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Crossland: Trofee series goes to time-based classification and Wellens rubs on Vaseline

  • By Dan Seaton
  • Published Oct. 11, 2012
  • Updated Oct. 18, 2012 at 1:27 PM EST
Bart Wellens stays warm with Vaseline and a "special suit." Photo: Wil Matthews

Editor’s Note: Dan Seaton has been literally crawling through the Belgian mud covering European cyclocross since 2008. Each week this season he’ll look ahead to the weekend’s races and answer your questions about ’cross on the other side of the Atlantic. Got a question for your favorite Euro star? Want to know the inside story about the legendary Flemish fields? Send your questions to crossland@competitorgroup.com.

Though I received a number of interesting questions this week, it’s worth taking a deeper look at the inaugural race in what was for many years the Gazet van Antwerpen Trofee series — but is now called the Bpost Bank Trofee — in Ronse, in southern Flanders. The series has undergone some very big, and, in my opinion, very exciting changes for the new season. So we’ll spend a little extra time looking ahead at Sunday’s race and have an abbreviated Q&A this week. (And never fear; if I didn’t get to your question this week, I’ll try to come back to it in an upcoming column.)

The Trofee series has not just changed its title sponsor, it has also made a major change in how overall series leadership is determined, dropping its points scheme and picking this season’s winner using cumulative time over the series’ eight races. If disaster strikes, total losses in a single race will be capped at five minutes, and small time bonuses will be awarded to the top three in an intermediate sprint. The changes are sure to shake up the standings and, promoters hope, make for more exciting racing as well. Under the new scheme, solo wins are worth much more than they were in the past, while riders who miss the podium but still finish in the main group get a major boost. So racers will have big incentive to keep the races close.

And, unlike the Superprestige series, which opened Sunday in Ruddervoorde, the Trofee series gives both women and men a chance to compete for overall glory (although the top men’s prize of 30,000 Euro is five times bigger than the overall prize for women, who can compete in only six of the series’ eight events).

This weekend’s race, officially called the Grote Prijs Mario De Clercq and run on a course designed by its three-time world champion namesake, is a newcomer to the big-time Belgium cyclocross circuit. Debuting as a professional race only two years ago, it has quickly become a classic. Snaking around the remains of an old sand pit near the top of the Hotondberg — one of the many climbs featured in the Ronde van Vlaanderen — the heart of the sprawling course is the challenging, natural terrain, which is a sharp contrast to compact, man-made track for last week’s race in Ruddervoorde. When the weather is pleasant, Ronse is difficult and very beautiful; when the weather is bad, the difficulty is ratcheted so high that racing, even for the world’s best, can become downright comical.

Unfortunately, Ronse, a UCI category 2 event, is not mandated to include a women’s race and, as a result, only the men will test their mettle there on Sunday. Women’s racing returns with the first round of the World Cup in the Czech Republic in two weeks’ time.

Now, on to the questions:

Dear Dan,

How do the pros keep their feet warm while racing cyclocross? Shoe covers just seem cumbersome.

Jay from North Carolina

Dear Jay,

Keeping your feet, and the rest your body, warm when you’re racing for an hour in miserable, possibly frozen, conditions, is definitely a challenge. And you’re right, in cyclocross, especially in muddy Belgium, shoe covers are an impossibility.

In fact, other than wearing a good pair of socks, pro racers don’t do very much to keep their feet warm in cold weather — it’s just not necessary. Instead, they focus on keeping their core warm, and, in turn, the intensity of the race keeps warm blood flowing to their extremities without needing to do much else.

Now, how to keep that core temperature up is another story, and racers resort to all sorts of measures to do that. Most racers have a wind-resistant, micro-fleece-lined skinsuit for racing in truly cold conditions. (Jonathan Page has called this a “Superman Suit”, which is a pretty apt description for a brightly colored, one-piece, skin-tight outfit.) Coupled with a good base layer and a hat, this is usually more than enough to keep riders warm if conditions are cold and dry.

But when it’s truly atrocious? That’s when it’s time for desperate measures. After dropping out of a miserably cold and muddy race in Ronse in 2010, Bart Wellens landed on the podium in Niel a few days later despite even worse conditions. The winds were gusting to tropical storm force and the rain was coming down in sheets, saturating mud that was already waterlogged after weeks of relentless bad weather. But Wellens didn’t even look the tiniest bit cool. Why?

“I didn’t even notice the conditions,” he told reporters after the race. “I has a special suit from the team and I smeared my whole body with vaseline. I was actually too hot.”

Editor’s note: This column initially referred to Mario De Clercq as a two-time world champion. De Clercq is a three-time world champion.

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Dan Seaton

Dan Seaton

Dan Seaton has covered European cyclocross since moving from New Hampshire to Belgium in 2008 and has been with VeloNews.com since 2010. Dan has a Ph.D. in physics and spends most of his time as the chief scientist for a spaceborne solar telescope at the Royal Observatory of Belgium. Between solar flares and VeloNews assignments, he still occasionally finds time to race as a masters ’crosser as well. Dan lives with his family in Brussels, Belgium. Follow him on Twitter @dbseaton.

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