Dan Seaton – VeloNews.com http://velonews.competitor.com Competitive Cycling News, Race Results and Bike Reviews Fri, 01 Jul 2016 21:29:05 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://velonews.competitor.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/cropped-Velonews_favicon-2-32x32.png Dan Seaton – VeloNews.com http://velonews.competitor.com 32 32 UCI may seek lifetime suspension in motor cheating case http://velonews.competitor.com/2016/03/news/uci-reportedly-seeking-lifetime-suspension-in-motorized-doping-case_397708 Mon, 07 Mar 2016 18:18:45 +0000 http://velonews.competitor.com/?p=397708 U23 cyclocross racer Femke Van den Driessche may face a lifetime ban and a hefty fine of 50,000 euro.

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According to a report in the Belgian newspaper Het Nieuwsblad, the International Cycling Union is seeking a lifetime ban for Belgian cyclocross racer Femke Van den Driessche, who is accused of starting the under-23 women’s world championship race with a hidden motor in one of her pit bikes. UCI is reportedly also seeking to fine Van den Driessche approximately 50,000 euros.

UCI has responded to rumors of so-called “motorized doping” with labor-intensive manual bike checks at select races in the past, but used newly developed technology to check for suspicious bikes at the cyclocross world championships in Zolder, Belgium, last month. Although the UCI has not revealed how the test was conducted, there has been speculation that its equipment can detect the magnetic field of a hidden motor.

According to the Nieuwsblad report, Van den Driessche and her family say they are ready and willing to accept responsibility for the bike’s presence at the race, but that a lifetime ban was too steep a price. “We want a fair chance, not a show trial,” said her lawyer Kristof De Saedeleer according to the report.

“We expected that the sanction would be more than the minimum requirement of a six-month suspension,” said De Saedeleer. “But this is very extreme. Knowing that for EPO you can get a maximum suspension of four years, this is a very serious demand, especially for a first offense.”

UCI officials, on the other hand, seem eager to stamp out motorized cheating as quickly as possible, and might make an example of Van den Driessche. Battered by years of doping scandals, there is little doubt that many in both national federations and the UCI would like to demonstrate that they consider this to be a serious matter and are willing to take whatever steps are necessary to ensure fairness in the sport.

“It’s clear that this technology, the testing, is working,” said UCI president Brian Cookson in a press conference about the case last month. “We are catching people. Yes, it gives out a very strong message. There were many people who laughed at the idea that people might be using electric motors in bike races. Now we see that there is a possibility, and that people may well have been doing it. I think it’s a major step forward in our efforts to protect the integrity of our sport. And the clear message is, ‘Whoever you are, whatever level you’re competing at, if you’re going to cheat in this way we now have the means to catch you, and you will be sanctioned.’”

According to Nieuwsblad, a hearing in the case is scheduled for next week at the UCI’s headquarters in Aigle, Switzerland.

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Photo Essay: 2016 UCI cyclocross world championships http://velonews.competitor.com/2016/02/news/cyclocross/394428_394428 Mon, 01 Feb 2016 17:13:17 +0000 http://velonews.competitor.com/?p=394428 The grand finale of the cyclocross season, world championships, in Zolder, Belgium, had controversy, drama, and plenty of muddy action.

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Powers’ disappointed with Worlds result http://velonews.competitor.com/2016/01/news/powers-disappointments-continue-at-worlds_394305 Sun, 31 Jan 2016 22:21:02 +0000 http://velonews.competitor.com/?p=394305 Jeremy Powers was not pleased with his result in Zolder

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ZOLDER, Belgium (VN) — Jeremy Powers came in to the world championships with high expectations after a successful season capped off by his third-straight U.S. national cyclocross championship. Powers enjoyed a front-row starting position on Sunday, and the course at Zolder seemed fit for Powers’ strengths.

Powers’ result — he finished 34th, 11:21 down — did not match his expectations. Powers ran into trouble immediately, and although he bounced back, he was never able to regain the front of the race.

“I slipped my pedal at the start, and I was immediately first to third row. That was not ideal by any stretch,” he told VeloNews after the race. “Then I settled in, but it just turned out not to be my best day. I don’t know. I’m not pumped about it, I definitely wanted more from myself.”

The trouble didn’t stop there. Later in the first lap, Powers tangled with his American teammate Travis Livermon, losing even more time.

“That was unfortunately Travis Livermon, who I apologized to during that moment,” said Powers. “I was just going wide and coming across and I ended up T-boning into him. That didn’t make it any better for any of us. It was just a bunch of us running into each other for that first lap.”

Powers bounced from group to group during the middle of the race, and at one point was riding in no-man’s land. But he struggled to  make up time on the leaders, and eventually settled into the mid-30’s.

The sandy course in Zolder usually drains well, but the torrential rain that fell on Saturday left the course a muddy mess on Sunday. Powers said that the unusually sloppy conditions didn’t help his bid to gain places.

“It was definitely hard,” he said. “The course was changing, but the ruts were super deep for our race. A lot of these steep bits hurt me, even more than at the World Cup last time, just that extra climb. Doing that eight times was hard on me. My back, specifically, was killing me today.”

By all accounts, Powers has had an impressive season, including a sixth place at the World Cup race at CrossVegas — one of the best ever in the elite men’s race by an American — and a fourth national title a few weeks ago.

But he told VeloNews on Sunday that he struggled to maintain his form and focus late in the season. Powers’s results on the World Cup circuit reflect his comments. Powers was 31st at last weekend’s World Cup in Hoogerheide, the Netherlands, and 23rd at the previous weekend’s World Cup in France. He finished the season ranked 26th in the series.

“When I think back to Rochester, or even before that, it’s just a long time ago,” he said. “It always is. I wouldn’t say things are bad. It’s just not a great result for me, period.”

Powers will finish his season with a race in Japan, but said after the championship race that he was ready for a break.

“I can tell when it’s time, and it’s definitely time,” he said. “It’s February.”

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Worlds fans pelt van der Haar with beer, spit http://velonews.competitor.com/2016/01/news/worlds-fans-pelt-van-der-haar-with-beer-spit_394292 Sun, 31 Jan 2016 17:23:09 +0000 http://velonews.competitor.com/?p=394292 Bad fans at Sunday's cross worlds spat, threw beer at van der Haar

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Some fans at Sunday’s UCI world championships took to throwing beer and even spitting on riders during the elite men’s race. After finishing second to Belgian Wout van Aert, Dutch rider Lars van der Haar said he weathered the abuse during his effort.

“There were some points in the course where [fans] were spitting on me, and I got a lot of beer on me,” van der Haar said. “At that moment you’re so focused on the race and you’re doing your own thing, that you’re not really paying attention to that.”

Video from the race confirmed that van Aert was splashed by beer in at least one corner of the Zolder course.

Heckling is endemic to cyclocross, but fans occasionally take things too far. In 2012 Belgian great Sven Nys abandoned his bicycle during a bp Post Bank Trophy race and chased a fan who had pelted him with a cup of beer. In 2006 Belgian rider Bart Wellens kicked a heckling spectator during a round of the World Cup. The 2014 Cross Vegas event was also marred by beer spraying.

Van der Haar gapped the field midway through the eight-lap race, and rode with a 20-second gap over his chasers. That’s when fans at the Zolder race track began booing the young Dutchman and pelting him with liquids.

Van Aert eventually caught van der Haar, setting up a dramatic finish.

At the post-race press conference, van der Haar said some fans were, “not so respectful,” while the majority of fans cheered him on. The abuse, he said, did not impact the overall outcome of the race.

“No, some guy next to me influenced that result,” van der Haar said, pointing at van Aert.

After the race, some riders and fans took to Twitter to discuss the abuse.

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Antonneau makes strides in muddy Zolder http://velonews.competitor.com/2016/01/news/antonneau-makes-strides-in-muddy-zolder_394266 Sun, 31 Jan 2016 01:40:09 +0000 http://velonews.competitor.com/?p=394266 "I’m just so happy. I couldn’t ask for better,” says Antonneau, who was the top American finisher at cyclocross worlds in Zolder,

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ZOLDER, Belgium (VN) — Saturday was a bleak day for cyclocross, and not just because of the monumentally bad weather that battered riders and fans on the former Formula One track in Zolder, Belgium. On a day of gloomy weather, gloomy crowds, and even gloomier news, American Kaitie Antonneau’s eighth-place finish was a ray of sunshine piercing the darkness.

“I’m super, super happy,” Antonneau told VeloNews after the race. “I’m proud to finish off the season on a good note. I finally got my top-10 world championship in Europe, and that’s my best place. So I’m super happy. I couldn’t have asked for more.”

