improving your Flemish, the Sporza Belgian feed is likely to be available worldwide.
The feature image at the top of this article was taken by Kristof Ramon at the UCI Cyclocross World Cup in Hoogerheide last year.
About the author
Kevin Eddy is a writer and editor based in Sydney. He will definitely be indulging in Belgian beer and frites this Saturday and Sunday night and his commentary on the CX Worlds will appear on his Twitter feed. Kevin would like to thank Cyclocross Australia for invaluable background information.