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by Dan Seaton
September 17, 2016
Photography by CrossVegas.com; Wil Matthews; Dan Seaton
When CrossVegas became the first ever American stop in the UCI’s Cyclocross World Cup series last year, fans here in the States had their first chance to watch a race boasting nearly every big name in the sport since the world championships visited Louisville, Kentucky, almost three years prior.
And American racers had a chance to turn the tables on their European counterparts.
Americans, used to making the long, trans-Atlantic haul to compete in the World Cup, got to race at home, more or less, while the Europeans made the long trip across the pond.
The race was a smashing success, earning the UCI’s award for best World Cup race of the season, and another spot on the World Cup calendar this season. Racers largely praised the event, but many regretted the cancellation of a second planned World Cup in Montreal, which would have afforded them an additional opportunity for a top-level race during the trip.
This year, they’ll get their wish. Jingle Cross, in Iowa City, will host the second race of the Telenet UCI World Cup the Saturday following CrossVegas. Racers will get their race, but with a hitch: CrossVegas wraps up late Wednesday evening, Jingle Cross debuts less than three days later, about 1500 miles and 22 hours of driving away.
So how will European racers and teams deal with the logistics of moving literal truckloads of bikes, wheels, and equipment halfway across North America — especially when many of them will already be an ocean away from home and the support network that keeps the sport rolling?
“We leave on Friday morning to the States. We fly to Las Vegas with a stop in Chicago. Everything is transported by plane between Vegas and Chicago for Iowa. Then by car from Chicago to Iowa,” says Dieter De Clercq, assistant manager for the Belgian Marlux-Napoleon Games team, which is sending Kevin Pauwels and brothers Michael and Dieter Vanthourenhout to the two races.
The team will travel with seven bike boxes: six bikes and eighteen wheel sets between the trio of riders, plus a box with equipment, spare parts, and a massage table. Along for support will be sport director Danny De Bie, mechanic Bart Risbourg, a soigneur, and a press officer taking on travel coordinator duties.
Total cost for the trip? 25,000 euros, or $28,000.
“It gives me more work,” says Risbourg, who handles all the disassembly, packing, and reassembly of the bikes by himself. “The boxing before leaving almost took two full days. But it’s better to prepare everything carefully to avoid having damage and having more work while unpacking.
“It’s stressful [too],” he continues. “If you forget something, or do something wrong— you think about that while preparing. I write down a lot of things, to avoid forgetting things.
“It’s Iowa that makes things more difficult, since you have to bring more spare parts to repair possible damage after Las Vegas. On top of that, Iowa comes [quite soon] after Vegas. One day extra between the two races would have been handy.”
While racing in the U.S., World Cup cyclocross teams won’t have all the amenities they’re used to in Europe — something American racers are all too familiar with. Photo: Dan Seaton.
Between the costs, the logistical challenge, and the added stress for riders, Belgian team leaders view these races as a mixed bag, aware of the benefits to a sport that is growing globally but also of the tradeoffs.
“Vegas and Iowa are important because it’s the World Cup, an important series for us. On the other hand, our main sponsors have no commercial goals in the U.S.,” says Jurgen Mettepenningen, Marlux’s sport director. “I know it’s important for the bike sector, because the American cyclocross scene is a scene where most fans are also riders. But Marlux and Napoleon Games have no interests in the U.S.
“The additional race in Iowa makes the trip to the U.S. more expensive and harder to organize, but also more interesting. I prefer two races above one. Making the whole trip to the U.S. for only one hour [of racing] was absurd.”
It’s a sentiment shared by many. Former world champion, and Beobank-Corendon’s de facto team leader, Mathieu van der Poel won’t make the trip — he’s recovering from knee surgery last month — but has been outspoken about the tricky calculus of the trip to North America.
“It’s really good that there are World Cups in the United States,” he says. “But I think it’s more important that there are more international riders competing in all races, also in Belgium. I think that’s what helps internationalization the most.”
Van der Poel, too, points to big travel bills, long drives for mechanics, and the physical toll of the travel. But he offers an alternative approach he believes would help justify the long haul.
“Something I would support is to make an American month or something,” says van der Poel. “To add a race for the Superprestige and a race for the other classifications. And then maybe it’s more beneficial to go for one month to the States.”
Meanwhile, two other Belgian teams, Sven Nys’ recently acquired Telenet-Fidea Lions and world champion Wout Van Aert’s Crelan-Vastgoedservice, will send riders to additional races, including the September 17-18 Trek CXC Cup in Waterloo, Wisconsin, wringing an additional weekend of racing out of the trip.
The teams, together, will then send bikes from Wisconsin to Vegas and back to Iowa in a truck equipped and crewed to make the two nearly 24-hour drives nonstop.
Scott Daubert, Trek Race Shop manager, helped the teams with the logistical arrangements. He says he welcomes the chance to assist foreign teams with little experience moving equipment the kinds of distances that are just part of the fabric of American travel.
“One of our goals at Trek is to someday host a World Cup, so putting on a regional race the last couple of years and now we’re stepping up because we’ve got some big racers coming here,” he says. “We’re trying to grow our presence as hosts for cyclocross.”
Daubert says that part of that growth means helping reduce barriers to participation in American races. Providing this sort of coordination — especially for teams unaccustomed to working together and traveling far from home — is a key way to do that.