Antonneau’s ride in Zolder capped a fantastic season, one during which she took the biggest strides yet in her still young career. In October, the 24 year-old earned her first World Cup podium place, finishing second behind Italian Eva Lechner, at the second race of the series in Valkenburg, Netherlands. She followed that up with a top-10 finish in Namur, Belgium, in December and a fifth-place finish in the penultimate World Cup in Lignières-en-Berry, France.

On Saturday, Antonneau battled again with Lechner and with Luxembourg champion Christine Marjerus, but she also battled a stupendously sloppy course and some of the worst weather the sport has seen during an unusually temperate season.

“Oh man, it was totally night and day from any time I’ve ever done this course,” she said. “It was still fast, but it was just muddy and it just changed the way that — you know, by the last lap my arms were tired, because when this course is dry there are parts where you can rest. But it’s technical this time, so it just made it hard the whole time. It was exhausting.”

In 2011, when Antonneau was still a protege of perennial U.S. national champion Katie Compton, Compton predicted Antonneau’s ride.

“She’s such a hard worker and a talented rider; just a really nice girl,” said Compton then. “She’s learning fast, and she’s got so much potential. She’s going to develop as a bike racer on the road, on track, on the mountain bike, and in ‘cross. I just want to see her develop as a bike racer, and 10 years from now, be an Olympian.”

But increasingly, Antonneau has been the ‘Kaitie’ to beat in American cyclocross. On Saturday she finished nearly a minute ahead of her similarly-named mentor, an achievement by any measure, much less at a foul weather world championships. The two still share a close relationship, and Compton was quick with a huge and congratulations on the finish line.

For Antonneau, though, the biggest prize remains the progress she is making. At only 24 she still has plenty of room to grow. And, if this season is any measure, she’s headed to great places.

“The French World Cup where I was fifth … If only that had happened I would have walked away super happy,” she said of her most successful season yet. “But to be on the podium at the World Cup, to have two top-fives and the finish here, I’ve grown so much this season. I’m just so happy. I couldn’t ask for better.”

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Sven Nys prepares for a final championship race http://velonews.competitor.com/2016/01/news/cyclocross/sven-nys-prepares-for-a-final-championship-race_394241 Sat, 30 Jan 2016 18:58:22 +0000 http://velonews.competitor.com/?p=394241 Two-time world champion Sven Nys talks about what to expect in his final outing at UCI cyclocross championships in Zolder, Belgium.

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ZOLDER, Belgium (VN) — Sunday’s elite men’s world championship race will be the last for Belgium’s undisputed heavyweight champion of cyclocross, Sven Nys. Though Nys has won only two world titles in his career, he is arguably the most successful rider in the history of the sport. At 39 he will retire this year and take over the Telenet-Fidea team, which he and a group of backers purchased in December.

VeloNews caught up with Nys on Friday to talk about his feelings ahead of his final championship race, his Belgian team, and how to beat race favorite Mathieu van der Poel.

VeloNews: What are your emotions ahead of the race tomorrow? It’s your final world championships.

Sven Nys: Well there are not many emotions for the moment. It feels like it’s a normal world championships for me, and maybe that’s a reason that I feel it’s OK that I’m going to retire. For the moment, I don’t feel anything different than the years before. It’s just business as usual, that’s what I feel. It’s crazy, but it’s like this.

VN: How do you feel about your preparation for the race?

SN: For me, it was really important to have two really good results the last two World Cups, in France and in Holland, and that was not what I got. So it’s, mentally, not ok to have that result two weeks before the worlds.

But maybe I was a bit tired. I had the most races during the the Christmas period, and a race before France in Zonnebeke. So maybe that’s the reason.

I trained also maybe a little bit too hard the days before Hoogerheide. And I felt that the basic condition is OK, but my explosion, my power was not there. And if you can rest three, four days after Hoogerheide, then you feel that it’s coming back a little bit. And that’s what I need to have a good result in Zolder.

So, okay, we’ll see. It would be better that I had a good result in Hoogerheide, but it’s like this, and it’s okay.

VN: What do you hope for on Sunday?

SN: I hope that I have the feeling that the power is in my legs, that I can have one hour full gas, full power, and then I can have a result like I had during the season: going for the podium, going for the top five. I think that is possible when I have my maximum capacity.

VN: Can you be satisfied when you don’t win?

SN: Definitely. I think that you see during the season that there are two guys who are stronger than us. I beat Wout in Koksijde, but it’s a completely different track. When we could race today on a track like Koksijde, then it’s different, then there could happen many more things than here in Zolder. It’s more technical, it’s more — when you have stress over there you can make so many mistakes. Here that’s completely different.

Okay, it’s going to rain, and that helps me a bit. But we’ll see. I’m ready for the race, and I’m going to do my best to have a good result.

VN: Mathieu van der Poel is the big favorite. You’re about to take over the Telenet-Fidea team and be a team manager. What would you tell your guys to do tactically to try and neutralize Mathieu?

SN: Stay as long as possible in his wheel. Don’t work. Let him do the work because he is the big favorite. And then he’s going to be nervous. And in the other way, when there is a problem with Wout in the beginning of the race and he loses a lot of places, another guy from our country needs to help him. Definitely on the road, so he can sit out of the wind and come back a few seconds, that’s going to help him. He’s going to recover a bit, and maybe he can take a place again in the first group.

So, it’s not so difficult. You need to follow Mathieu, but don’t work with him. Let him do the work. Then he’s going to be nervous and then you can do something.

VN: Do you think the Belgians can work together as a team, or do you think ego and ambition could get in the way of that?

SN: In cyclocross, it’s not so easy to work together. But if there is a problem, you can help each other. And mentally, that helps the rider who is in really good shape.

You can’t say, ‘Okay, we’re going to ride in a group, Belgians, and we’re going to create a strong group that goes to Mathieu. That’s not possible, that’s not cyclocross. But on the other hand, if there is a problem, you can help each other. And if you know that that there are guys from the same country who are going to help you, mentally that’s important.

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‘Technological fraud’ discovered at Zolder cyclocross worlds http://velonews.competitor.com/2016/01/news/uci_detains_bike_cyclocross_worlds_394233_394233 Sat, 30 Jan 2016 17:48:59 +0000 http://velonews.competitor.com/?p=394233 UCI official: “For the UCI, this is the first time we have established a technical fraud and for us that’s a downer. Most people are

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ZOLDER, Belgium (VN) — In what appears to be a first in cycling, the International Cycling Union confirmed that it had impounded the bike of Belgian rider Femke van den Driessche following the women’s under-23 championship race Saturday. Van den Driessche was a pre-race favorite, thanks to solid results in the World Cup and a stunning second-place finish at the Koppenbergcross, one of the most difficult races on the calendar, in November.

In an interview with Belgian TV network Sporza, Peter Van den Abeele, UCI’s off-road manager, said the bike was caught thanks to new technology the UCI has been developing for several years. “For the UCI, this is the first time we have established a technical fraud and for us that’s a downer. Most people are bewildered [by this].

“Was this a specific control? We’ve been doing tests for a while now at the world championships. In recent years, there’s been some hoopla, and we’ve adapted the technology. The people of the UCI’s technology commission were here in force with good equipment.”

A separate report on Sporza filled in some of the apparent details of what exactly happened.

“After one lap of the world championships, UCI took Femke’s bike in the pit area and tested it with some sort of tablet,” said Sporza journalist Maarten Vangramberen. “The bike was immediately sealed and taken. The UCI then called in the Belgian federation. When the saddle was removed, there were electrical cables in the seat tube. When they wanted to remove the bottom bracket, which is normally not difficult, they could not because the crank was stuck. Inside there was a motor.”

Van den Driessche’s day did not go according to plan. The race was battered by drenching rain and blustery winds, and she did not manage to crack the top 10, abandoning the race with one lap to go, with a broken chain. Whether there was a connection between her departure from the race and the technical control of her bike remains unclear.

The Belgian rides for the Kleur Op Maat-Nodrugs cycling team, on Wilier bikes. And it was, apparently, a Wilier that she was on when the control happened.

“I feel really terrible,” Belgian national team coach Rudy De Bie told Sporza. “This is a disgrace. I never imagined something like this would happen to our team. Why would a rider do this? Especially at such a young age. And who is responsible for her? I’m embarrassed on her behalf.”

A report in the Belgian newspaper Het Nieuwsblad, meanwhile, quoted her father as saying that the bike in question was not used in competition.

“It’s not Femke’s bike,” he reportedly said. “Someone from her team, who sometimes trains with her, brought the bike to the pit. But it was never the intention that she would ride it. … Femke has absolutely not used that bike in the race. We are strongly affected by what’s happened. Femke is totally upside-down.”

