Racing Cyclocross gallery: Muddy thrills and spills on both sides of the Channel
It was a busy weekend of cyclocross with action in Kortrijk and Dublin for a dramatic fifth round of the World Cup.
Rhythm sometimes seems to be the antithesis of cyclocross.
One minute you’ll have found your groove, quite literally, you’ll know where you stand in the field, also literally – OK, I’ll stop – but then the weather will change, you’ll slide out in a crucial corner, your bars will catch in the fence, or you’ll get sick or injured, you’ll change equipment, the world champion will turn up … At the same time, rhythm is of course exactly what is needed and what (most of) the best possess.
It feels like the cyclocross season is entering a kind of rhythm now, but there’s also a sense that we’re all still waiting for it to begin, that we’ve not arrived until the ‘Big Three’ line up on the men’s start line, and we get a royal flush of women’s stars too.
It’s coming, but in the meantime, don’t sleep on the racing we
are getting all across the elite fields. Saturday’s battles in Kortrijk were more hard-fought than the familiar podiums suggest, with Fem van Empel winning by less than 30 seconds for the first time this season, and Eli Iserbyt taking over from race leader and teammate Michael Vanthourenhout who crashed out in the final lap. The weekend’s action then climaxed with the World Cup’s visit to Ireland on Sunday where thick, slimy mud and torrential rain rewarded an enthusiastic crowd with drama from start to finish. This picture is maybe only missing Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado who took Saturday’s X20 Trofee Kortrijk off before taking her World Cup leader’s jersey to Dublin. It seems that when one more star signs on, another takes a day off, but with every passing weekend, we get closer to seeing the full pack during the festive period, which is sure to be a blockbuster series of events. The Kortrijk event gets the suffix ‘Urban Cross’, and with that comes a number of more urban/industrial obstacles than we’re used to seeing, like this flyover footway that is more-than-usually photogenic in the moody late-afternoon light. Lucinda Brand – who was yet to take victory before Saturday, but also hadn’t finished off the podium – was looking particularly good in Kortrijk … … but Fem van Empel’s form continues to burn her competitors. Eight races, eight victories. It was dry-ish during the races themselves, but the sticky mud that already lay on the Kortrijk course had nowhere to go, and it made the barriers a particularly tricky section. A lead group of Michael Vanthourenhout, Eli Iserbyt, Lars van der Haar and Cameron Mason looked pretty well matched. British national champion Mason is back from a short break, and he hit the mud running on his return to Belgium. The off-camber section proved a challenge all day long, with Mason at one point holding up the group after sliding into the fence. Van Empel made short work of learning the off-camber’s lines on her way to an eighth solo victory, beating Brand by 26 seconds while Pieterse came home 1:05 down. Iserbyt was on decent form in Kortrijk, but it was teammate Michael Vanthourenhout who looked to be flying towards his second win of the season … … But a devastated Vanthourenhout crashed out of the lead and ended his day with a dislocated shoulder. It was then over to Iserbyt to do the job for Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal, holding on to take the win two seconds ahead of Van der Haar and Mason. Sunday brought the World Cup to Dublin, where large crowds were not put off by the heavy rain that made its mark throughout the day. Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado was back to defend her World Cup lead with fresh legs after taking Saturday off. Back too was Marie Shreiber who continues her consistent season with a third top-six finish in the elite World Cup. It was Lucinda Brand, though, who went solo in the first lap and stayed clear to the finish. Inge van der Heijden continues to perform among the best, riding strong in Dublin to take her second consecutive fifth-place finish in World Cup events. Zoe Bäckstedt is riding some stellar form at the moment, finishing third among the elites for the second time this season on Sunday while wearing the U23 World Cup leader’s jersey (she’s second in the elite standings). Alvarado’s day could have gone a lot better – held up by her own self-confessed mistakes including getting her bars caught in the side netting – but even then Brand may still have been unreachable, her margin of victory 38 seconds. The World Cup leader’s bigger problem in the latter half of the race was Bäckstedt’s chase after the young British national champion shook off her own rivals in the race for third. As Brand neared the finish for her 50th elite victory and first of the season, the smile seemed no easier to wipe from her face than the mud from her jersey. Alvarado held on for second with Bäckstedt finishing third. It was a good day for Baloise Trek Lions as their men picked up where Brand left off. With busy racing from the gun, Thibau Nys didn’t wait around before attacking the pack, holding several seconds advantage over the splintered chasers after two laps. However, there were still 14 riders within 17 seconds of the front at that point. Crelan-Corendon jerseys were all over the racing in Dublin, with Laurens Sweeck keeping his hefty store of powder relatively dry until the last couple of laps. Sweeck’s teammate Joran Wyseure made a name for himself in the Irish mud, the 22-year-old sticking like glue to the favourites in the attritional opening half of the race, and even briefly taking the lead with fellow underdog Jens Adams. Privateer Jens Adams had a damn good weekend with fifth at both races, his best results of the season so far. With Wyseure and Adams on the front of a stretched-out group of six (Wyseure, Adams, Ronhaar, Sweeck, Nys and Iserbyt) as they approached the start/finish line, Ronhaar charged past his companions and accelerated into the fifth lap (of seven), giving no one a chance for a breather. Thibau Nys found himself on the back foot as Ronhaar attacked, and with his teammate powering onwards through the mud and rain, Nys was forced to chase along with Wyseure and Adams, all of them perhaps paying for their earlier efforts. Further back, Michael Vanthourenhout and Cameron Mason endured their own private battles with the conditions and themselves (10th and 15th respectively), the European champion still nursing a painful shoulder after Saturday’s drama, and Mason putting it simply post race: “Bad day to have a bad day.” After leading by a handful of seconds at the start of the final lap, Ronhaar looked to be suffering once Sweeck rejoined him, but the younger rider sprung a surprise off Sweeck’s wheel. Ronhaar pounced on the Belgian going into the final corner and onto the tarmac, digging in all the way to the line as Sweeck’s head dropped, nothing left to give. It was a suitably elated victory for the 22-year-old who took his second elite World Cup title of the season. A thousand-yard stare on young Mr Nys. Split the G, Pim? What did you think of this story?
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