No non-Belgians need apply

January 29, 2012
Niels Albert on the podium

Niels Albert on the podium, in montage with his triumph at the line.

Belgium, Belgium, Belgium, Belgium, Belgium, Belgium … aaaaaaand Belgium.

That’s the way it went on Sunday as Niels Albert led the Belgian team to first through seventh at the UCI Cyclo-cross World Championships in Koksijde.

Albert shot away from the gun and raced from the front thereafter. He briefly had defending champion Zdenek Stybar for company, but the Czech’s heart clearly wasn’t in the contest and he was never a factor from that point on.

And neither was anyone else. The entire Belgian team assembled behind Albert, but they were squabbling over the crumbs. He built a lead of nearly a minute as the chase remade itself in various configurations before Rob Peeters escaped to take sole possession of second. Kevin Pauwels slotted into third.

And Sven Nys, who fenced with Pauwels for a while as the two pursued the invincible Albert, finally cracked and wound up the caboose in the Belgian train.

Meanwhile, the locomotive told Belgian TV he had “a very good day.”

• Photos from the elite races

“The start was perfect. The legs were very, very good,” Albert said. “I knew it was everything or nothing. Today it was everything. I’m very happy now.

“When you are riding alone you can choose your own road in the sand. And you can have a little recuperation in the sand. So it was very good for me.”

Top American on the day was Ryan Trebon, 18th at more than four minutes behind.

Katie Compton was the top American in the elite women’s race — but, alas, she was not the top woman. That honor went to defending champion Marianne Vos, who continued her dominance of the sport. Daphny Van den Brand took the silver and Sanne Cant the bronze. Compton had to settle for what must have been a disappointing fifth, behind Sanne Van Paassen.

Results

• Elite men

• Women

• Under-23 men

• Junior men

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English commentary for elite men’s race

January 28, 2012

By Patrick O’Grady

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (MDM) — Mud and Cowbells will provide commentary in U-nited States of America English during Sunday’s elite men’s race at the UCI Cyclo-cross World Championships in Koksijde.

Pete Webber and Greg Keller will call the race. Pete raced at Koksijde the last time worlds was held there, in 1994, so he brings some hard-earned experience to bear.

On Sunday, here’s what you do: Find yourself a nice video stream — www.cyclingfans.com works for me — then visit http://www.mudandcowbells.com for a link to the audio commentary. Pot down the Flemish, ramp up the English and you’re good to go. Racing starts (I believe) at 7 a.m. Mountain time.

Van Der Haar defends U-23 title in Koksijde

January 28, 2012

By Patrick O’Grady

Defending under-23 champion Lars Van Der Haar (Netherlands) won a thriller of a battle with Wiete Bosmans (Belgium) on Saturday at the UCI Cyclo-cross World Championships in Koksijde.

Van Der Haar and Bosmans were off the front early, chased by Michiel Van Der Heijden (Netherlands). Bosmans took a slight lead going into three laps to go, and Van Der Haar gambled, waiting for Van Der Heijden to join him.

Lars Van Der Haar

Lars Van Der Haar made some mistakes, but had the power to overcome them.

The two Dutch riders closed on Bosmans as the lap played out, and with two laps to race they gave it the gas, gapping the Belgian, who fought back.

Going into the bell lap the Dutch riders held a brief confab at the line and Bosmans led off the pavement.

After some thrust and parry Van Der Haar attacked from third wheel and took the lead. His teammate was slightly gapped, but Bosmans hung tough.

Both fought back on and all three traded attacks and counters in the deep sand. After a bobble in one tough section Van Der Heijden briefly got his bike caught in the course fencing, but he recovered and rejoined the others.

Then Van Der Haar botched a sandy descent and Bosmans shot past.

But the Dutch rider was never in trouble — he got right back on Bosman’s wheel, then attacked on the final grassy section leading to the tarmac.

Van Der Haar led out the sprint with Bosmans on his wheel, but the Belgian knew he was beaten well before the line, raising his right hand and pounding his bars in frustration. He held on for second with Van Der Heijden third.

• Photos from worlds | • Last lap and more from Sporza

“I had a very good start and tried to get a gap and take the initiative to make the race hard. And it worked,” Van Der Haar said. “On the last grass bit when I passed him I knew I had won.”

Zach McDonald — pulling a wheelie at the line — was the top American in 12th.

In juniors racing, Mathieu Van Der Poel collected the first rainbow jersey of the day for the Netherlands. Wout Van Aert (Belgium) took silver with Quinten Hermans (France) third. Andrew Dillman was the tiop American, finishing 14th.

Good news and bad news

January 27, 2012

UCI cyclo-cross worlds logoBy Patrick O’Grady

First, the bad news: If you’re planning to pop round the UCI Cyclo-cross World Championships on Sunday, score yourself a ticket and waltz on through the gate to watch the big dogs bark, well, fuhgedaboudit, as they say in Flemish. The Community Board of Koksijde has decided there will be no ticket sales at the gate on race day (though sales continue through Saturday at various locations).