According to UCI rules, technological fraud is punishable by disqualification, a suspension at least six months, and a fine of up to 200,000 Swiss francs. A team found guilty of mechanical fraud also could face a suspension and a fine as large as one million francs.

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Van Aert happy playing the underdog at cyclocross worlds http://velonews.competitor.com/2016/01/news/van-aert-happy-playing-the-underdog-at-cyclocross-worlds_394185 Fri, 29 Jan 2016 20:06:29 +0000 http://velonews.competitor.com/?p=394185 Wout Van Aert is keeping a cool head ahead of the season's biggest race in front of the home crowd on Belgian soil this Sunday.

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ZOLDER, Belgium (VN) — Reigning world champion Mathieu van der Poel may be favored to repeat as world champion in Sunday’s elite championship race in Zolder, thanks to a strong showing in the past month of ‘cross racing. But it’s Belgian champion Wout Van Aert who has been the king of cyclocross for most of the season, and it’s Van Aert who will have the highly partisan home crowd behind him come race time.

Van Aert narrowly missed out on a chance to wear the rainbow stripes at last year’s championships in the Czech Republic, finishing second despite a host of technical problems during the race. But this year is another chance, and he seems unlikely to repeat last year’s mistakes. VeloNews caught up with the race’s top underdog in Zolder for a chat about his chances, his preparation, and his feelings about leading his country in front of the home fans in Sunday’s race.

Q: How are you feeling ahead of the race on Sunday? What’s your mentality right now?

A: For now I feel really relaxed. I have the feeling I’ve already achieved a lot of beautiful things this season. So I can already be happy with that. I think the stress will come up on Sunday morning. I’m motivated, but that’s all. I would really like to go for the world title, but I can be relaxed until Sunday.

Q: How much pressure do you feel because the race is in Belgium? The fans are going to want you to win very, very much.

A: A lot of people expect something from me, and also from all the Belgians. But I’ve learned to live with that feeling, and I think the only pressure I need to feel is the pressure I put on myself. So I think that’s important to know. For me, I learned a lot in the last year, and I think that’s why I can be relaxed at this moment. That’s really important.

Q: How do you keep from getting caught up in the excitement of the race, from going out too hard or making mistakes?

A: I learned a few tricks for that, but I think it’s really important to enjoy the crowd and not be afraid of it. That’s one important thing to keep in your mind before. I think you have to see it as something positive. There are a lot of people who will be out there on Sunday, a lot of Belgians for sure. I think they’ll support me, but they only can give me a boost.

Q: You said in some interviews last week you had specifically trained on, and for, this course. Can you talk a bit about how you prepared for the race?

A: We saw already at the World Cup right after Christmas that it’s a really explosive course. You really need to accelerate many times during the lap, and normally that’s not my best quality. I love more the long, straight parts. When we knew that after the Christmas World Cup, we worked on it in Spain and really worked on some attacks and steep parts and things like that. And I think that will work out on Sunday. I hope it.

Q: Mathieu is the top favorite. Do you think that gives you any kind of tactical advantage in the race, if people are looking at him and not at you?

A: Yeah, I hope so, but I don’t know. Mathieu is a really strong rider, and his biggest capacity is to stay cool in the head always. He is never impressed by anything. So I think he is going to do his own race. But I know his strenghts after racing with him for so many years. So I think that’s a big advantage for me, I know how to answer his attacks — or I’ll try it, at least — and then we’ll see what the second half of the race brings.

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Niels Albert: The next chapter http://velonews.competitor.com/2016/01/news/cyclocross/niels-albert-the-next-chapter_394140 Fri, 29 Jan 2016 19:38:15 +0000 http://velonews.competitor.com/?p=394140 Albert emerges as a successful coach and mentor, finding real satisfaction in his new work, despite ending his racing career early due to a

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It all ended in Oostmalle, though it wasn’t supposed to be that way.

On a riotously sunny Sunday at the end of February, 2014, the temperature pushing 60 degrees, Niels Albert won his last race. It had been a long, hard season for the 28 year-old two-time world champion, one that produced a handful of important wins — notably at World Cups in Koksijde and Rome — but far fewer than he was accustomed to and neither a major series title or championship.

Belgian winters are long and dark, chilly and damp, and when the weather breaks and the sunlight pours out, golden and warm, it is as if someone has lifted a cold, heavy blanket from the countryside. That’s how it was that day in Oostmalle.

And, just a week after watching his last hope for a major series title evaporate, thanks to a poor result at the final Superprestige race in Middelkerke, Belgium, you could almost feel the sigh of relief Albert breathed on the start line as well. Lining up for the last race of a disappointing, stressful season, Albert looked relaxed and comfortable in a short-sleeve skinsuit unzipped to the chest. You could definitely see the sigh of relief he breathed at the finish, his arms outstretched, head back, taking his sixth career win on the sandy course that was something of his specialty. One last victory to cap a season of struggle.

Who could have guessed then that the struggle was so far from over?

Less than three months later, in a tearful press conference, Albert announced he would leave the sport immediately.

In a hastily announced press conference, Albert read a prepared statement. Haltingly, his voice wavering, he said, “Much sooner than I myself had expected and, particularly, than I had wished, I am today, for health reasons, forced to say goodbye to my professional cycling career.

“During a routine check it was discovered that I have a heart arrhythmia, and further research has shown that this problem could become fatal in extreme exertion, with a cardiac arrest as the result.”

Read the VeloNews feature on heart health and cycling >>

Albert took the summer off, attracted a little bit of media attention when he went to Rock Werchter and Tomorrowland — two big Belgian music festivals — but more or less disappeared from public view.

Then, in September, he was back. Albert signed on as sport director at Vastgoed Service-Golden Palace, a new team and the new home of then reigning under-23 world champion Wout Van Aert.

Under Albert’s tutelage, Van Aert emerged as a major force in cyclocross, taking a controversial win over Sven Nys at Koppenbergcross in early November 2014, and following it up with a resounding World Cup win on the sand dunes of Koksijde a few weeks later. On the finish line there, Van Aert hopped of his bike, took a couple of running steps, and hopped back on. The gesture, he told reporters, honored the two men to win a world championship in Koksijde, Paul Herygers and Van Aert’s sport director, Niels Albert.

“I live in the same town as Paul Herygers who did it the first time in 1994, and last year Niels [Albert] did the same,” said Van Aert. “[Niels] asked me to do something special, and the last two laps I was thinking, ‘Something special, something special, I have to do something the people can see, I’ll do it for him.’ And I think it was beautiful to cross the finish line like that.”

It was, in some sense, Albert’s first real triumph in his new role, forging a bond of trust with the team’s young star, and coaching him to a major victory on a course that once all but belonged to Albert himself.

Now, a year later, Van Aert has emerged as a nearly unstoppable force, beaten only a handful of times this year, and earning what is sure to be the first of many Belgian national titles. And Albert has emerged as a successful coach and mentor, finding, he says now, real satisfaction in his new work after the turbulent — but not unsuccessful — season that saw his transformation.

“It’s now my second year as team leader,” says Albert, who is now a few pounds heavier than he was at his peak, but still flashes the same dashing, boyish smile as he always did when he talks about racing. “The first year was a little bit like finding my way, the situation was all new. Now I’m a little bit more used to making some comments and sometimes to make myself angry [to help fire up] the boys.

“I wanted to try to do this after my career, but my career stopped too early. For me it was brand new. I didn’t expect to have to do it at this age. I wanted first to try it, and I asked Geert [Vanhoof] — the chief of the team — I asked him last year, ‘Okay, I want to try it, I don’t know if I’ll have a good feeling or the self-confidence to give the right information to the guys.’ I had to learn also, and the first year was a little bit of learning everything, but now I’m coming into the position and I like it.”

On race days, Albert helps the riders on his team — now a mashup team called Crelan-Vastgoedservice, sporting a combination green-orange kit that must be the single ugliest in the sport — with mental preparation and pre-race strategy. He also runs a team workout midweek.

“Before the race I try to get the riders together with a WhatsApp group, on the iPhones, and I say to all the riders, ‘Okay, think about that, think about this. You see here a picture of the track, this is a little bit difficult, here are stones, here is a big gap for a crash or something,’” he tells VeloNews. “That’s how I always give the right information to the guys. For the moment it’s a good situation that works. But I give it to all the riders. I don’t pull Wout before the rest, as we say in Flemish. All the riders are the same for me. But we do some great results with Wout now and it’s good for the team, and we’re quite happy.”

Though his experience and skill at analyzing the dynamics of a course have clearly paid off for the riders, he plays down the significance of his part in their success and in Van Aert’s in particular.

“Wout has a good team from trainers and massage guys, but I think I make a little bit the difference to give him trust and self confidence,” says Albert. “I [want to] give him the right information before the race. Maybe it’s five percent to bring him to the victory, but that five percent is enough.”

