European Cyclocross Update – Part 2
The Australian summer is in full swing and we’ve been treated to an action packed month of racing, but the majority of the cycling world is wrapped up in mud, sand and snow. Paul Aubrey brings us up to speed with what’s happening in the European cyclocross season and explains about “pit strategy” in Part 2 of his series.
Our last update concluded with the controversial sprint in Koksijde. The cyclocross racing continued a day later with the fifth round of the Superprestige. Sven Nys and Kevin Pauwels again contested the finish on the muddy Gieten course. This time there was no debating the outcome; Nys sprinted in a straight line and took victory from Pauwels by a couple of bike lengths.
Igorre – World Cup – Basque Country
Just a week after Koksijde the fourth round of the world cup was held in Igorre in the Basque Country. I found this race pretty uninspiring; maybe it was the small crowd or the mundane course. Pauwels and Nys rode away from the bunch mid-race, Nys lost ground to Pauwels after a puncture on the major climb of the course. From a tactical standpoint, Nys did a good job of disguising his puncture and limiting his losses to Pauwels for the ensuing chase. Watching the footage closely the only indication of the flat was a Nys looking down at his rear wheel a few times. The last 5 laps of the race proved to be a two-up time trial between the Belgian duo. Nys chased hard but never got closer than five seconds by my calculations, whilst Pauwels maintained the pressure, and slowly opened up the gap. Pauwels was the only man in the photo after extending his advantage to 45 second in the final lap. The battle for the third podium step between Tom Meeusen and Bart Aernouts proved to be the most exciting part of the race. Aernouts laid it down in the last corner giving Meeusen has maiden World Cup podium. Bart Aernouts picked himself up quickly to cross the line ahead of Zdenek Stybar.
1 Kevin Pauwels
2 Sven Nys
3 Tom Meeusen
4 Bart Aernouts
5 Zdenek Stybar
Watch the entire race here. 37:40 Sven Nys Flats
GP Rouwmoer – GvA Trofee –Belgium
The mud of Essen was the scene for some spectacular racing. The performances of Bart Wellens and Niels Albert were noteworthy. Looking down the result sheet Zdenek Stybar was in 14th and Sven Nys was a DNF are suffering a mechanical on the penultimate lap whilst leading the race.
The veteran Bart Wellens proved he still has what it takes to race with the Big 4 (Nys, Pauwels, Stybar and Albert) and took a well-deserved victory. Niels Albert, who had broken bones in his hand a month earlier whilst training, announced his return from injury by taking second. The ride in Essen demonstrated that the break from racing did no harm to his form.
From a riders perspective the extremely muddy conditions meant a great deal of running throughout the race. To give you an idea, Bart Wellens’ last lap took approximately eight minutes but 10% was spent running. Whilst for most of us the idea of running sounds like a good way to ruin a bike race (e.g. an excellent reason to avoid duathalon and triathlon), but to do well in ‘cross, it’s an absolute necessity.
I remember hearing Paul Rowney speak of his experiences racing mountain bike World Cups. One of his pieces of advice for young riders was to ensure you include running in your preparation so your body doesn’t go into complete shock as soon as you’re off and doing it. The same reason triathletes train by running straight off the bike.
The act of dismounting and remounting is another basic skill worth mastering. Wellens’ was off the bike and running at least eight times, every time maintaining his momentum, sometime running before he had too.
If you want to be really pro in the mud you can run a single chain ring. On the relatively flat course the single ring can be advantageous as it helps to prevent chain suck and simplifies your drive train.
1 Bart Wellens
2 Niels Albert
3 Rob Peeters
4 Kevin Pauwels
5 Tom Meeusen
Namur – World Cup – Belgium
The fifth round of the World Cup was held in the capital of the Walloon region, Namur. The hilly course snaked around the citadel, featuring multiple run-ups, steep drop-ins and mud as far as the eye could see. The event clearly illustrated why so many people are captivated by ‘cross. The women started their racing as the snow fell, the course was a mud bath and the racing was; pardon the cliché, a war of attrition.
The Namur World Cup was a perfect race to illustrate the importance of pit-strategy; a clean bike is lighter and less likely to suffer mechanicals. In the 8-lap race, men’s victor Sven Nys changed bikes on six occasions.
For any C1 race or above, the course is required to feature a two pits, which is ideally a double pit. Back to the UCI rulebook for the definition “The double pit area must be set up in an area where two sections of the course are close enough together and the distance along the course between the successive pits is more or less equal each way.” If you are planning on running a World Cup or World Championship in the near future, make sure you account for the eight high-pressure cleaners that are required. If you are short of mud, maybe you can make some by careful positioning of the bike wash, like they did in Igorre.
