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Former world champion Lucinda Brand of Baloise Trek Lions takes a corner during CX World Cup Dublin, her legs and kit splashed with mud, an overcast sky overhead.

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.

Kit Nicholson
by Kit Nicholson 26.11.2023 Photography by
Cor Vos
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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.

World champion Fem van Empel leads Puck Pieterse, wearing the jersey of Dutch national champion, and Lucinda Brand through the thick mud after the boards early in X20 Trofee Kortrijk.
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 four leaders of the men's cyclocross X20 Trofee Kortrijk ride a flyover as a group, lit up late in the day against a gloomy backdrop.
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.
Mud covering her legs, Lucinda Brand grimaces as she pushes her bike through the off-camber section during X20 Trofee Kortrijk, watched by fans wrapped up agianst the cold.
Lucinda Brand – who was yet to take victory before Saturday, but also hadn’t finished off the podium – was looking particularly good in Kortrijk …
Fem van Empel rides alone in the lead of the X20 Trofee Kortrijk, mud splattering her world champion's kit detailed with rainbow bands.
… but Fem van Empel’s form continues to burn her competitors. Eight races, eight victories.
Michael Vanthourenhout leads the way single file through thick, wet mud, on foot with his bike alongside him during X20 Trofee Kortrijk.
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.
The four leaders of the men's cyclocross X20 Trofee Kortrijk seen from behind as they ride onto a muddy flyover as a group, lit up late in the day against an autumnal backdrop.
A lead group of Michael Vanthourenhout, Eli Iserbyt, Lars van der Haar and Cameron Mason looked pretty well matched.
British national champion Cameron Mason splashes through thick, wet mud, running with his bike, at X20 Trofee Kortrijk, riders seen leaping the boards in the background.
British national champion Mason is back from a short break, and he hit the mud running on his return to Belgium.
Cameron Mason, Michael Vanthourenhout and Lars van der Haar handle their bikes after coming down on the slippery off-camber section during X20 Trofee Kortrijk.
The off-camber section proved a challenge all day long, with Mason at one point holding up the group after sliding into the fence.
Head to toe in rainbow banded team kit, Fem van Empel rides solo out of the off-camber section during X20 Trofee Kortrijk as fans wearing X20-branded yellow duck memorabilia look on.
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.
Eli Iserbyt leads Cameron Mason and Lars van der Haar as the light fades late in X20 Trofee Kortrijk.
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 …
European champion Michael Vanthourenhout, splattered with wet mud, sits on the grass just off the course after crashing out of the lead of X20 Trofee Kortrijk, as two paramedics assess his dislocated shoulder.
… But a devastated Vanthourenhout crashed out of the lead and ended his day with a dislocated shoulder.
With the sun almost set, Eli Iserbyt reaches the finish line with one finger pointed skyward in celebration as Lars van der Haar and Cameron Mason sprint for second just behind.
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.
The men's field leaves the start line of CX World Cup Dublin, cheered on by a big crowd despite the rain.
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, in the white and red jersey of overall World Cup leader, remounts her bike at the end of the sand section of CX World Cup Dublin, with Marie Schreiber a few metres behind, her bike on her shoulder.
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.
Former world champion Lucinda Brand of Baloise Trek Lions takes a corner during CX World Cup Dublin, her legs and kit splashed with mud, an overcast sky overhead.
It was Lucinda Brand, though, who went solo in the first lap and stayed clear to the finish.
Inge van der Heijden rides ahead of Denise Betsema as rain falls on the muddy course at CX World Cup Dublin.
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 deftly leaps the second barrier with her bike in hand early in CX World Cup Dublin, her kit only lightly splattered with mud so far.
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).
Medium shot of Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado, her white and red World Cup leader's jersey is splattered with mud, digs deep during CX World Cup Dublin, an overcast sky overhead.
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.
Medium shot of Lucinda Brand of Baloise Trek Lions, the front of her jersey caked in dark mud, as she smiles to herself and points one finger to the sky to celebrate victory at CX World Cup Dublin.
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.
Thibau Nys rides up the righthand side (left of picture) of the sandpit a few seconds ahead of the chase group, some of them dismounting to run with their bikes early in CX World Cup Dublin.
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.
Laurens Sweeck is the first in a line of three Crelan-Corendon riders, all of them splashed with mud, early in CX World Cup Dublin.
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.
Covered head to toe in mud, Joran Wyseure of Crelan-Corendon looks focused and/or exhausted during CX World Cup Dublin, a grey overcast sky overhead.
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.
Jens Adams leads a group splattered with mud during CX World Cup Dublin, a large crowd watching the group pass with a number of umbrellas visible.
Privateer Jens Adams had a damn good weekend with fifth at both races, his best results of the season so far.
Head-on shot of Pim Ronhaar who is barely recognisable beneath the mud as he takes the lead in the final lap of CX World Cup Dublin, Eli Iserbyt and Laurens Sweeck just visible in pursuit.
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 leads Joran Wyseure and Jens Adams, all of them covered head to toe in mud and looking very weary, late in CX World Cup Dublin, a grey overcast sky overhead.
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.
A dejected-looking Cameron Mason's white British national champion's jersey is almost completely covered in mud as he runs with his bike through the sandpit during CX World Cup Dublin.
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.”
Medium shot of Pim Ronhaar of Baloise Trek Lions, the front of his jersey and face caked in dark mud, as he raises both fists in the air and roars to celebrate CX World Cup Dublin victory over Laurens Sweeck, whose head is bowed in the background.
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.
Close-up of Thibau Nys after CX World Cup Dublin, his face and helmet splattered with mud at various degrees of dryness, gazing off into the distance after a hard race.
A thousand-yard stare on young Mr Nys.
Pim Ronhaar, cleaned and changed out of his muddy Baloise Trek Lions kit, spills some Guinness as he smiles through a celebratory pint on the podium after winning CX World Cup Dublin.
Split the G, Pim?

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