And now, the good news: Chances are you’re not in Belgium anyway, so you can watch the whole enchilada — pardon, the whole beer-and-frites — via streaming Innertubes video courtesy of www.cyclingfans.com.

Juniors and U-23s race Saturday, while elite women and men race Sunday.  Everything starts appallingly early, so don’t forget to set the alarm for dark-thirty. In the meantime, Sporza has served up a little video starring Peter Paul Herygers — who won his world title here back in 1994 — to whet the appetite.

• Late update: Also, Richard Fries is in-country and blogging. He reports that Sven Nys has been holding his fire as regards test-rides while defending champ Zdenek Stybar is killing it (and probably his mechanic, too). Sand is to drivetrains as Republicans are to democracy.

Stybar against the Belgians

January 27, 2012
Zdenek Stybar

Stybar meets the press prior to his title defense. Photo © TWDSport.com

By Patrick O’Grady

Quick-Step’s Zdenek Stybar is after a third consecutive world championship this weekend in Koksijde, but he knows there will be seven Belgians standing in his way — among them national champ Sven Nys, who hasn’t claimed a rainbow jersey since 2005 despite an otherwise illustrious career.

“The Belgian team is the most fearsome. It will be hard to race against seven Belgian athletes,” he said during a press conference on Friday. “Surely Belgium will be the team to beat.”

The sandy Belgian course — previewed here by Cyclocross Magazine‘s Christine Vardaros —  will be equally tough, Stybar said.

“On this type of course you need technique and also a lot of strength,” he said. “For me it is the hardest course of the whole season. There is nothing that is similar, not even the Koppenberg. You have to ride 100 percent; there is no chance to rest. And you have to concentrate for the whole race so you don’t make any mistakes in the sand.”

• Pix of U.S. champ Jeremy Powers (Rapha-Focus) training in Koksijde

Asked whom he considered his main rivals, Stybar named Nys (Landbouwkrediet), Niels Albert (BKCP-Powerplus) and World Cup champion Kevin Pauwels (Sunweb-Revor).

“Sven Nys is in great form and I know he really wants to win,” he said. “Niels Albert has to save his season by getting a good result in these championships. He was also injured and his results were not so good. And Kevin Pauwels showed us in the last World Cup race that he is strong enough at the end of the season too.”

Nevertheless, Stybar said he was “calm and confident” and “highly motivated” going into Sunday’s championship, where he hopes to be the first man to win three consecutive titles since Roland Liboton in 1982-84.

“I feel ready for the race. I’ve been training as I should have and I’ve had an excellent approach to the race until now. I’m not feeling the pressure of the race, I’m pretty relaxed. Last week I also worked a lot on a mental level to prepare for the race and this week I’ve tried to relax and finish preparing. I’m calm and confident for the race.”

Stybar also called winning worlds three times in a row “a dream” — and one that he would not dwell upon.

“First and foremost I want to think about running a flawless race, and I hope to be in the right place at the right time.”

Bike-ped bucks on the chopping block

January 26, 2012

Chopping blockThe House Transportation Committee is slated to vote Feb. 2 on the American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act, a bill that the League of American Bicyclists says would eliminate crucial funding for cycling and pedestrian programs.

On the chopping block are Transportation Enhancements and Safe Routes to School.

“Without these programs,” says the LAB, “communities all over the country will lose resources to build the sidewalks, crosswalks, and bikeways that make biking and walking safe and accessible in your community.”

You can take action via the usual automated Annoy Your Congressman® Wizard or learn more at www.americabikes.org.

Bart beleaguered

January 26, 2012

Don’t look for Bart Wellens at this weekend’s world cyclo-cross championships.

Wellens, who was hospitalized just before the Belgian championships with heart and kidney problems attributed to an infection, now faces an inquiry into whether he may have been using doping products, according to VeloNation’s Shane Stokes.

On Wednesday the cops searched Wellens’ house, taking a computer and medical records. Other searches targeted the homes of Wellens’ brother Geert, Belgian rider Kevin Cant and Luc Van den Broeck, according to VeloNation.

No arrests were made.

During a Jan. 17 presser Wellens said rumors that he had used banned substances caused him and his family “a lot of pain.”

“I understand that some people think bad things because of the image of the sport, and the moment at which it happened,” he said. “But only Bart Wellens knows how hard I work.”

Free-range pissers and Angry Birds

January 25, 2012

Simon Burney, author of “Cyclo-cross,” is a Facebookin’ fool as ’cross worlds approach this weekend in Koksijde.

Cribbing from a preview by Brecht Decaluwé, Burney notes: “Koksijde: 40,000 fans, 30,000 litres of beer, 215 toilets, 8 big screens, 10km of fencing, 1500 volunteers. 2 million euro budget.”

A few moments later he followed that up with: “So that’s 186 fans per toilet, or 1 each if you consider the fact that Belgians never bother with them.”

