Over on the Shawnee Mountain Bike Forum a couple of us were hyping up the ‘Cross World Championships this last weekend when another member posted that ‘Cross was “booooooorrrrrrriiiiiiinnnnnnngggggg!” Wow, cyclocross boring? How could you say that?
Well it’s true, sometimes ‘Cross is boring. In the Elite Women’s race everyone expected an epic battle between Marrianne Vos and Katie Compton. Vos is the greatest woman cyclist of all time, she wins…. everything, road, track, mountain and cross and she makes it look easy. Katie Compton has had an outstanding season and is a big part of the American growth of ‘Cross. She was the UCI World Cup winner having won 6 of the 8 races. Only problem was that Vos sit out most of the ‘Cross season because of a surgery, she only returned to racing last month.
It was set to be a showdown. Compton has never won a World Championships but everyone thought this would be her year. As luck would have it she had a terrible start and then got caught when a another rider wrecked in front of her. They spent several seconds getting their bikes untangled while the field rode away. She raced back up to third but started having breathing problems. At one point you could tell she was struggling for breath, she later told reports she had been suffering from allergies since returning to Europe. Marianne rode off the front early and rode lap after lap by herself. Vos could have stopped and signed autographs and still won.
But more often then not ‘Cross creates epic battles between two or three riders that are more like a fight than a race. The 2014 elite men’s World Championship’s was anything but boring.
Zdenek Stybar did 6 ‘Cross races this year, won his national championships back in Czech and that’s about it. He’s now a rider for one of the biggest road teams in the world, the Belgium super squad Omega Pharma and while ‘Cross is pretty big in one corner of Europe the Paris Roubaix is alot bigger. Team management didn’t want to allow Stybar to race any cross this year worried he’d get hurt before the season. Sort of backward’s thinking since traditional road pros train countless miles on the road this time of year and a take a much larger chance of getting ran over. They allowed him to race near the end of the season.
Stybar started mid pack and had to go full bore to get to the front which he did pretty quick, then he traded leads with Sven Nys back and forth while every challenger fell back. The young, spry Van De Haar was racing in front of the home crowd in Holland and he fought hard, so hard in fact he crashed 3 times and still managed to hang on for 6th. French powerhouse Mourey tried to dominate the ride from the first lap and was allowed just enough rope to hang himself, having blown his engine early he finished 8th. The Belgian team rallied near the end and fought their way to 2,3,4,5,7,10th places. There must be some kind of gene for mud in Belgian blood.
On the American side of things Jeremy Powers was hoping for a top ten finish. Making the top ten is a pretty big deal because it’s rare to see a list of finishers more then ten deep. Powers rode in America all year so he could focus on racing and not trying to live in Belgium, he had a great season and won the US Nationals easily. On the other hand Jonathon Page rode exclusively in Belgium where he was one of the anonymous riders in the mid pack, well he wasn’t completely anonymous since his jersey says PAGE real big on the front. No American rider was ever close enough on the front to be seen on camera though they mentioned that Powers was hanging tough in 18th place. In the end I was not completely surprised to see Page cross the line as the first American and Powers had moved back several spots. While the American scene has grown, the only way to be cocompetitives to race against the world’s best in Belgium twice a week… well unless you’re Z’denek Stybar.
As the other riders all showed signs of weakness Nys and Stybar continued to exchange blows on the front. Nys is the better technical rider but no one could match Stybar’s power and endurance. On the last lap Stybar made what I assumed would be the fatal mistake when he washed out in a fast curve. Nys leaped off his bike and vaulted Stybar and moved ahead, but not that far ahead. He he grabbed a barrier to try a slingshot around 180 turn. He pulled a bit too hard and lost his front wheel. Nys never truly recovered from that fall and had some problems powering through the last of the mud sections. Stybar was able to stay strong and move ahead.
The nearly all Belgium crowd booed Stybar as he took the Podium but I couldn’t completely blame them after hearing his interview. To paraphrase, the win wasn’t all that special for him, he wasn’t a cross rider anymore, he didn’t really feel like he was under pressure, but he did appreciate being world championship. Well he’s honest. Next season will most likely rarely, if ever, see the world champion’s jersey in a race.