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A Day at the Cyclocross World Championships

February 6, 2013

Amazing.

There is no other way to describe the UCI Cyclocross World Championships held this past weekend at Eva Bandman Park in Louisville, Kentucky. For the first time ever, the CX World Championships were being held outside of Europe and despite some operational hiccups, Louisville was more than up to the task.

The races were originally scheduled to be held over both Saturday and Sunday. But rising waters in the Ohio River and nearby Beargrass Creek created a real danger of course flooding on Sunday–a prediction that proved quite accurate–and the full elite race schedule–four races in all–were moved to Saturday, February 2nd.

Cold temps and no hat! Thank goodness for Rothera Cycling!

Cold temps and no hat! Thank goodness for Rothera Cycling!

Race day started early for me at 5:30 am with frigid temps. Being from Texas I had of course forgotten to bring a Winter hat. Luckily Rothera Cycling had me covered with a superb cold-weather riding cap, which was adorned in the red, white, blue of the US of A, of course. I actually found Gary from Rothera Cycling in my first stop of the day, the Grimpeur Bros. Specialty Coffee pop-up shop in the race’s host hotel, The Galt House, where I and a large contingent of Texans were staying, not to mention many of the racers.

Thanks for the pick-me-up Nigel and Dan! CX Racer blend Grimpeur Bros. for the win!

Thanks for the pick-me-up Nigel and Dan! CX Racer Single Origin Grimpeur Bros. for the win!

Between the giant cups of the excellent CX Racer from Nigel and Dan, and my new hat from Gary I was warm inside and out and headed to the UCI Accreditation Office. I had applied for a press pass back in October figuring it might be handy for getting up close for pictures and the like (little did I know). But I had never heard back from the UCI on whether or not I was approved. Figuring I had nothing to lose by asking, I went to find out the status of my accreditation. A slight system error in my application, which was quickly sorted with help from a Texan/Italian translator and I had my press pass in hand. A quick dash to the lobby to catch up with friends and we were on the short shuttle ride to the race venue.

The golden ticket. Thanks UCI!

The golden ticket. Thanks UCI!

Walking through the race venue gates was electric. The crowd was already roaring, and the only thing going on was a few racers warming up on course. It was indeed quite cold at what was by now around 8:45 am. Snow had fallen over night and there was a light dusting on the course, where riders turned the pristine look to mud with each pass.

On a whim I asked a gate guard if I could go into the team paddock area where box trucks and temporary buildings were being used as makeshift race-venue team headquarters. The guard took one look at my credentials around my neck and said “of course.” Instantly I knew that today was going to be extra special.

I went straight to the US team area where the juniors were warming up on trainers and milling about making last-minute equipment checks. 17 year old Logan Owen, arguably America’s best chance for a win at Worlds, was on the trainer, headphones in, putting the finishing touches on a the day’s preparations that began some four hours earlier. Soon, at 9:45 am, the juniors would be on the start line, and Owen would overcome a poor start, a first turn crash, and a dropped chain to finish fourth behind Mathieu van der Poel and Martijn Budding of the Netherlands and Adam Tupalik of the Czech Republic. Owen, part of Euro CrossCamp and arguably one of the best US cyclocross racers at any age, will likely get his podium, if not a win, at Worlds in the near future.

Logan Owen warming up and at the start overcame the swarming field to take fourth.

Logan Owen warming up and at the start, overcame the swarming field to take fourth.

Having watched much of the juniors race from a single spot, I needed a snack and to check out the rest of the course. The women’s race was on tap next, and America’s other best chance at a medal, Katie Compton from Trek’s Cyclocross Collective, was going to be on the start line. I took the long way around the course and found Katie’s husband and mechanic Mark Legg finishing up Katie’s spare bikes and getting ready to take them over to the pit area. I chatted with Mark for a moment, wished him well, and went in search of food.

I wandered for a few minutes, taking in the crowd, the venue, and the slightly clearing skies and found myself at a course crossing standing near UCI President Pat McQuiad. One of the more polarizing figures in cycling’s governance, personally he was warm and friendly and noted that the event seemed to be going quite well.  I took the chance to get a photo–and to pretend to be in his entourage as they headed to the VIP tent. Nobody bothered me, perhaps because of the press pass around my neck, but I kept my stay brief, just long enough to grab a snack and a couple of beers (it is cyclocross after all) and I was out on course to watch the women’s race.

Early in the day I ran into UCI President Pat McQuaid, and later the significantly bigger crowd favorite, Molly Hurford of Cyclocross Magazine.

I ran into UCI President Pat McQuaid and the significantly bigger crowd favorite Molly Hurford of Cyclocross Magazine.