Meanwhile, we have it on good authority that Katie Compton is letting some steam off before the big race by killing pigs. As long as you eat what you kill, Ms. C. Thanks and a tip of the VeloNoise cycling cap to MrKatieCompton on Twitter, a.k.a. Compton’s husband, Mark Legg.

Double rainbow

January 15, 2012

World champ Zdenek Stybar kissed the handlebars of his bike after winning Sunday’s World Cup round, and then he gave a little love to series leader Kevin Pauwels, who hit the deck on the final go-round in Liévin, France.

The Quick-Step rider had been off the front with Pauwels (Sunweb-Revor) and Radomir Simunek (BKCP-PowerPlus). Simunek was first to cave under the pressure of repeated accelerations, and then when Stybar punched it going into the stairs on the final lap, Pauwels slid out.

That was all the edge Stybar needed. He kept the pedal to the metal and sailed to his first World Cup victory of the season. Pauwels hung on for second at 16 seconds with Simunek third at 30 seconds.

“And to think that I had come to France just to practice,” he said. “I was even late to the starting line!”

Stybar also paid a compliment to his fallen rival.

“I was also helped by Pauwels’ fall; otherwise I’m not so sure I could have beaten him,” he said.

Two Americans cracked the top 20. U.S. champ Jeremy Powers (Rapha-Focus) was 14th at 1:35 while Jonathan Page (Planet Bike) crossed 17th at 1:39. Ryan Trebon (LTS-Felt) finished 22nd at 1:58 while Jamey Driscoll (Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com) finished 30th at 3:03.

In women’s racing, world champ Marianne Vos (Rabobank) served up yet another dominating performance, taking the victory 48 seconds ahead of Daphny Van Den Brand (AA Drink-Leontien.nl). American champ Katie Compton (Rabobank-Giant) crossed third at 1:14.

Kaitlinn Antonneau (Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com) cracked the top 20, finishing second at 3:30. Christine Vardaros (Baboco Cycling Team) finished 26th at 5:55.

Onetogo onetogo onetogo! Nyuk nyuk nyuk. …

January 13, 2012

By Patrick O’Grady

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (MDM) — The refined raconteurs at Rouleur have taken umbrage — umbrage, sir! — with cyclo-cross commentary American style.

Drawing comparisons to Wolfman Jack and the Three Stooges in his recollection of the U.S. national cyclo-cross championships as called by Dave Towle, Richard Fries and Brad Sohner, Ian Cleverly writes:

“The three commentators were unintentionally hilarious and less intelligible than the standard chap I tune into on Sporza for Belgian races, and he talks Flemish … They tossed the commentary around with such alarming frequency you’d have thought it was a live hand grenade with a pulled pin. I’m not sure about the riders, but I was utterly spent with a lap still to go.”

Now, it’s a little grating to endure a lecture about dignity in broadcasting from the nation that brought us “The Goon Show,” “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” and Eddie Izzard. However, I find myself forced to agree with my esteemed colleague from across the water (though I’m reluctant to slap a Stooge sticker on Sohner, whom I considered the best of the trio).

I, too, watch and enjoy Sporza’s coverage of cyclo-cross. Watch enough of it for a living, as I have, and at some point you believe you have come to understand what the Flemish-speaking commentators are going on about.

I’ve never quite gotten to that point with our homegrown announcers.

I appreciate how difficult it must be to keep a snappy line of patter running while standing in a frozen, windswept park tracking barely recognizable, mud-spattered cyclists as they whirl about the course like so many dirty dervishes. I’ve covered a few cyclo-crosses in person, of course, but I never had to entertain anyone while I was in the midst of doing it. I’m much better suited to tapping half-witticisms into a keyboard and snickering to myself from a safe distance.

But speaking as a fan of televised cycling — and as a reporter who has used streaming video to “cover” bike races for publication — I appreciate commentary with a little less drama, a bit more detail and a whole lot less WWF-WTF racket. Who’s in the lead, who’s chasing and how far back, how many laps to race — that sort of thing.

More on-screen graphics. More replays of key bits. And more cameras. I think Sporza issues a camera to every drink-sodden Belgian crushed up against the course fencing. But there are a lot of blind spots in U.S. ‘cross coverage, and it’s irksome to watch one group of riders vanish behind a hummock only to see a different bunch emerge while your computer is screaming, “This report brought to you by Phonak Hearing Aids! Back to you on the stage!”

I know, I know — this sort of thing is still in its infancy here in the Colonies. Technology is expensive and the logistics nightmarish and sponsorship dollars as rare as common sense in Congress. Plus Ian and I may very well be alone in our critical assessment of U.S. ’cross commentary. For sure the P.T. Barnum School of Broadcasting has its adherents. I’m just not one of them.

I think the domestic viewing audience is accustomed to the slightly more sophisticated presentation given other, lesser events like football, baseball and GOP presidential primaries, and the novelty of simply having something, anything, about cyclo-cross on TV will soon wear thin.

And that’s when sales of Flemish-English dictionaries will take off. Although you don’t really need one to understand that Sporza announcer when he says “Tsk, tsk, tsk” or “Oy yoi yoi yoi yoi.”