The simple act of swapping a bike requires two people, one to catch the bike and the other to hand over the clean one. For the rider the fewer steps taken, the better. In the example below, Bart Wellens takes only six steps in the bike change.
Your position in the pits along with the position in the group can also be critical. The pits are made up boxes, dedicated areas for each nation. In Namur, Czech rider Zdenek Stybar’s support team was positioned at the end of the pits. Stybar made a brilliant tactical move, he overtook the group whilst they were changing their bikes early in the pits, then made his bike change whilst blocking the riders behind and ensuring the others couldn’t accelerate away from him.
At Namur, the eight-minute lap was well designed with the pits being situated approximately four minutes apart. For the mechanics every second of that four minutes was critical. They had to catch the bike, run to the pressure washer, win the fight for access, wash the bike the down, run some lube over the chain, give it a quick dry and be ready to hand it back. Oh and they needed to make sure it was in the same gear it was delivered in.
In the race itself Sven Nys took a calculated victory from Niels Albert. On the final lap Nys patiently closed down the advantage Albert had developed and then once on the final tarmac section Nys attacked Albert to take the victory. Team mates Klass Vantornout and Kevin Pauwels took third and forth. Notably Zdenek Stybar recovered from his disappointing ride the day before in Essen to take fifth.
1 Sven Nys
2 Niels Albert
3 Klaas Vantornout
4 Kevin Pauwels
5 Zdenek Stybar
Watch the entire race here.
– 0:24:40 Race Start
– 1:11:00 Mechanic running away really fast
– 1:19:20 Stybar blocking in the pits
Diegem – Superprestige – Belgium
Niels Albert proved his second place in Essen was no fluke by taking the victory under lights in Diegem. The course featured a number of man-made features and was well suited to spectators. The race didn’t disappoint with the gap between Albert and Pauwels remaining extremely close all the way to the line. The highlights are well worth watching.
1 Niels Albert
2 Kevin Pauwels
3 Sven Nys
4 Bart Aernouts
5 Aurelien Duval
Watch Entire Race Here. Race starts at 27:30
Heusden-Zolder – World Cup – Belgium
What shall I do in Belgium on Boxing Day? Maybe go the Zolder Grand Prix circuit and watch cyclocross? If you had, you would not have been disappointed.
The Zolder World Cup for 2010 saw Lars Boom take victory in the snow. Could he go back to back was the question many people were asking. Alas, after an enthralling hour of racing the answer was no as Kevin Pauwels came out on top.
Throughout the race two specific sections of the course proved to be decisive; a muddy downhill to uphill switchback and a slippery off-camber traverse.
On multiple occasions Pauwels put the lead group under pressure coming into the switchback. Following a dab by Nys on lap three, Pauwels opened the throttle. The ensuing chase saw the departure of Lars Boom and Bart Wellens from the lead group. Later in the race Pauwels put Nys under pressure following another mistake on the switchback.
Stybar tended to favour the off-camber traverse to apply pressure. Multiple lines existed, the longer riding line and the shorter running line or a combination of both. The switchback at the entry to the section also allowed subtle brake checking. Unlike Pauwels and his switchback, Stybar was unable to force any major selections.
Going into the last lap, Stybar came to the front to control the race. Early in the lap Nys changed to a fresh bike, which would later become significant. On a few occasions Stybar lifted the pace to test Pauwels and Nys. No one was surprised when Stybar attacked going into the off-camber section. By the top of the insanely steep run-up the following three riders were back together. The group descended on carpet towards the final right-hander back onto the racetrack. It was here that Nys, sitting in third wheel crashed out. Stybar hit out hard from the corner and it was only in the last 50 metres that Pauwels come over the top to take victory. The photo says it all.
1 Kevin Pauwels
2 Zdenek Stybar
3 Sven Nys
4 Klaas Vantornout
5 Tom Meeusen
A special mention goes to Melbourne’s Lewis Rattray who lined up in Zolder as part of his European ‘cross campaign. Be sure to check out his blog and race report here.
[CT] A big thank you and shoutout to Balint Hamvas for the use of his sensational photos throughout this post. He’s mad about cyclocross and is sacrificing everything to be a cycling photographer. Be sure to check out his website at www.cyclephotos.co.uk. Also a big thank you to Paul Aubrey for writing this post and sharing his passion for cyclocross.