Racing Cyclocross gallery: Mud, glorious mud
Part two of our bumper gallery builds to the festive period's dramatic, slimy end on New Year's Day.
This time of year is always a bit of a headscratcher. With Christmas behind us, we turn our attention to January 1st, celebrate the year just gone and anticipate the year yet to begin. Between the two festive occasions is this weird liminal space where time loses all meaning,
no one knows what day it is, and everyone gets sick after coming into contact with different groups of people we don’t see often enough …
Also in that temporal nether-region is much of the iconic cyclocross Kerstperiode, and this season it’s had a bit of everything – well, if by “everything” you mean a lot of mud and a lot of Mathieu van der Poel. But there’s also been a comeback win from one of the pillars of the women’s field in Sanne Cant; Puck Pieterse has doubled down on her podium sweep for the 2023/24 season with her first, then second, then third wins; and rather more than a “big three” men have put forward their names for recognition, perhaps none more so than Pim Ronhaar, whose ascendancy has looked faster than most in his first full season among the elites.
While there were no big surprises in the results, the conditions and courses provided some terrific racing and even better images. So here’s one more bumper gallery to enjoy as the festive season ebbs away for another year.
Results One of the busiest and most consistent riders of the season, Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado enjoyed a solid race under the floodlights at Diegem. By the end of the race, Alvarado had done enough to move back into the Superprestige overall lead ahead of Annemarie Worst with one round to go (Noordzeecross). Puck Pieterse has had a lighter programme than many of her big rivals, but almost unparalleled consistency. The 21-year-old was clearly flying high and brimming with confidence after taking her first win of the season two days earlier, attacking in the opening lap of Superprestige Diegem, never to be seen again. “Road pros doing cyclocross” is a bit trite to describe the seasons-long commitment to cyclocross of riders like Zoe Bäckstedt and Blanka Vas. Two in a row. Boom. The ‘Turbo Cross’ exhibition race took place between the two elite events, in which influencer “Average Rob” challenges other influencers and former pros to race two laps of the Diegem course. Also on the start line were his brother “Arno the Kid,” Belgian National Coach Sven Vanthourenhout and influencer-turned-pro-turned-team boss Bas Tietema. 20-year-old Lukas Vanderlinden (Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal) races his shadow during the elite men’s race. Van der Poel won every edition of this race between 2014-2019. Could he make it seven? Or rather, could anything or anyone stop him from making it seven? Florian Vermeersch is now more focused on the road ( or gravel) bike with ProTeam Lotto Dstny, but he’s sprinkled some cyclocross racing into his winter programme since he was a whippersnapper – he was a high achiever as a junior CX racer. Michael Vanthourenhout’s season has been a bit of a rollercoaster, but he’s nearly always present and if he goes down, he goes down fighting. The European champion had a pretty good race through the dark, finishing a close fourth. With Van der Poel taking victory after spending more than half the race solo, Tom Pidcock came out best of the rest after a late skirmish with Eli Iserbyt. Van der Poel took his seventh Diegem title by 49 seconds to take his fifth consecutive victory of the season. Next stop: Azencross, where persistent pouring rain almost completely flooded the circuit, leading to several long sections of deep, muddy puddles. Some of the more prolific winners of the 2023-24 season opted to stay home (and dry), leaving an in-form Sanne Cant and Kristyna Zemanová open to wrestle over the spoils in the Loenhout mud. Val di Sole winner, Manon Bakker, also seemed to enjoy the mud. But it was Sanne Cant who stole the lead, staying clear to log her first win since the Belgian national championships at the start of 2023, and her 125th career victory. Gianni Vermeersch: happy as a pig in sh1t. His teammate Jente Michels perhaps less so … Felipe Orts had a brilliant race-long battle for the podium, his bold Spanish national champ’s kit shining through the slime. The Spaniard and a bloodied Ryan Kamp battled for the last step of the podium, both of them braced for a new year as privateers with no new contracts on the table. Wash or toss? I don’t think I have detergent strong enough for that job. After the mudbath of Azencross, it was a return to World Cup competition and the iconic Hulst course. Del Carmen Alvarado has a pretty commanding lead in the overall World Cup standings. Pieterse continued to soar back on Dutch terrain. Fem van Empel had a bit of an off day at Hulst, if finishing fourth counts as such. The World Champion is reportedly still struggling with a knee injury and road rash on her elbow suffered during a recent warm-weather training camp. She’ll take a break to allow her body to properly recover after the Kerstperiode. Pieterse had attacked in the opening lap and looked likely to surge to a dominant win, but she was forced to ride hard to keep Del Carmen Alvarado and