In some sense, Albert’s success as a sport director might be linked both to his unique combination of youth and experience. Other teams employ former racers as well — three-time world champion Mario De Clercq announced this month that he will retire as sport director of Belgium’s recently rechristened Marlux-Napoleongames squad after nearly a decade in that role — but Albert is not only a champion, but a peer. Until barely more than a year ago, he shared the course with the same riders he now directs. As a result, the level of trust and camaraderie he has fostered, along with his still-acute awareness of what life as a young rider is like, has lifted up the team.

Still, Albert is modest about his importance.

“I want not to take the results as my own,” he says. “They have some individual trainers and [my job is] to make them happy and have a good feeling on Wednesday on the training, and to give them self-confidence on the trainings. And to push them to the limit, but on Tuesday and Thursday, when they have to train long rides on the road, then they’re alone. I’m just a piece of the victory.”

And in spite of his team’s success, Albert says he still feels a familiar ache when he watches a race, a deep sense that, in spite of his good fortune to have caught his heart problem before it put his life at risk, something fundamental was lost, a piece of his identity that can never be put back in place.

“Sometimes it’s difficult,” Albert admits. “Sometimes I watch to the riders and to the track, and I say, ‘Shit. It’s bad luck, it’s quite stupid that I’m over here now and not racing.’ It’s shit, but it is what it is.”

It is a strange, contradictory feeling. Life is good. On the one hand, he is successful in work and will probably live to an old age, spared a terrible fate by a chance medical exam. On the other, he is surely not the same man he was just 18 months ago.

Nonetheless, taking the long view, he does not deny his overall good fortune.

“I have a problem with my heart, but I don’t have pain or anything,” he said. “I don’t feel anything. And that’s strange. I have a problem that I don’t feel, and sometimes it’s hard to understand. But after everything, my life is in a good situation. I have a new girlfriend. I have a good bike shop. The team results are very good. The guys are accepting me and have some respect for me. And that’s why I’m doing this for the guys. When the guys are happy, then it’s okay.”

In addition to the team, there is that bike shop in his hometown, Tremolo, just a couple of kilometers down the road from the site of his one-time top rival, Sven Nys’s, namesake race in nearby Baal. Albert spends most days when he’s not racing there, puttering with the bikes, chatting with fans who come to visit the former champion. Signing the occasional autograph.

“The bike shop is,” he starts to explain, then pauses and rethinks. “It’s a lot of work, but I think it’s a good investment. Normally I’m right there the whole week long when I’m not at the races [or] at the [team] training. On Monday, Tuesday, Friday — Saturday when it’s not a race — then I’m in the shop. So, yeah, people come in and ask to take a picture or to get my advice and, yeah, we sell a bike.”

You talk to Niels Albert, and you get him started talking about the bikes, and you immediately see why he was so successful as a rider, how he wears his love for the sport — and for the bike itself — on his rainbow-striped sleeve. You see why he seemed to be having so much fun in a goofy old-timer’s race earlier this season, a non-battle between five retired former world champions: Albert, Bart Wellens, Erwin Vervecken, Paul Herygers, and Danny De Bie to raise money for charity. It is his pure love for the sport.

He was not always the fastest or the most skillful, but he won because he loved what he was doing so much that he could turn himself inside out to take a victory. And maybe, somewhere along the way, he went a little to far, pushed a little beyond the limit when he should have been resting, and it cost him almost everything.

He is glad, he’ll tell you, to be alive, there’s no doubt about it. But he knows what he lost and won’t pretend otherwise. If you’re in Belgium, you can drive down a narrow main street of the little village of Tremolo, and you’ll find the Niels Albert Bike Shop. Go in and you can ask him yourself.

“I feel [fortunate], but sometimes I’m feeling unlucky,” he’ll tell you. “If I were 33 years old or something, then I’d say, ‘Okay, bad luck, but I’m going on.’ But now it’s three or four years too early to stop. And that’s quite unlucky. But I’m happy with the victories of the team, and for me it’s okay.”

And that little contradictory reply, you’ll know, is the truth. It exactly sums up the strange dichotomy that is his new life. You take the good and the bad and you do what you can with it. At your best, maybe you win a bike race, maybe a big one. And you can celebrate that.

Another day, you take a breath, glad you’re still there to do it, take a picture and, if you’re lucky, you sell a bike. You miss the racing, you know there was more you wanted to do, but you can celebrate that too.

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Cant seeks elusive victory at cyclocross worlds http://velonews.competitor.com/2016/01/news/cant-seeks-elusive-victory-at-cyclocross-worlds_394174 Fri, 29 Jan 2016 15:39:34 +0000 http://velonews.competitor.com/?p=394174 Belgium Sanne Cant is a seven-time national cyclocross champion, but a world title is missing from her resume.

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ZOLDER, Belgium (VN) — Sanne Cant has been waiting a long, long time for this.

She is arguably the greatest Belgian woman cyclocross rider ever and comes from a country obsessed with the sport. She has been national champion since 2010, an unbroken streak of seven wins. She has won the World Cup twice, the European championships twice, and has earned two medals at worlds.

A year ago in Tabor, Czech Republic, Cant took French champion Pauline Ferrand-Prevot right down to the final meters of the race, missing out on a championship in heartbreaking fashion — especially after putting together the strongest season of her career.

But in spite of all her success, she has spent a career at the margins of the spotlight, just behind Marianne Vos, Pauline Ferrand-Prevot, Katie Compton, Daphny van den Brand, and Hanka Kupfernagle. Looking for the podiums and medals on the edges, waiting to exploit a weakness and vault, briefly, to success against older, more established competition.

That has changed this year. Cant, who wrapped up her second World Cup title last week in Hoogerheide, Netherlands, is the clear favorite for Saturday’s elite women’s world championship race here on the old Formula One track in Zolder, thanks to both her season-long dominance and her commanding win in a World Cup race on the same course just a month ago.

“It’s the first year I’m the favorite,” Cant told VeloNews Thursday night. “I’m happy with it. At this moment, I don’t feel any pressure. [All the support from the fans] makes me feel good.”

If she wins on Saturday, it will be the culmination of an all-consuming, decade-long quest, one whose roots go back to her early childhood.

“There is not much life beyond the bike for me,” she said. “I try just to focus. Sometimes I go for a coffee or something, but I don’t have any hobbies. This is it.

“I started when I was 6, in Holland. And I drove every year. This is my 10th world championships. I feel really old!”

But Cant’s success, the long arc of her life that took her from youth races for fun to being one of the world’s best cyclocrossers, has not come in a vacuum. Sucked into cycling alongside her cousins and brothers, cyclocross became a family effort.

“My parents are always there,” she explained. “If I ask something, they do everything. We are with three kids, and we all ride cyclocross. So it’s not easy, but they are just amazing.”

It’s not so unusual in Belgium, that family commitment to cycling. Cant herself still lives at home, although she will move out on her own later this year at age 25. She is frequently seen cheering for her brother, Kevin, a repeat national champion in the elite non-professional category, alongside the same course where she herself raced only moments before. Family support, she says, is a big part of of the formula that has earned her so much success.

Now she is met with arguably the biggest test of her decade-long career. She will race, in front of a highly partisan home crowd, as the favorite in a world championship. Without long-time champion Marianne Vos, who is still returning to cyclocross after a series of injuries last year, and reigning champion Ferrand-Prevot, who also is focused on returning to form after an injury, all eyes will be on Cant.

If she wins, it will be vindication for last year’s achingly close loss, a memory whose recall is still clearly and visibly painful for her.

“It was — I was so close, I can —” she trailed off, then collected herself. “After the podium it was really hard. I raced the whole year, I think I had a really good year, and I had to lose to someone in a sprint! It was not easy. But I made it a motivation. I hope it will give me some strength this year.”

Cant took some flak for comments in the post-race press conference in Tabor, telling reporters how hard it was for riders who make their living at cyclocross to match riders, like Ferrand-Prevot, who focus on other disciplines and can come to the championships fresh, having only a few, late season races in their legs. She walked back those comments later on, telling reporters she believed Ferrand-Prevot was a worthy champion. But it’s clear she took the lessons of last season — a season she started with impressive form that she struggled to maintain through the winter — to heart.

“[Early this season] I tried to win, but with less condition than last year,” she said of the slow build to form she has followed this year. “And I think I’m now at my best. I trained really hard. I don’t think I can train any more than this. I hope it was good enough. I have to wait to see now.”

