The course for the UCI Cyclo-cross World Championships in Bieles, Luxembourg, was open for practice this week, and the riders who got their first glimpse at the snowy, frozen, off-camber sections found a course that American Stephen Hyde called "nutty" and "way harder than it looks".
The championships kick off on Saturday with the junior men, U23 and elite women's races, and finish on Sunday with the U23 and elite men. View the official start lists here.
Riders skittered down the frozen off-camber descent, looking less like bike racers and more like ballet dancers trying desperately to remain upright. The UCI shifted the course slightly to improve matters, but there were still some hairy sections, according to Katie Compton's partner Mark Legg.
The US champion Compton was one of those who previewed the course and said, "It was great...it's a challenging course for sure with lots of places to make mistakes and crash, but there are also plenty of places to pedal hard and put the power down."
"The race will take finesse, skill, and horsepower and the ability to keep calm under stress. I enjoyed riding it and found it hard but also enjoyable.
"Right now it has some frozen ice and mud/dirt under the snow and parts that are slick that you can't really see which makes it tricky for balance and keeping the bike upright in those spots. It's one of those courses that has slow corners and fast corners and you need to know which ones are where. The drops are steep but fun and have a bit of run-out so you can make the turns at the bottom."
Tension in Belgium
There was tension at the Belgian team's press conference after some social media posts earlier in the week from Wout Van Aert's teammate Kevin Pauwels and their rival Mathieu van der Poel - both of whom posted photos of their anti-doping control forms declaring no Therapeutic Use Exemptions. Many pundits interpreted the posts as a dig at Van Aert, who skipped the Hoogerheide World Cup citing tendinitis in his knee, and an insinuation that he might avail himself of the system that allows cortisone injections that could treat such an injury.
Van Aert defended himself today, saying, "I had a doping control on Wednesday, but I'm not going to share that with the world. In any case I have not asked for any therapeutic use exemptions. It is unfortunate that some people think I had no injury."