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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Emails to this address were being bounced earlier this fall, so if you tried to email and didn’t hear back, please do try again.
LOUISVILLE, Kentucky (VN) — After 18 weeks of previewing races, we’ve finally arrived at one that needs no introduction — the UCI Elite Cyclocross World Championships, anticipated by fans since it was first announced in 2010 that the sport’s biggest race would be coming to the United States.
So let’s get right to the questions. First, let’s get to the bottom of a minor mystery.
Why did Marianne Vos and Sanne Van Paassen choose to do their worlds preparation in a tiny city in Texas and not in Louisville?
—Kirk in Colorado
I was also surprised when Vos and Van Paassen told me that they were headed to Cleveland to prepare for worlds. I was especially surprised that they would pick a rather chilly city famous for its regular lake-effect snowstorms for their pre-worlds training. Then I realized they were talking about a small Texas town about 50 miles northeast of Houston rather than the industrial Ohio city on the shores of Lake Erie.
Velo editor-in-chief Neal Rogers interviewed the defending world champion Vos just a few days ago and asked her this very question. Vos told him Cleveland provided a good balance of weather and proximity to Louisville.
“I wanted to go for a pre-worlds training camp in the U.S., but that’s not so easy to do because of the weather, so we wanted to go in the south, but also in the same time zone, and Texas is only one hour [time zone] different from Louisville,” Vos said. “So we flew to Houston, there’s a good training area here, it’s not too hilly, not too warm, it’s nice to prepare for worlds.”
He also had a chance to ask Vos about her impressions of her time in the Lone Star State.
“Every day, we think ‘whoa, what is happening here?’ Everything is big here — cars, roads, plates of food,” she said. “There are certainly some other cultures we’ve seen this week, the living, the standards, it’s quite interesting. It’s not where we want to spend our whole lives, but it’s been interesting.”
So, with that mystery “solved,” I thought I’d address a very thoughtful message that I got from a reader in response to my look at who can beat the Belgians earlier this week. In the column I asked whether, if the Belgians continue to dominate cyclocross as they have for the past 15 years, the sport could really justify its aspirations to Olympic recognition.
Just read your article about the Belgians. The questions about the extent to which ’cross can become an international sport and whether it should be included in the Olympics, framed in terms of whether the Belgians sweep everything again seems to completely forget the women’s cross scene. It’s pretty obvious that women’s ’cross is not dominated by Belgium. If you’re going to address the big questions about the sport and how Belgian it is you need to include something about the women.
—John in Chicago
Indeed, I should not have written that piece without acknowledging the much more international contests on the women’s side of the sport. Among the serious contenders for spots in the top five in the women’s race are American, Swiss, Dutch, Czech, French, British, Belgian and Italian riders. There’s no question that you are right about women’s racing.
But here’s the bad news: Even though women’s racing has exploded in popularity in North America, and even though it’s arguably the women who have delivered the most exciting racing of the season, far too often women’s cyclocross is considered second-class racing abroad. In Europe in particular, women receive just a tiny fraction of the developmental and professional support that the men get. Often women do not receive start money as the men do and are expected to race at terrible times, starting on deserted courses as early as 10 a.m. More than one European national team will race worlds without a full women’s squad, leaving plentiful talent at home.
But there’s good news as well. European champion Helen Wyman’s op-ed on our site earlier this month, calling for the UCI to mandate that national teams bring their top three riders to worlds (as the men’s teams already must), seems to have sparked a strong response, including an online petition.
Women’s cyclocross is leading the way in the United States, with more and more races offering equal prize money, and some serious depth in women’s fields. Men generally travel to Europe for the opportunity to take part in the world’s most competitive races; women, on the other hand, often come to the USA for the same experience.
All this growth has caught the attention of the sport’s leaders. As I wrote a few months ago, even Sven Nys has spoken out on behalf of women’s racing.
So thanks, John, for the note and the reminder that, amid all the speculation about how many men the Belgians can pack into the top 10 on Sunday, when it comes to international appeal, at least one half of the sport has already got it figured out.