History made in Louisville, Kentucky
1. Van der Perfect: What else can be said about wunderkind Mathieu van der Poel? The 18-year-old Dutchman punctuated an undefeated 'cross season with his second straight junior world title. As happened all season long, the closest van der Poel's rivals were to him was on the start line. After grabbing the holeshot, van der Poel simply rode away from the field. He is human, however, as he crashed on the second lap while alone in the lead, but that was the only blemish to an otherwise flawless performance and a flawless season.
For what it's worth in making an apples to oranges comparison, van der Poel's opening lap on Saturday (6:37) was the fastest recorded by anyone during the four world championships contested Saturday at Eva Bandman Park. Van der Poel faced a frozen parcours which grew looser and sloppier as the day progressed, but nonetheless it's pretty amazing to think that the young Dutchman's six and slowest lap (6:54) was still faster than the quickest lap recorded in the elite men's championship (Francis Mourey's second lap - 6:55).
And what of the future? Van der Poel was typically modest post-race, simply stating he looks forward to cracking the top-10 in U23 races, but the Netherlands looks to have another phenomenon in the making, a la Marianne Vos.
2. One woman wrecking crew: And what do you do if you're Marianne Vos, having just won your fifth straight cyclo-cross world championship, bringing your multi-discipline ('cross, road and track) rainbow jersey collection to 10? Well, the women's elite mountain biking world is about to get a dose of Vos as well. For someone who's arguably the most complete cyclist of all time, man or woman, it was almost frightening to hear the vastly gifted Vos state, regarding taking up mountain biking, "I need to work on my technical skills" in her post-'cross Worlds press conference, after dismantling a sloppy, technical circuit in Louisville. The 25-year-old Dutchwoman was modest and understated regarding an expected foray into mountain biking, but the cycling virtuoso turns any bike she touches into magic.
Perhaps the cycling world will witness the "Vos Omnium" take place at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio. Who else but Vos could kick off her gold medal campaign with the road race, move onto the omnium on the track, and cap it all off with cross country mountain biking?
3. Bring the noise: From Mathieu van der Poel claiming the holeshot in the junior men's championship through to the final rider to finish the elite men's event, France's Romain Lejeune, the cacophony of spectator noise at Eva Bandman Park was utterly deafening. While last year's 'cross Worlds in Koksijde, Belgium may have had about 50,000 more people in attendance (60,000 vs. 10,000), what was lacking in numbers was made up for in frenzied adulation for each and every rider turning a pedal in anger on Saturday. Rider after rider after rider said the same thing post-race: "My ears are ringing and I can't hear myself think". No golf claps here for those out of the medal hunt.
No matter your nationality, no matter your position on the course (whether vying for gold or fighting not to be lapped), you felt the love, a pleasant surprise to riders such as Marianne Vos who felt like she was in the Netherlands. But even amidst the roars in Louisville, the crowd somehow managed to turn it to 11 for the home, American squad. Veteran 'cross campaigner Jonathan Page said he was tearing up in just his warm-up laps, a sentiment likely shared by everyone in a stars-and-stripes skinsuit on Saturday.
Congratulations cyclo-cross fans for making such an everlasting impression at the first 'cross Worlds held outside of Europe.
4. Low Country domination: Looking at the results of the U23 men's championship, it looks as if the nexus of elite men's cyclo-cross will remain firmly planted in the Netherlands and Belgium for years to come as riders from those two countries filled the entire top-10. The USA's Zach McDonald was the first to break the gridlock with his 11th place finish, 1:42 behind winner Mike Teunissen (Netherlands). Add in young stars already in the elite ranks such as Dutchman Lars van der Haar, the bronze medalist in the elite race who was of age to still contest the U23 event, and the trend may continue well into the future. It will remain to be seen, however, if lucrative road contracts lure any of these riders off the fields and onto the tarmac.
5. Hail to Louisville: While the threat of flooding which forced the world championship schedule to be compressed from its usual two days into one was truly unprecedented, the manner in which the city of Louisville bent over backwards to accommodate the crisis, be it the Mayor, Sports Commission, Parks Department and Metro Sewer Department, was nothing short of remarkable in the quick action taken to fend off the mighty, swollen Ohio River adjacent to Eva Bandman Park. And it wasn't just the impromptu, temporary dam built from scratch in nothing flat to keep the lower sector of the venue dry on Saturday, but the entire build-up to the championship weekend which showed the city's spirit and support. As Sunday evening's Super Bowl showed, with its temporary power outage, strange things can happen at world-class sporting events, but Louisville's city workers never panicked and created a quick and stunning solution.The payback? Reportedly $3-5 million in tourist revenue and a gold star for their production.
