Cyclocross Worlds: The Unthinkable

Since 1998 the Belgians have had a stranglehold on cyclocross the way the moon has a stranglehold on werewolves. Before today, ten of the last twelve men’s world championships have been won by Belgians. The two years they didn’t win were taken by Dutch riders. From 2003 to 2005 the Belgians swept the podium; they would have done it again in 2006 were it not for interloper Francis Mourey stealing bronze.

World Cup champion Zdenek Stybar has been on form all season, and put everyone on notice that yet another silver at worlds (following his second place finishes in 2008 and 2009) wouldn’t suffice. But did anyone really think he could overcome the Belgian mafia? Home court advantage or no, the Belgian team showed up with three—three!—former world champions. They could in-fight their way to another podium sweep.

But it wasn’t to be. While the Belgian team did put two riders and the podium and three in the top ten, the best-placed Belgian was newcomer Klaas Vantournot. Sven Nys was the only former world champion to finish on the podium, in third. Meanwhile, Bart Wellens was tenth and Erwin Verveckin finished a dismal 16th.

You think that’s surprising? That’s not the half of it. The Czech Republic team had plenty of ammo, not just Stybar. The Czech team placed four riders in the top ten—Martin Bina in fourth, Martin Zlamalik in sixth and second-generation ‘crosser Radomir Simunek in eighth. As a result, the Czech Republic and Belgium accounted for seven of the top-ten spots.

Post-race Nys said he had to admit that retirement age loomed for him and the other riders of his generation. But is this the end of Belgian dominance in cyclocross? Hardly; in taking the other two podium spots, the Belgian team shows depth and consistency. The real story is that 2010 will be remembered as the year of the emergence of the Czech Republic as a cyclocross superpower, a team prepared to go toe-to-toe with the Belgians and the Dutch.

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  1. MattS

    I couldn’t agree more Robot. Hot bath, coffee, cross race playing atop the toilet = an awesome Sunday morning. LIfe is all about the small pleasures…

    1. Author

      Adam; Albert is obviously the key figure in the future of Belgian cyclocross, at least in the near-term. That he didn’t finish is unfortunate; we were hoping he’d have a better race than that. As a result, he doesn’t really figure in post-race analysis. He was obviously fit and should have had a better day, but that’s ‘cross. Should just doesn’t count, does it?

  2. Adam

    Padraig; I was just commenting on “the Belgian team showed up with three—three!—former world champions.” They had four, and still Stybar took the cake.

    1. Author

      Adam, Ah, correct. Yes, somehow I had a brain fade and decided that if he didn’t finish the race, he must not have been a former world champion. Or something like that.

  3. Touriste-Routier

    I think it would be more accurate to say this shows the re-emergence of the Czech Republic as a cyclocross superpower.

    In the 80s they won 6 World Championships in the amateur category, including the 2 victories of Radomir Simunek Sr., who went on to win the pro championships in 91. I believe one of these years they swept the podium (or maybe it was 1st, 2nd, 4th).

    A review of the junior world championship results will also show many titles won by Czech riders, including Simunek in 80.

    We must keep in mind that this was during the time when pros and amateurs were separated, and that the eastern block riders were not classified as professionals, nor were they permitted to turn pro.

  4. James

    This year I went to my first cyclo cross ever, in Portland (USGP) and the race Sunday was my first international race. It was great! Stybar was incredible! Watching on the computer without commentary was even better! It was like being at the race (but warmer!). Too bad they didn’t show the womens race too! I think I’ll book my airline seat now for World’s in 2013 in Louisville!

    1. Author

      James: You’re exactly the type of convert the race promoters and industry dream about. Glad to hear you had such fun at the race and watching the live feed of Worlds. Let us know about your own ‘cross racing next season, as that can’t be far off.

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