Lucinda Brand at bay in the closing laps. It was quite a display. That’s three wins in a row from Pieterse. The Dutch national champion has made ten appearances this season and is yet to finish off the podium (in order: 2, 2, 3, 2, 3, 2, 3, 1, 1, 1). Van Empel can’t even say that (anymore) – though her 11-long winning streak has plenty to say for itself … Hulst is known not only for its windmill, but its super-steep climbs and descents, and none look so challenging as this vertiginous scramble, shown early in the race – note the World Champion taking the long route up the left-hand side. Mud and mini-mullets. Eli Iserbyt looked determined from the start, but the World Cup leader would ultimately DNF, his first of the season. His overall lead remains intact though. The elite men’s start list in Hulst was pretty spectacular, but it wasn’t Wout van Aert’s day, the former world champion forced to chase and settle for fifth after a mechanical-marred race. It’s kinda beautiful, right? Pidcock was another of the “Big Three” to have a day to forget. The Brit found himself at the bottom of a pile-up right out of the start, which left his bike unrideable, forcing the former World Champion to run to the pits. Ryan Kamp’s last day wrapped in familiar sponsors before beginning 2024 as a privateer. It’s not all doom and gloom though. The 23-year-old took up the Roodhooft brothers (of Alpecin-Deceuninck fame) on their offer to help him out should he remain unstuck into the new year. Though unable to offer him a contract, they have helped the young Dutchman source kit and equipment sponsors, and provide a salary so he can continue racing at the top level. Wout van Aert about to tip over the top. A familiar sight: Joris Nieuwenhuis and Lars van der Haar threaten the favourites with persistent pressure. Not sure what my favourite part of this picture is, Van der Poel’s locked grill or his boss Christoff Roodhooft’s passive expression from the barriers as his star rider goes after yet another gong. His seventh consecutive win was somewhat marred by an incident with some over-excited fans on the final lap, by which point Van der Poel was thoroughly fed up of their booing and resorted to spitting at the group as he passed them one last time. The World Champion was later fined for his actions by the UCI commissioners, while the race organisers stated that “these types of spectators do not belong,” adding that the group had also been aggressive towards two accredited photographers during the race. Finally, the Kerstperiode wound up in Baal on New Year’s Day, home of Sven Nys, the Sven Nys Cycling Centre, the X2O Trofee Baal, and a much-needed cleaning station. Mud, glorious mud. Sanne Cant has ridden into some great form in time for the Kerstperiode. The veteran Belgian was fierce in the chase after early leaders Lucinda Brand and Fem van Empel broken clear, but a good deal of bad luck prevented the 34-year-old from contesting the podium in the interminable mud. Brand looked the stronger rider in the early laps, but Fem van Empel can never be underestimated, even when riding injured. The World Champion was dogged and determined, fighting through slips and visible winces to match Brand and hope she could outlast her older compatriot. The big dipper section was highly entertaining. If taken at enough speed, every up-ramp looked liable to toss a rider into the dirt. The ride of the day came from 18-year-old Canadian National Champion Ava Holmgren, who raced onto the elite podium on her very first day in Lidl-Trek kit, capping off a day that began with one of the greatest kit reveals we’ve seen this winter alongside twin sister Isabella Holmgren (who added a ninth-place finish to the family’s New Year celebrations). Van Empel was eventually able to shake off Brand after a gritty duel. A powerful running section and her speed up the road finally got rid of Brand’s threat, and Van Empel sealed victory 13 of the season (of 15 starts). Thibau Nys started strong at his dad’s race – Sven won 12 out of the 16 times he competed – but Nys Jr. faded a little after chasing the three leaders hard in the opening laps. He finished sixth. Van Aert came hard out of the blocks, drawing Van der Poel clear of the field in the opening lap. The pair were joined by Pim Ronhaar at the front of the race as they hit the treacherous muddy puddles, which hid all manner of obstacles underneath. Safe to say that Ronhaar is absolutely flying in his first full elite season. Van Aert’s box-fresh Visma-Lease a Bike kit took a bit of a thrashing as the rider battled against the conditions, the technical sections, and his rivals. A few tricky moments and mistakes let Van der Poel pull clear, then Van Aert briefly lost his position to Ronhaar, but he would not give up … Pidcock’s 2024 started better than 2023 had ended in Hulst, but the Brit – wearing a special CX edition team jersey – didn’t have luck on his side. His frustration showed when he was launched from his bike by a hidden hole in the ground; he finished 12th, while compatriot Cameron Mason made a triumphant return to the top-10 with eighth in the mud. Is that a mullet, Mathieu? An extremely familiar sight in December as Van der Poel is unbeaten with eight wins in just over two weeks of racing. What did you think of this story?
😐Meh 😊️Solid 🤩Excellent