Will it be enough? That’s a question whose answer depends not only on her own preparation, but the preparation of a half-dozen other women as well. Cant flags American Katie Compton and Italian Eva Lechner as top rivals, though rivals whose condition is hard to gauge right now. She taps Dutch champion Thalita de Jong, who also has a burgeoning career racing on the road, as a wildcard, capable of a very good race on the fast Zolder track.

But whether her preparation will be enough is also a question that depends on a thousand external factors: the track, the terrible weather forecast, and whether she can handle the pressure when things get busy and nervous and loud.

The truth, however, is that it doesn’t matter so much whether she wins or not — at least, not to anyone but her. Cant’s legacy is secure; she’s already the queen of Belgian cyclocross, in spite of the missing jewel in her crown. There is more to her and her career now than race wins.

“A few years ago I was asking myself why I’m doing this,” she said. “I think that’s normal. And now I just want one thing, to make [women’s cyclocross] popular in Belgium. And hope the younger riders will try to follow me. And I think we’re on a good way. We can grow, but I think this year, with the TV [race coverage], it’s already good.”

Still, she’ll savor victory, if it shines its light on her. And if she should win on Saturday?

“I think I won’t sleep that night,” she says. “We’ll have a big party.”

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Preview: Cyclocross worlds land in Zolder http://velonews.competitor.com/2016/01/news/preview-cyclocross-worlds-land-in-zolder_394062 Thu, 28 Jan 2016 14:00:34 +0000 http://velonews.competitor.com/?p=394062 The tables have turned at the cyclocross worlds, with a wide-open women's race and a predictable men's race on the docket.

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HEUSDEN-ZOLDER, Belgium (VN) — For the better part of a decade, cyclocross world championship races have been a study in contrast: a men’s race brimming with so much talent that it is all but impossible to pick a clear favorite, and a women’s race all but owned by a single rider — one who held the title seven times, including a run of six straight years.

The tables have turned.

But when the world championships get rolling on Saturday, it is the women who will arguably meet the opportunity of a lifetime — a wide-open shot at the world title — and the men who face a race whose outcome already seems like a foregone conclusion.

The race, on the former Formula One track in Heusden-Zolder, will be the first championships in Belgium since 2012’s event in the sand dunes of Koksijde. That race attracted some 60,000 spectators. Organizers here have said they anticipate beating that number, making this race very likely the best attended cyclocross race in history.

If they hit that mark, there will be a crush of people alongside the course, which is laid out in a long, narrow, out-and-back loop. The track features a considerable amount of pavement, and the long, straight, start-finish stretch leaves lots of room to set up a highly tactical race. Rain, expected on both Saturday and Sunday, could make things even more interesting, but the sandy soil in Zolder drains well, so while it may be slippery and sloppy, the race tempo will likely be very fast, regardless of the weather.

At the World Cup stop here in late December, a preview of the weekend’s championship races, both men’s and women’s races were decided on the same series of steep climbs near the tail end of the lap. In the women’s race, Belgian champion Sanne Cant was able to ride away from American Katie Compton on the course’s steepest rideable climb, putting enough distance between them for Cant to take an uncontested win. In the men’s race, reigning world champion Mathieu van der Poel did nearly the same thing to his Dutch countryman Lars van der Haar and Belgian Kevin Pauwels, summoning power on the climb that neither of his rivals could produce.

The elite men

If the showdown between Van der Poel, Van der Haar, and Pauwels in Zolder really did offer a preview of Sunday’s men’s race, two elements were missing. First is Belgian champion Wout Van Aert, runner up at the 2015 world championships. Second is Sven Nys, the wildly popular two-time world champion, arguably the greatest rider in the history of the sport, racing his final championship before retirement, and racing on home soil.

Van Aert ruled the early season, while Van der Poel was still nursing a knee injury he sustained at the Tour de l’Avenir in August. But Van der Poel has been decidedly stronger since his return, sweeping the final four World Cup races. After finishing second at the final World Cup stop in Hoogerheide, Van Aert acknowledged that Van der Poel is the clear favorite for Sunday’s race.

“I said weeks ago that Mathieu is the big favorite,” Van Aert told reporters. “It’s very clear, it’s not just me, but all the others as well, we were all distanced quite far today. Will that be the same next week? That’s a different story. I trained on the specific course of Zolder this week. I hope it pays off next weekend.”

But Van der Poel will surely have the throttle wide open on Sunday.

“I said from the beginning on that the worlds are the only thing that can rescue my season,” Van der Poel told VeloNews. “I’ve had a pretty good season after my knee surgery, but then all the classifications are gone and I want to be the new world champion again.”

Nys, meanwhile, is a bigger question mark. His season has not been his strongest, with only one truly shining weekend in late November when he won back-to-back races, but he has been solid and will surely be motivated for a strong finish. He will also have the crowd behind him like no other rider. But will he be able to stay focused in what is surely to be a very emotional race? Will he be able to match the form of men barely half his age? Neither question has an obvious answer.

Then come Van der Haar and Pauwels, both of whom are, on their best days, capable of riding with the favorites, especially on a fast course like the one in Zolder. The 31-year-old Pauwels finished third last weekend in Hoogerheide, and has been the most consistent rider not named Van Aert or Van der Poel this season. Van der Haar, 24, finished on the podium at last year’s championships, and has shown he is capable of a good race in Zolder, but he did not look particularly sharp in Hoogerheide on Sunday.

The wildcard may be a young and very talented Belgian team that is willing to work together to control Van der Poel and win one of their countrymen a championship in front of a friendly home crowd. Zolder features a course that favors team tactics; Laurens Sweeck, Tom Meeusen, and Michael Vanthourenhout have all looked strong at different times in the season. But whether everybody can keep their ego in check and settle for supporting roles in what is usually a sport centered around individual performance is an open question.

Leading the American contingent will be national champion Jeremy Powers, who is also capable of a good ride on a course like the one in Zolder. Among others, he’ll be joined by nationals runner-up Steven Hyde, who was within striking distance of a great result in the December World Cup here before a mechanical knocked him from the front of the race.

“I feel good, I feel like I’m in a good place physically and mentally and I think it’s just about putting it together,” Powers told VeloNews Sunday in Hoogerheide. “To be honest, I think on a perfect day, something in the top 10 is possible…. But I won’t really know until I’m done with the race how I feel about it.”

The Elite Women

In the absence of Marianne Vos — who with seven world titles holds just under half of all the world championships ever handed out to women — and defending champion Pauline Ferrand-Prevot, who is recovering from an injury and is focused on an Olympic run, Belgium’s Sanne Cant is the obvious favorite.

Cant has won more often than not this season, with three World Cup wins and the overall title, including that victory on the worlds course in Zolder just over a month ago. She did not look nearly so invincible in Hoogerheide last week, but it is hard to imagine she is coming to the championship race in anything less than top form. She said after Hoogerheide that a championship this year, after barely missing out on the title in 2015, has been a focus since the beginning of the season.

“The European championships were also important, and I won that. I won 15 races,” Cant told VeloNews. “I think that’s the same as last year. But there was always the world championships in my head. I hope I can do it.”

She said she felt the pressure of being the favorite, but was confident ahead of the race.

“It’s the first year I’m the big favorite I think,” Cant said. “It’s in my home country. I trained really hard and worked really hard for [this] week. I will do my best and that’s all I can do.”

Behind her is a field that defies prognostication. American Katie Compton, a perennial contender for the championships, was strong in Zolder in December and has shown glimmers of brilliance all season long. But she has not been consistently as good as in years past.

“I don’t know. I had a good race [in Zolder] earlier this season, but worlds is always so different, and you never know,” Compton said Sunday. “It’s totally different next weekend. I like the course a lot, I think it has really good features. It’s a fun course. It’s hard, but it’s fun, technical and fast. I think it’s supposed to rain all week, and that will be good.”

Other riders to watch include Italian champion Eva Lechner, runner-up in the World Cup, who was strong early on but has shifted focus a little recently, targeting a run at the Olympic mountain bike race later this summer. Rounding out a very talented field are Belgian Ellen Van Loy, who finished third in Zolder in December, Dutch riders Sophie De Boer, Thalita De Jong, and Sabrina Stultiens, and Britons Helen Wyman and Nikki Harris.

Americans Meredith Miller — who says she is riding her final world championship this year — Kaitlin Antonneau, Amanda Miller, Elle Anderson, and Crystal Anthony are all capable of very good rides in Zolder, especially if they can break into the lead group early on. But at the end of the day, with several of the sport’s most successful riders absent — in addition to Vos and Ferrand-Prevot, American-based Czech Katerina Nash will skip the race — this is the most wide-open race of the weekend.

