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Zeddam, Netherlands

 
 


UCI Cyclo-Cross World Championships

Zeddam, Netherlands

January 28 & 29, 2006

 

Very untypical European cyclocross weather:  bright and clear but well below freezing. Zeddam is a beautiful town close to the Rhine River and small enough to be omitted from some European maps. 

Yesterday, I had only a short walk from the parking lot to the venue but today, the walk is at least two kilometers and the crowds huge even though we are about two hours away from the first event. People are bundling up:  theyíre prepared with boots, heavy jackets and, of course, their national flags.

Yesterday, I was able to easily stand right next to the tape and watch the junior and U23 men.  Today will be much different but Iíve figured out the course and Iíll be able to find unobstructed viewpoints.

Yesterday, the US Team acquitted themselves quite well in the junior field with U.S. National champion Bjorn Sealander doing especially well.  He started in the front line and was one of the last of the good riders to hook up to the lead group.  At one time, he was in the top four but slipped a little on the last lap. 

This was an extremely tough course made even more difficult by the frozen ground that was rock hard. As a result, even though the course didnít look slippery, it was. To help, pallet loads of bags of sawdust were spread out over the course although Iím not sure how much this helped.

The course was more or less typical of a World Cup course with infield, set up bridges, double sided pits and a maze of tape.  The bridges arenít designed to make it difficult for riders; rather, the bridges allow spectators to cross the course without actually walking on the course.  With the course maze in the infield and the bridges, the course is very spectator friendly. 

The course started and finished on a paved road and then made it way up to the main infield (this is where the larger beer tents are located).  The course then dropped down a treacherous, serpentine, off-camber descent that became fast at the end.  The riders then made a couple of u-turns and then faced a long set of stairs.  When conditions were right, you could watch the riders descend and then see them run up the stairs.

The good riders looked completely out of control on the descent with one leg out being used as an outrigger. Lesser riders came down looking smooth with their brakes locked-up and squealing.  Fortunately there are no points for form in cyclocross.

After the stairs, the riders climbed on a paved road up to the windmill and back through the infield to the start/finish.  I think the Elite riders were doing six minute laps that would translate into eight minute laps for the best in the US and probably 12 minute laps for my 65+ age group (that is, if we made it down the descent in one piece and could run up the stairs without having a heart attack).

Probably, the most notable thing about European courses is the lack of the traditional American plank-like barriers.  After watching the Masters Worlds, a local race, a World Cup and the Championships, I didnít see one traditional American barrier.

In the U23 race, the U.S. team had their troubles never getting anyone into the front group.  Troy Wells came through last on the first lap with blood running down his face after a bad crash.  The fans gave him a big cheer every time he came around.  It took a lot of courage for him to finish. At the back, it was a race between the all-black Zimbabwe team and the American team.  Many were lapped.

Thereís plenty of coverage on the womenís and Elite menís races.  The womenís race started off really hard with three women taking a huge lead right from the start.  The disparity between the lead women and the rest of field was the largest of the four events.

We all know about the Elite men.  Jonathan Page was the last rider to hook up to the lead group.  He dangled a few feet off the back of the train but got on and looked reasonably comfortable.  Eventually he came around off of the lead group but it looked like he crashed.  Still finishing 10th is remarkable.  The Belgium riders looked unworried about the French rider and Sven Nijs looked very comfortable sitting in fourth until the final lap when he crashed into a pole on the descent.  The French rider put up a great battle and at one point he opened a small gap and the crowd went quiet.

What about the equipment?  Carbon fiber wheels were almost universal except the Zimbabwe team had normal alloy wheels. The most common pedals were Shimano SPD remembering that Shimano sponsors many of the Belgium riders.  It looked like Crank Brothers Eggbeater and Time Attacks split the difference.

Spooky Brakes or brakes of this type were the dominant brakes although I saw one of the women on the French team riding mountain bike v-brakes with travel agent adaptor! It was encouraging to hear brakes squealing on the descent that shows that sometimes there just isnít anything you can do to stop the squealing.

Dugast tubulars were universal with a few Tufos found on some of the teams.  The interesting thing was that all four levels of Tufos were seen including the least expensive Pro line that most U.S. riders would use only for training.  There were also a fair number of riders using diamond tread tires including the U23 Belgium national champion. This reminded me of what the owner of Tufo Tires told me: ďGood riders donít need aggressive tread designs.  Riders should learn to ride efficiently and not rely on tread patterns.Ē

The eye opener for this American is the eventís ambience. The crowds were huge and noisy.  Cowbells, of course but horns, trumpets and other noise making devices were popular.  You knew when the lead riders were approaching by the level of the noise.

No European cyclocross race would be without a beer tent Ė big beer tents with loud music.  Beer was about $2.50 a cup and you had to be 16 to drink although I donít see how anyone could keep track.  American music like Take Me Home Country Road and Cotton Eye Joe were very popular and everyone knew the words but me.  The common food was frites (known to us as French fries even though they originated in Belgium).  No ketchup though.  People eat them plain or with mayonnaise and you had to pay extra for the mayonnaise. Just like U.S. football fans, most of the fans werenít athletes: they smoked, ate bad food and drank. They had fun.

I overheard one American woman complaining that the outdoor porta-potties just werenít fair.  Really it was: they had them to themselves.  Instead the men got to use four-sided, open air urinals.  It was a very efficient system but thousands would have been arrested in the U.S. for public urination.

Jim Cushing-murray