Compton had a great ride despite a skipping chain on the first lap. Battling back from eighth, she rode to an impressive second place finish on the day over course conditions that seemed quite a bit messier than what the juniors faced. Like Owen, Compton was arguably one of the two strongest riders in her race, if not the strongest. But such is life in a one hour race, where every mistake or missed opportunity is magnified. (For a great story on Compton, check out Super Squadra’s Ian Dille’s piece in espnW.) Compton’s second place was to Marianne Vos of the Netherlands, a rider who has earned world champion stripes on the road and track as well as in cyclocross. Vos may well be the greatest rider ever, man or woman–I told her as much when I met her at the Muhammad Ali museum on Sunday.

After the women’s race I found myself outside the USA Cycling finish tent (not sure how I got back there) and spoke again with Mark and got to see Compton’s mud covered, silver-medal winning Trek Cronus up close, along with Compton herself. Katie was off for a brief finish-line interview and I tried to convince Mark to sell me Katie’s glasses, helmet, or gloves (I figured the bike was out of the question). After all, I’m not just a member of the press, I’m a fan!

Mark Compton takes Katie's bikes to the pit. Later Katie cleans an off camber stretch and finishes second. Post-race, she looks tired and her bike filthy.

Mark Compton takes Katie’s bikes to the pit. Later Katie cleans an off camber stretch on her way to a second place finish. Post-race, Katie looks tired and her bike is filthy.

Deciding I shouldn’t overstay my welcome, I exited the area and ran into Molly Hurford from Cyclocross Magazine. I first spoke with Molly last year when I wrote a short piece on Texas CX for the magazine’s website and then met her for the first time at CrossVegas at Interbike in September. She didn’t recognize me (not that she would) but quickly remembered me as we spoke and gave me her take on the day’s action thus far. We skulked around behind the professional photographers’ area to watch the start and hole shot of the men’s under-23 field and then parted ways to catch the racing.

Image

The U23 racers take the first turn and Tobin Ortenblad of Euro CrossCamp smiles for the camera post race, his Specialized Crux looking a little worse for wear.

What had been clearing skies during the women’s event quickly covered up again, and temps along with some snow started to fall as the under 23s finished and the men started to warm up.

The elite men’s race was a blur. It was the event I had come to see and the race and the racers themselves went by so fast even though the course and weather were at their worst for the day. The American contingent had a rough go of it, with Tim Johnson taking 19th as the best-placed American. Ryan Trebon, a crowd favorite, had a bad fall right in front of Cassidy from the Lamar store–caught in a photo by Chris King–and didn’t finish. The reigning US champion, Jonathan Page, finished 22nd, Jeremy Powers, perhaps better know as JPow, was 25th, Jamie Driscoll was 27th, and Danny Summerhill, getting ready for a season of road racing, was 35th.

As many predicted, myself included, the day belonged to the Belgians and the Netherlands, who as a team had a great world championships. Sven Nys, the rider perhaps most widely known in the US, won a hard fought race after France’s Fracis Mourey rode the first part of the race out front. Nys beat his countryman Klaas Vantornout, the reigning Belgian national champion, on the last lap when Nys was able to get a gap after Vantornout caught a pedal on a crowd barrier at the top of the limestone stairs. I watched the end of the race from the side of the finish straight, opposite the grandstands about 40 meters from the line. The crowd noise was deafening, and the riders all looked spent and emotional as they crossed the line. Nys’ relief after winning for a second time after his victory at St. Wendel in 2005 in what may prove to be his second to last season of racing, Vantonout’s frustration–banging his bars–at what could have been coming in just 2 seconds down, and an ecstatic Lars van der Haar, just 21 and in his first pro season in third, we’re all clearly visible.

Top: Vantornout leads Nys with 1 to go. Bottom: Nys, your new World Champion.

Top: Vantornout leads Nys with 1 to go. Bottom: Nys, your new World Champion.

By the time the majority of the field had ridden across the line I was heading back towards the shuttle. Cold, tired, excited, hungry, I made one last stop–this time in the press building just off the course venue. After scanning my pass and getting inside I took up position at a table, plugged in my phone, which was working overtime posting pictures and the like to social media, took off my coat, hat, and gloves, and sat down for the first time all day. I grabbed a meal from the buffet and looked over the official results which were just being handed out to the media by UCI staff. A few other friends had press credentials and made their way to the building. We swapped stories, shared photos, and waited for the post-race press conference. We got to the room a few minutes early and took up position in the front row. The men’s elite podium soon followed and took their seats on the stage. A few of the Belgian press officers went to shake the medalists’ hands so I decided to too, congratulating Nys, Vantornout, and van der Haar. We listed to the question and answer session and slowly made our way out, back to the shuttle, back to the hotel, and to the end of an amazing day.

The men's podium at the post-race press conference. (L to R: Vantornout, Nys, van der Haar.

The men’s podium at the post-race press conference. Left to right: Vantornout, Nys, and van der Haar.

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