The Youth Categories

There is more on offer, too. On Saturday, between the junior men’s race and the elite women’s race, Zolder will host the first-ever under-23 women’s championship. The UCI ran its first women’s championship in 2000, and since then there have been few opportunities for young women riders to shine at worlds, so the addition of the new event is a major step that the UCI hopes will help further boost the overall growth and development of the already highly competitive women’s cyclocross field.

Just who the U-23 race favors is hard to define. The overall top-ranked woman on the entries list is 22-year-old Italian Alice Maria Arzuffi, currently ranked 13th in the world thanks largely to a terrific ride in the elite women’s race at last year’s championships in Tabor, Czech Republic. Belgian U23 champion Femke van den Driessche has posted impressive results all season, capped by a second-place finish at the Koppenbergcross, one of the hardest stops on the Belgian race calendar. American U23 champion Ellen Noble has posted multiple top-20 results in elite World Cup races, but has only rarely gotten the better of Van den Driessche in the handful of head-to-head matchups the two women have shared.

The Netherlands’ Maud Kaptheijns has also posted strong results this season, including a third place finish in the elite Dutch national championship, and has topped both Van den Driessche and Noble in most of the meetings they’ve had. She also posted one of the best results by a young woman at the World Cup in Zolder last month. If there is a favorite for a championship, she may be it.

In the men’s U23 race, Belgians Eli Iserbyt and Quinten Hermans are clear favorites, while Danish rider Simon Andreassen, who upset Iserbyt for the junior title a year ago, is an important wildcard. Iserbyt and Hersmans, teammates on the Telenet-Fidea squad, have traded wins for much of the year, but Andreassen is a strong, savvy rider who has not focused as much on cyclocross.

The American team will be led by Logan Owen, fresh off a third-place finish in the elite category at the national championships a few weeks ago. Owen was eighth in the final World Cup last weekend and has an outside shot at a place on the podium if the chips fall his way.

But American hopes might have to be pinned on the junior men, where Colorado-based Gage Hecht may have the best shot for a win of any American rider this weekend. Hecht just missed out on a podium place at the championships last year, and he did the same in Hoogerheide last week. He will surely be a factor in the race, while his teammates — particularly Spencer Petrov — all have a shot at a top-10 finish.

Battling with Hecht for the rainbow stripes will likely be the Netherlands’ Jens Dekker and Belgium’s Jappe Jaspers, whose finish in the World Cup overall was decided by a first-place tiebreaker. Other riders to watch include France’s Tanguy Turgis and Mikael Crispin, and Dekker’s Dutch teammate Mitch Groot.

And while forecasting race outcomes is more or less fortune telling, forecasting weather is hard science. This much is clear: it will rain this weekend. The course is technical, fast, and very difficult. And if there is one thing Belgium has consistently delivered when it comes to world championships, it’s dramatic, dynamic racing.

Start your engines, ladies and gentlemen. The world championships are here.

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Photo Essay: 2016 cyclocross World Cup – Hoogerheide http://velonews.competitor.com/2016/01/news/cyclocross/photo-essay-2016-cyclocross-world-cup_393925 Mon, 25 Jan 2016 20:59:21 +0000 http://velonews.competitor.com/?p=393925 The cyclocross World Cup wraps up with muddy wins for De Boer and van der Poel in Hoogerheide.

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Van der Poel wins, Van Aert takes World Cup overall http://velonews.competitor.com/2016/01/news/van-der-poel-does-it-again-in-hoogerheide_393828 Sun, 24 Jan 2016 17:51:14 +0000 http://velonews.competitor.com/?p=393828 Mathieu van der Poel wins fourth straight World Cup, van Aert takes overall

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Defending cyclocross world champion Mathieu van der Poel made it look easy on Sunday, soloing to an impressive victory in the mud at Hoogerheide, the Netherlands. Van der Poel’s victory capped off an otherworldly second half of the World Cup season, which saw him win four consecutive rounds of the series.

 UCI World Cup Hoogerheide results:

    • 1. Mathieu Van Der Poel ,1:07:31
    • 2. Wout Van Aert ,1:08:19
    • 3. Kevin Pauwels ,1:08:30
    • 4. Laurens Sweeck ,1:09:01
    • 5. Tom Meeusen ,1:09:20
    • 6. Toon Aerts ,1:09:31
    • 7. Lars Van Der Haar ,1:09:47
    • 8. Gianni Vermeersch ,1:10:12
    • 9. Marcel Meisen ,1:10:26
    • 10. Tim Merlier ,1:10:33

 

Van der Poel (BKCP-Corendon), who missed much of the early season recovering from knee surgery, won World Cup rounds in Namur, Heusden-Zolder and Lignieres-en-Berry before Sunday’s victory. The win elevated him as the odds-on favorite to win next weekend’s UCI world championships in Heusden-Zolder.

After his victory, van der Poel played down his dominant win.

“Maybe it looked easy, but it was very hard,” van der Poel said. “Like I said before the race, I think it was one of the toughest of the season. It was really hard to get through the mud today.”

Behind the Dutchman, Belgian rider Wout van Aert (Crelan-Vastgoedservice) crossed the line in second place to cement his lead in the series overall. After winning the series opener in Las Vegas, Van Aert spent much of the season’s second half chasing after van der Poel. After the race, van Aert admitted he should have put up a stronger fight in Hoogerheide.

“On a course like this I should finish much closer to [van der Poel] than I did today, but that wasn’t the case,” van Aert said. “It’s very clear, it’s not just me, but all the others as well. We were all distanced quite far today.”

Van der Poel led the race virtually wire-to-wire, seizing the lead on the opening lap and never looking back. Behind him, van Aert dueled with last year’s World Cup champion Kevin Pauwels (Marlux-Napoleon Games), Laurens Sweeck (Era-Murprotec) and Tom Meeusen (Telenet-Fidea).

Belgian favorite Sven Nys, who was competing in his final World Cup before retirement, crossed the line in 13th place.

American Jeremy Powers notched the top-U.S. finished, crossing the line in 31st place. After the race, Powers described the mud as concrete on his Twitter page.

“TV won’t do justice to the concrete mud we raced in today. It was wild stuff – respect to the guys who made it look easy, it wasn’t,” Powers said via Twitter.

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De Boer wins first World Cup in Hoogerheide http://velonews.competitor.com/2016/01/news/de-boer-wins-first-world-cup-in-hoogerheide_393823 Sun, 24 Jan 2016 17:07:40 +0000 http://velonews.competitor.com/?p=393823 De Boer takes victory, Cant wins the World Cup overall in Hoogerheide

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The slippery mud of Hoogerheide, the Netherlands could not slow down Dutchwoman Sophie De Boer, who dominated Sunday’s UCI World Cup finale to grab her first-ever victory on the circuit. De Boer (Kalas-NNOF) surged away from her chasers on two separate occasions, and eventually left them for good on the second of four laps.

Behind De Boer, World Cup leader Sanne Cant overcame a slow opening lap to finish fifth, which preserved her lead in the final World Cup standings. Cant, the 2014/15 World Cup champion, now joins Daphny van den Brand, Hanke Kupfernagel and Katie Compton as a multi-time winner of the series.

 

 UCI World Cup Hoogerheide results:

  • 1. Sophie De Boer ,40:30
  • 2. Thalita De Jong ,41:05
  • 3. Nikki Harris ,41:08
  • 4. Caroline Mani ,41:31
  • 5. Sanne Cant ,41:36
  • 6. Jolien Verschueren ,41:39
  • 7. Helen Wyman ,41:41
  • 8. Eva Lechner ,42:03
  • 9. Christine Majerus ,42:19
  • 10. Sabrina Stultiens ,42:31

 

“Last year I was very happy [to win the World Cup] and I never thought it would be the same this year,” Cant said. “So I’m very, very happy.”

Cant and Compton suffered from the gun, with the American losing valuable positions due to a missed pedal. Ahead, De Boer grabbed an early lead, and quickly distanced herself from chasers Talitha de Jong (RaboLiv) and Nikki Harris (Boels Dolmans Cycling). The two eventually caught De Boer near the end of the first lap, but the 25-year-old De Boer distanced herself for good on the ensuing lap.

De Boer appeared to increase her gap throughout the race’s second half, eventually crossing the line with a 35-second buffer on De Jong, with Harris another three seconds in arrears.

De Boer said the home-turf advantage gave her extra motivation and played to her skills.

“I really liked this course. It’s a hard mud course, and luckily it rained the last two days,” she said. “I had a lot of people on the sideline who were screaming, ‘This is the gap!’ so I knew the gap wasn’t getting smaller and I could do my own race.”

The victory thrusts De Boer onto the short list of potential winners at next weekend’s UCI World Championships race in Heusden-Zolder, Belgium.

American riders struggled in the mud of Hoogerheide, with Compton finishing as the top U.S. rider in 12th, 2:29 down. American racer Meredith Miller completed the final World Cup race of her career, crossing the line in 26th place.

