My top 3 cyclo cross courses

It’s the article no-one is asking for, but I am writing it anyway!

If there is one thing that the arrival of GCN+ has given us is wall to wall winter cycling in the form of cyclo cross.

I am old enough to remember some rounds being shown on the BBCs flagship Saturday afternoon show Grandstand. I would then spend the Sunday morning that followed on my Falcon/Banana team issue replica bike on the recreation ground outside my house pretending to be a tough Belgian.

The dismounts and remounts were not so easy. Especially as the 1980s and early 1990s trend was to jam your saddle up as high as possible to show a bit of seat stem.

I also wore a pony tail held in by a rubber band as some sort of low budget Laurent Fignon, or the hipsters version, Soren Lilholt. But that’s straying off the point.

What these last couple of winters has shown us is that ‘cross is very much part of the full cycling experience and will forever be linked to road cycling, the spring classics and the grand tours.

Part of the reason for that is at the moment the best riders on the road also enjoy getting muddy in a Flemish field all winter. They are Mathieu van der Poel, Wout van Aert and Tom Pidcock.

With all of their summer exploits still hurting their legs, the three of them aren’t back on the trails as yet. They are all resting and that has left the door open for Eli Iserbyt to take ownership of the discipline.

He is being chased (literally and metaphorically) by team mates Michael Van Thourenhout, Laurens Sweeck and Trek riders Toon Aerts and Lars van der Haar.

Another grand tour rider in Quinten Hermans (who I tipped on this website as being a star of the future) is getting the Wanty team among those riders above.

The great thing about ‘cross is that its raced in laps with sections that need to be run alongside your bike, steep drop ins and a little bit of road. It has the lot.

So here are my three favourite courses of the regulars that are raced during the season. Let me know if you disagree!

3. Koksijde

This course is best summed up by the video “Cycling in Flanders” shot and you can get that here.

Its full of sand dunes and steep banks which leaves you thinking they are racing through a Eurocamp holiday park. Its utterly bonkers and wonderfully brilliant.

2. Koppenbergcross

This is another chance for me to drone on about how many times I have ridden the cobbled climb that is scaled on every lap of this race. But I wont.

I will talk about a course that has everything. It has the climb as well as steep, sweeping curves through farmland and some tight muddy turns.

This is fresh in my mind as it was raced yesterday. Check out the footage of Iserbyt winning but stay tuned in for some of the wrecked bodies and minds who slump over the finish before getting a Belgian face pack falling over.

It’s brutal and having ridden up the climb a few times I can tell you first hand how hard it is. But I wont!

1. Namur

This might be a hipsters choice from me here. But I love the racing this course produces.

The route is based around the finish of the autumn classic on the road that finishes up the cobbles at the citadel above the river and the town.

Its beautiful to look at but savage if you are racing with all the climbing and tight turns through the woodland.

The recent events have been dominated by Van der Poel but have been famous for a crash that Toon Aerts suffered which left him finishing the race with broken ribs.

Here are the details of the upcoming 2021 event from the website “Cyclocross 24”. there is a video of how difficult the course is for you to enjoy.

With only the Koppenberg round having been completed so far there is some decent racing to look forward to on most weekends now until the Christmas tree is down and we can start to think about Milano-San Remo.

Don’t miss out and enjoy the action this winter!

Last week was bitter sweet for Sweeck

When looking for a contemporary cyclo-cross star back in 2018 to pin my hopes on the Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal rider Laurens Sweeck fitted the bill.

He was fast, acrobatic, agile and raced at the top tier of the sport taking it to Mathieu van der Poel and Wout van Aert.

The last week has made me love him even more with his strengths in cycling overlaid with the emotion of how real life affects you.

There was everything in the Saturday race at Middelkerke (well actually there was no snow, but we got that Sunday) with the Telenet series win up for grabs.

With Eli Iserbyt, a team mate of Sweeck, in for the win depending in what happened to series leader Toon Aerts there was plenty of drama and excitement crammed in to an hour.

Pauwels Sauzen got three riders clear from the start with Aerts struggling. If Iserbyt could take the win he would take the series.

However he was clearly struggling and the team was stuck in a challenging situation of making sure they won the race as opposed to trying something clever to engineer a win for Eli.

Sweeck managed to slip away almost without effort. It was more that the others made mistakes or dropped back but on the last lap of the race it was clear he was emotional and crying whilst trying to understand from his pit team if he should stop and wait close to a minute for Iserbyt.

As it happened Aerts managed to recover enough to climb the field enough to ensure that he had enough points to take the win.

It was only in the post race press conference that a tearful Sweeck revealed that his Father-in-Law had passed away in the week and he’d wanted to win for him.

Iserbyt was critical of the team work which meant there was a bit of spice, even within the same team ahead of Sundays race in Lille (The one in Belgium).

With a coating of snow on the course it was again Sweeck who flew clear just before half distance enjoying a solo win to banish the bad feeling and emotion of 24 hours before.

It was a majestic win with controlled aggression riding over the icy snow and through a frozen forest.

Probably the best weekend of the season so far with an undercurrent of grief and emotion.

My thoughts are with Laurens and his family at this time.