Jeremy Powers (Aspire Racing) and Stephen Hyde (Cannondale) at the 2015 Volkswagen Jingle Cross. Photo: Wil Matthews.
Americans, meanwhile, could be forgiven a rueful chuckle at the European hand-wringing over the challenges the go along with high-level American-style cyclocross.
“The Euros have no idea what we have to go through week in and week out,” says Stu Thorne, director of the Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com team of Stephen Hyde and Kaitlin Antonneau. “They just hop in the camper with Uncle Johan, or whatever, at the helm, drive an hour or so and go racing. It takes me an hour just to get from my house to the airport.
“We log a fair number of air miles, but we drive quite a bit as well. A typical weekend of racing is we arrive Thursday; truck arrives the same day. We set up a minimal amount on Thursday if possible, otherwise we do it all Friday morning. Practice and dial in bikes Friday afternoon. Race Saturday and Sunday. Then tear down and out either Sunday night or Monday morning. Then do it over again. It’s like the movie Groundhog Day.”
Thorne says one advantage his team will enjoy is the ability to send equipment to two venues simultaneously.
“We have six bikes per rider,” he says. “So we can split up the inventory to have bikes where we need them. It seems excessive, but flying and being sure you have bikes and equipment at the ready is pretty stressful. So we try to eliminate that stress.”
Twelve-time national champion Katie Compton will use a similar approach, keeping the trips as short as possible, leveraging a wide support network, and using her more centrally-located home base in Colorado Springs to cut down a bit on the need for long drives.
“From Waterloo, Katie will fly back to Colorado Springs then we’ll fly out to Vegas,” says Mark Legg, Compton’s husband and mechanic. “Feedback Sports is helping us with bike transportation and race day logistics at Vegas. Katie will fly direct with a bike from Vegas to Iowa City while I drive the truck and small trailer from Colorado Springs with the bikes and equipment with [our dog] Pixie, who is traveling with us this season.”
Compton has spent more time based in Europe, where race travel times are more often measured in minutes than days, than most Americans. But Legg is well acquainted with the challenges of a domestic racing scene spread across an entire continent. Still, he says, the schedule will be a taxing one.
“I’m driving to Iowa the day after Vegas,” he said. “The schedule adds substantial stress to getting from Vegas to Iowa. Driving with very little sleep increases the danger to myself and other on the road. I have to question the logic of the UCI scheduling the Iowa World Cup on Saturday instead of adding an extra day for teams and riders to make the long trip from Vegas to Iowa City for a Sunday event. If we had the race on Sunday it would make it safer and easier for us traveling 1600 miles to the World Cup. This schedule is worse than flying to Europe for World Cups, even when they aren’t in Belgium.”
Jingle Cross race director John Meehan explained, via email, that his event is doing what it can to help accommodate teams making the haul across the U.S.
“Iowa City and the Jingle Cross were well aware of the logistical problems. As part of our bid, we are providing free of charge a truck to help transport all of the UCI equipment from Las Vegas to Iowa City. The truck will be on-site from the start of the Vegas World Cup and stay until all things are loaded. From there, drivers that we hired will fly to Las Vegas, help load, and then drive all the way to Iowa City, bringing all of these items to the Iowa City World Cup free of charge. This was not required or requested by the UCI, we did this on our own as part of our bid — a gesture to help with the challenging transportation logistics.
“We asked the UCI for a deadline of August 1, to declare the equipment that we would place on the truck, and they gave us a full list by that time. The UCI was allowed to offer the teams whatever remaining unused space they had, and several teams took advantage of that. We also have sponsors that placed items on the truck, which we will transport for them, again all free of charge.”
Still, when Jingle Cross wraps up, closing the book on the first two chapters in the World Cup, and European racers pack up their bikes and start the long trip home, chances are the logistical challenges will remembered as nothing more than a nagging headache in the background of one of the best weeks ever for American cyclocross.
Riders will, however, have to cope with a faster than usual start to the season and the effects of long travel days and missed training.
“We lose two training days,” says Marlux’ Danny De Bie, whose riders arrive in the US on Friday. “We had a team training on Wednesday, the riders can still train on Thursday, but not on Friday and not much on Saturday. But it’s the same for all riders who are going. Some Belgians went earlier to do the races in Waterloo, we also got the request, but me and the riders decided that it was not a good option for us. I think it gives too many race days in too little time.”
Still, says De Bie, a chance to chase World Cup glory is worth it, and the trip is as well-timed in the season as it could be. Riders will have a long stretch of training and recovery before the season intensifies with the third round of the World Cup, in Valkenburg, Netherlands, and a series of cyclocross monuments, like the Zonhoven Superprestige stop, in the second half of October.
“We come home on Monday, so there’s enough time in the beginning of the week to recover,” says De Bie. “Next to that, almost everyone does the trip, so it’s the same for all of them. It’s also the best like it is now, with the races early in the season. I don’t fear consequences for the rest of the season.”
And the sport of cyclocross, which moves as an inelegantly lumbering monster, borne down the highways of Belgium by massive TV trucks and mobile homes, and across the American continent in 737s and tractor trailers, will roll on.
The getting there may be clumsy and difficult, but the racing is sure to be spectacular.
Dan Seaton has been photographing and writing about cyclocross for the better part of a decade. He is a regular contributor to VeloNews and Grit.cx, and when he’s not writing about bikes, a solar physicist at the University of Colorado. He lives with his family in Boulder, Colorado.