“I always want better but I can say that I am happy with what I’ve accomplished over the last 8 years,” Miller wrote on Twitter. “And when I hear my name all the way around the course it makes me feel like I’ve accomplished more than just being a cyclist.”

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American rider Page to skip cyclocross worlds http://velonews.competitor.com/2016/01/news/american-rider-page-to-skip-cyclocross-worlds_393023 Sat, 16 Jan 2016 14:10:10 +0000 http://velonews.competitor.com/?p=393023 Jonathan Page and his wife are expecting their fourth child any day now, and the worlds are slated for the end of January.

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For the better part of a decade, Jonathan Page has been American cyclocross’s link to the sport’s heartland in Belgium. Based in Oudenaarde in the middle of the Flemish Ardennes, home of the Tour of Flanders, Page was a fixture on the Belgian ’cross circuit.

He also was, arguably, the biggest success story in U.S. men’s cyclocross. The only American man to earn a medal in the elite category at the world championship — a silver in Hooglede-Gits in 2007 — Page’s palmarès boasts numerous top-10 finishes in major international races in series like the UCI World Cup and Belgian Superprestige. He is also one of only two men in the past 20 years to earn four national champions jerseys — Jeremy Powers, who won his fourth national title a week ago in Asheville, North Carolina, is the other.

But this year, now one of the sport’s elder statesmen at 39, Page has scrambled the script. In 2015, the Page family sold its Belgian home and moved to Utah, trading travel times that could often be measured in minutes for transcontinental flights. Page opted to race a full North American season.

Although there were bright moments — a handful of podium finishes and a big win under the lights at Jinglecross in Iowa City — it was certainly not his best. Page told VeloNews he had been seriously hampered by respiratory issues since his arrival in the States. Page added that he had nonetheless enjoyed the enthusiasm of the American fans and supporters this season, a striking contrast to the rowdy and highly partisan Belgian crowds he has raced in front of for most of his career.

Page earned a slot on the U.S. national team for the world championships — to be held in Zolder, Belgium, in just two weeks time — thanks to his depth of experience racing abroad and a strong fourth-place showing at the national championships, a result that looks all the more impressive considering that Page is nearly twice the age of the man who finished directly in front of him, 20-year-old Logan Owen.

It may not have been his best finish at nationals, but Page heaped praise on the event, the fans, and the organization, calling it an overwhelmingly positive experience.

“It was definitely the best course I have ever raced on at nationals,” he told VeloNews.

On Thursday, however, Page tweeted that he had decided to skip the world championship race.

With a new baby — his fourth — expected any day now, he is not eager to leave his family for an extended period. Still, he said, it was a combination of factors that led to the decision.

“There are several reasons I’m turning my slot down,” he told VeloNews. “My family was more than willing to load up and make the trip with me so that I didn’t have to leave the new addition to the family. However, the reality is that it just isn’t worth it. It’s an expensive trip whether I go alone or with the family and unless I would get on the podium again (which seems unlikely this year) there is little reward.”

Page told VeloNews that after battling through respiratory issues for much of the season, he did not believe he could be at his best for the championship race at the end of January.

“Since arriving in the U.S., I’ve been dealing with a relentless cough. It’s an allergy/asthma-related thing and I have been struggling heavily with it,” Page said. “I thought that I had it a bit under control after taking a few weeks off from racing and really intense training [before nationals], but it still wasn’t great. I struggled through nationals. I could have struggled through worlds and hoped for the best, but [I couldn’t justify] paying all that money nor committing all that time away from my family again.”

In spite of calling an early end to a season that Page has typically extended through the end of February — often with top results — he expects to be back for another season in the fall, adding that he is eager to return to America’s vibrant and growing cyclocross scene, one that very much impressed him this year.

“All of my sponsors are returning for at least one year,” he said. “During that time, I plan to do events in the spring and summer to further promote their brands. Events that I’ve done and loved in the past as well as some new events. I also may have a great opportunity to start an American-Euro, dual-based team. I hope to have transitioned out of full-time racing and into a managing or coaching position with the team within the next two years. My plan for at least the coming season is to do mostly American-based in the ’cross season but will possibly do a trip or two internationally if there is a budget for that for me. There is so much great racing in the U.S. now that I don’t need to leave here if I don’t want to. I will definitely race in Europe in the summer some.”

Page’s decision to stop his season now is a striking contrast to his choice to race a brave and emotional world championships last year in Tabor, Czech Republic, just days after revealing the heartbreaking news of his wife’s miscarriage in a post on his Facebook page. It was, he said at the time, his devotion to his family that motivated him to race in spite of the pain. This year, reveling in the joy of a child on the way, there is nothing to prove, and he is relishing the opportunity to hit the pause button and spend time with his kids.

On Friday, his season over, he told VeloNews he had been able to take his kids to their ski team practice, even jumping in for a couple of runs with them. He sounded happy and relaxed as he talked about it.

For a guy who has been at it as long as Page has, maybe he’s earned the real prize: the end of another hard-fought season.

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Iconic ‘cross venues: Diegem Superprestige http://velonews.competitor.com/2015/12/news/cyclocross/iconic-cross-venues-diegem-superprestige_391721 Thu, 24 Dec 2015 15:26:37 +0000 http://velonews.competitor.com/?p=391721 Diegem is one of Europe's most unique cyclocross races, held at night in a city center and favoring a well-rounded racer with savvy tactics.

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The distinctly urban Diegem Superprestige stop stands out from the pastoral settings of most Belgian races. That this event has been run at night under artificial lighting since 2007 only adds to the mystique—and the party-like atmosphere. The race has been part of the Superprestige since the series’ inception in 1982 and figures prominently in the busy Kerstperiode (Christmastime) schedule.

Few cyclocross races feature as much asphalt as Diegem. The race starts just outside the town center and winds through several parks connected by long stretches on the road.

The course brings together a wide variety of terrain: asphalt, forest, grass, hard-packed dirt paths, and several fly-overs and staircases. Without a single highly selective feature, it favors a well-rounded racer and often is won by clever tactics in the final lap.

Previous winners

2014: Mathieu van der Poel, Marianne Vos
2013: Sven Nys, Sanne Cant
2012: Niels Albert, Katerina Nash
2011: Niels Albert, Marianne Vos
2010: Niels Albert
2009: Niels Albert
2008: Zdeněk Štybar
2007: Sven Nys
2006: Sven Nys
2005: Gerben de Knegt
2004: Erwin Vervecken
2003: Bart Wellens
2002: Mario De Clercq
2001: Erwin Vervecken
2000: Sven Nys

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Klaas Vantornout: The inscrutable cyclocross champion http://velonews.competitor.com/2015/12/news/cyclocross/klaas-vantornout-the-inscrutable-champion_391610 Mon, 21 Dec 2015 18:18:37 +0000 http://velonews.competitor.com/?p=391610 You take off your shoes when you enter Klaas Vantornout’s trailer. The 33-year-old Belgian cyclocross champion may be at home on the bike

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You take off your shoes when you enter Klaas Vantornout’s trailer. The 33-year-old Belgian cyclocross champion may be at home on the bike in the muddiest conditions, but away from it he is fastidious, and the bright white leather upholstery and carpet of his home away from home at the races shows no evidence of the mess outside. Nor does he, sitting comfortably on the sofa in a pair of well-tailored, light blue jeans and a white Sunweb-Napoleon Games team-issue jacket.

But there is a mess, both literal — Belgian cyclocross’s legendary mud — and figurative. Vantornout, halfway through his second career turn in the tricolor Belgian champion’s jersey, is suffering through one of his more unhappy cyclocross seasons in recent memory. That’s how it looks from the outside anyway. Vantornout, never the kind of rider who gushes effusively about the ups and downs of his season, is always hard to read.

His reticence might explain the paradoxical trajectory of his career. Vantornout, by any measure, is one of the most successful cyclocross racers in the world. Before this season of frustration came big results: two Belgian national championships (2013, 2015) and two silver medals at the world championships. In 2010, Vantornout finished second to Zdenek Stybar in Tabor, Czech Republic. In Louisville, three years later, Vantornout might well have won a hard-fought duel with Sven Nys if not for a momentary bobble near the end of the final lap. But in spite of all this he is probably the least well-know Belgian champion in cyclocross in decades, especially among fans of the sport outside cyclocross’ European heartland.

Riding for any other country, Vantornout’s achievements would rank as an unparalleled success, but in Belgium, he has seen his star occulted by men who will be remembered as legends of the sport: Sven Nys, Niels Albert, and — most likely — Wout Van Aert. It’s not that he is unpopular — far from it. Vantornout has a dedicated and vocal following, especially among fans from West Flanders, Vantornout’s home, and Belgians will always support a rider in the Driekleur, the tri-color national champion’s jersey.