6. Time to go?: As much as the outcomes of each championship race was the topic of conversation that Saturday evening, also grabbing one's attention was the impossible-to-ignore, impassioned booing dished out by spectators to Pat McQuaid as the UCI president was introduced for the presentation of rainbow jerseys. The unflappable Irishman took it in stride, never missing a beat, put it speaks volumes to the lowly opinion the sport's most ardent supporters have for McQuaid's leadership.
7. Next step = World Cup: If one didn't experience goose bumps at the atmosphere on display during each of the day's four world championship races, then one's heart was likely as frozen as the fools who opted to dive head-first into the pooling slush water amassing in the venue's infield. Despite the sponsorship woes and threat of flooding which disrupted the event, a legitimate course delivered legitimate world champions in front of an impassioned audience. For globalisation of cyclo-cross to progress, the United States needs to become a World Cup host. The Euros got a taste of the logistical challenge that North Americans experience all season in Europe, yet they coped and their racing seemed none the worse for the travel. Place the opening round in the United States to keep schedule disruptions to a minimum and put the "World" in World Cup.
8. All access pass: At what other world championship sporting event do the participants mingle freely with their fans in the build-up to the event, culminating with the winners and other players showing up to celebrate with an adoring public at a nightclub near the venue which didn't charge admission and managed to get pre-race buzz from the likes of the Wall Street Journal. That didn't happen at the Super Bowl, the weekend's "other" world championship sporting event. Long live the spirit, openness and passion of those devoted to 'cross and the greater world of professional cycling.
9. Long and winding road: Thirty years ago riders from the United States first began appearing at 'cross Worlds, hardly a blip on the radar, and through the decades steady progress has been made, culminating and manifested in the first world championships hosted outside of Europe since their inception in 1950. While the host nation's medal count may have been lower than expected, with Katie Compton the sole American to grace the podium in Louisville, every rider in a stars-and-stripes kit had reason to be proud of their efforts in competing for rainbow jerseys at home.
The US's burgeoning success in the world of elite-level cyclo-cross has come at a time where four of the six Americans to previously win medals at a 'cross world championship are still competing, still at the top of their game, and able to suit up for another crack at a rainbow jersey or podium spot, this time afforded on home soil.
Compton had already made history this season with her World Cup title, celebrated on Thursday evening in Louisville, and the 34-year-old American added the fourth 'cross Worlds medal of her career to her palmares on Saturday. 35-year-old Tim Johnson, the first American to ever win a world championship 'cross medal in 1999 with a bronze in Poprad, Slovakia during the U23 event, raced to a 19th place finish on Saturday, his best outing of the year against international competition.
36-year-old Jonathan Page, the American with more international experience than any other and who holds the honour of being the only US rider to win a medal in the elite men's race (a silver earned in 2007), rode strongly in the top-10 early on Saturday before mechanicals and crashes knocked him back to 22nd on the day. And 23-year-old Danny Summerhill, silver medal winner in the U23 'cross Worlds in 2007, forestalled his 2013 road season to ride a historic Worlds in the US, where he finished 35th.
Regarding the future, Logan Owen finished a heartbreaking 4th in the junior men's event, but will surely be a player on the world stage for many years to come if his second place in the world rankings and third place finish in the World Cup is any indication. Other young talents include Curtis White, 11th in the junior race, Zach McDonald, 11th in the U23 race, plus Kaitlin Antonneau, the 21-year-old Wisconsin native who placed 10th in the elite women's event. With the country's 'cross veterans not ready to hang up their wheels yet as well, the future of the sport is in promising hands.
10. Crowning glory: Was there any more fitting winner of Saturday's elite men's world championship than Sven Nys? The sport's marquee talent claimed the marquee event at a historical world championship held outside of Europe for the first time. The elusive second world title has been a long time coming and Nys now considers his immense palmares complete. He's not done yet, though, and surely more victories will be claimed as the 36-year-old Belgian flies the rainbow jersey for next season.
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