But Vantornout, tall and lanky with close-cropped auburn hair, a sharp jaw, and deep-set, crystal blue eyes that are simultaneously penetrating and gentle, is undeniably one of the sport’s most inscrutable riders. He is soft-spoken and seems intensely thoughtful, but he possesses neither the gregariousness that powered Bart Wellens’s popularity nor the pure, unstoppable dominance that is behind Sven Nys’s extraordinary following.

In fact, Vantornout’s problem of public perception — if he has one at all — seems to be that he’s just an introvert, a thoughtful, reflective guy focused mostly on how to make himself better in a sport known for colorful, outspoken characters.

“Not a lot of people know me,” he says. “They know me only from here, from the races, but outside they don’t know me. I’m a normal guy, I’m playing with my little girl — she’s now five years, it’s very nice. She helps me forget about all the pressure and the ‘crosses.”

Sport rewards winning overall, but it also rewards the big personalities. Vantornout, inward-looking by nature, is perennially seen as an outsider, in spite of being a highly capable rider. To the Belgian media, he is easy to cast as the heavy, the guy who races angry and — maybe — a bit dangerously.

It’s an image a recent report by the Belgian TV network Sporza suggested, and one he has sometimes even reinforced himself, used to his advantage in the psychological battle that can help win the physical one.

Maybe so, but the image also seems to have cost him this year. In an unusual turn for a Belgian champion, Vantornout did not receive a start contract for the Bpost Bank Trofee series, one of world’s biggest cyclocross series, along with the Superprestige and World Cup.

In Belgium, where a significant fraction of cyclocross stars’ annual income derives from appearance fees, it was a costly turn that touched off a minor scandal at the start of the season. Vantornout’s struggles did not help either. He missed the second World Cup stop, in Valkenburg, Netherlands, then returned the following weekend only to be injured in a heavy fall at the Superprestige stop in Zonhoven. The injury cost him a start at the Koppenberg, one of the biggest races in cyclocross.

“It’s not my best period, you can see it in the results,” he told VeloNews in an interview earlier this season, in the middle of that downward skid.

“In cyclocross, you know, you must be 100 percent in condition, and if it’s not 100 percent you feel it directly from the start,” he said. “Especially with the young people now. It was necessary. I was ill; they were taking my blood, and it was very bad.”

It was a rough patch that the Belgian press blew far out of proportion, he said then.

“I was a week a little bit ill,” says Vantornout of his brief step back from racing in October. “It was not very ill, but every day the press and the newspaper is ‘blah blah blah,’ and it’s making me not popular. But it’s always the same with the press and me. When I’m doing something, they are there.”

Now, after three rough months, he seems to have turned the conversation around. On the Formula One track in Francorchamps-Spa — a race that in its second year has emerged as one of the most difficult in the sport — Vantornout was at the front of the chase, battling with Sven Nys and teammate Kevin Pauwels for podium places behind cyclocross’s new king, Wout Van Aert. Vantornout missed out on the podium by one spot. In the Namur World Cup race, he again finished fourth.

Reportedly, Vantornout took some motivation from world champion Mathieu van der Poel’s own struggles with a knee injury earlier this season. Vantornout said that he and Van der Poel shared some common interests outside the sport and had talked periodically during the early part of the season.

Van der Poel, 20, who himself took a big step forward with an impressive win in Namur, told reporters that Vantornout was one of the only riders from whom he had received real support during his absence from racing.

For Vantornout, this all comes as a most welcome change. The Belgian Driekleur weighs heavy when the results aren’t there.

“When you are good, everything is good,” he says. “The hardest moment in cyclocross with the jersey is when you are riding in 10th position. Then it’s very hard mentally.”

Still, he says, whatever his frustrations have been, he feels little pressure as a result of his status as champion of what amounts to the national sport. He takes pleasure in the results — when they flow — and puts it out of mind when the results aren’t there.

“I’m 33 years old,” he says. “I have a lot of experience with it. It’s a hard world, it’s a small world, but I’m 33 years, and I’m so long in the world of cyclocross. I know the world. If I win a big race, that’s for me the best days. I’m two times the Belgian champion. Last year I was winning in Gavere, a very nice race, and I was alone at the finish.”

It’s hard to imagine that win in Gavere will be Vantornout’s last, especially with his form coming around just as the 2015-16 season approaches its climax. But whatever happens, Vantornout says he has few regrets. He says would like to earn a set of rainbow stripes, especially at what will probably be his last championships on home soil, in Zolder, Belgium, later this season. But he acknowledges that will be a hard race to win, and won’t complain about a career that has taken him about as far anybody could ever hope to go.

“I started cycling when I was 13 years old,” he says. “And from when I was 16 I was more and more riding in the cyclocross, but then it was not so popular like now. Now you have all the young teams, every big team has a young team for the nieuweling and the juniors, but I was doing it on my own. My parents paid for my bike, they brought me to the races. Now if you are 16, they give him two bikes and six pairs of wheels. It’s a little bit crazy.

“I’m proud of my career. … It was a very difficult way, but step by step I was growing. My rivals from the juniors or the [under-23s], they are all stopped now and I was always, every year, going step by step higher and higher.”

Then, uncharacteristically for a rider known for the stony intensity he brings to the starting line every week, he cracks a joke at his own expense.

“Maybe now the step is down and down,” he laughs.

It’s a joke, but a more serious undercurrent flows beneath it.

“I can’t race so many more years on this level,” he says. “Maybe I do my best the next two years. I have a contract until the end of 2016, then we see. I don’t know. [I’ll be] 35 and I won’t ride until I’m 40. I can’t do [what Sven Nys did] he’s a special man.”

Whatever the next two seasons bring, whether they are successful or the frustrations continue, whether they are his last two seasons or not, Vantornout will not complain. He is lucky, he has lived a dream life, and he knows it.

“Yes,” he says, acknowledging the stress of the past several seasons. “Yes, you must have results and you have a lot of pressure. Yeah, that’s part of the job. But every job has something negative. This is my hobby and I can live from it. My bike [has always been] my hobby, and now it’s my job the last eight years. I’m a happy man.”

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Iconic cyclocross venues: Druivencross http://velonews.competitor.com/2015/12/news/cyclocross/iconic-cyclocross-venues-druivencross_390185 Fri, 04 Dec 2015 14:14:49 +0000 http://velonews.competitor.com/?p=390185 Overijse may be the longest continuously running cyclocross race in Europe, one that Sven Nys has won six times.

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With a history that dates to 1960, Overijse may be the longest continuously running cyclocross race in Europe. Victory on this course — folded tightly onto a steep, wooded hillside in the southern suburbs of Brussels — requires a combination of power and finesse. Belgian legend Roland Liboton has 16 wins here. Sven Nys has six, and Katie Compton and Daphny van den Brand have earned three victories each in the women’s edition, which dates to 2000.

The course climbs to the hilltop pit area multiple times in different ways — through the woods, on cobbles, and on grass. Riders must be able to go right to their limit and recover quickly.

No single section of the Overijse course is as consistently decisive as the woods, full of slick loamy soil, off-camber descents, and whiplash corners that leave little margin for error.

Past winners

2014: Tom Meeusen, Sanne Cant
2013: Sven Nys, Katie Compton
2012: Sven Nys, Katie Compton
2011: Sven Nys, Katie Compton
2010: Sven Nys
2009: Niels Albert
2008: Kevin Pauwels
2007: Klaas Vantornout, Stefanie Pohl
2006: Sven Nys, Daphny van den Brand
2005: Lars Boom, Daphny van den Brand
2004: Sven Nys, Daphny van den Brand
2003: Bart Wellens, Hilde Quintens
2002: Bart Wellens, Laurence Leboucher
2001: Tom Vannoppen
2000: Erwin Vervecken, Daphny van den Brand

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Photo Essay: 2015 Superprestige Gavere http://velonews.competitor.com/2015/11/news/cyclocross/photo-essay-2015-superprestige-gavere_389356 Mon, 16 Nov 2015 14:47:45 +0000 http://velonews.competitor.com/?p=389356 Wout Van Aert and Sanne Cant prove best on a heavy, muddy course at a classic Belgian venue.

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Photo Essay: 2015 Koppenbergcross http://velonews.competitor.com/2015/11/news/cyclocross/photo-essay-2015-koppenbergcross_388536 Mon, 02 Nov 2015 13:37:04 +0000 http://velonews.competitor.com/?p=388536 A hot day in Oudenaarde and even hotter racing action on the precipitous Koppenbergcross cyclocross racecourse — one the season's hardest.

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