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Belgian domination bad for the sport?
While the popularity of cyclo-cross in Belgium and the USA is strong, the lack of growth of the winter cycling discipline outside of these countries is of concern to cycling's governing body, the UCI.
The UCI's off-road discipline manager Peter Van den Abeele decried the lack of international stars and international interest in cyclo-cross in an interview with De Zondag.
"Out of the four disciplines I manage, cyclo-cross is only third," Van den Abeele said. "Mountain bike has 400 international races, cyclo-cross has about 150. It's big in only two countries - Belgium and the USA - but elsewhere it doesn't move. There should be six World Cup rounds outside of Belgium and two in three but it's almost the other way around."
Currently, the podiums of all the top races are dominated by Belgians, and riders from other countries who rise to the top quickly leave the circuit for the more lucrative road scene: most recently Lars Boom, and perhaps in the future, Zdenek Stybar.
Should the Czech world champion have followed Boom's example and curtailed his 'cross racing this season, there would no non-Belgian riders on any of the podiums of the three major series: the UCI cyclo-cross World Cup, the Superprestige Series and the Gazet van Antwerpen (GVA) Trophy. Van den Abeele sees this as a major problem.
"There's the super high level in Flanders (Belgium). Riders and organizers are super professional, and that is a huge hurdle for the others. Try to climb over that as a non-Belgian," Van den Abeele said.
"Secondly, there's the fact that cyclo-cross isn't an Olympic sport so there are no budgets and no investments. The result is that in Flanders everything is possible and elsewhere almost nothing. Compare the World Cup in Zolder with the one in Igorre: Zolder is super professional while in Spain there are a couple of volunteers who scrape together a small budget which is enough to get 39 Elite Men at the start. It's sad."
The growth of the sport in the USA gives Van den Abeele optimism for the future, and he hopes that more countries will follow suit.
"I'm really happy that we have the world championships at the USA in 2013. Maybe that will do something internationally. It's in the States where they have a fire burning for 'cross. The man from Cross Vegas [Brook Watts] is doing a great job. He tries to copy the Flemish races. We need men like him.
"That's why I will meet Mr. Guerciotti. He used to sponsor Roland Liboton and myself in the past and he organized the 'cross in Milan. I want to try and engage him to get things going in Italy once again." Van den Abeele said.
"We at the UCI switched courses drastically to focus totally on the basics. This will last no longer than three years. Change has to come from the youth categories. Switzerland needs a new Frischknecht, Germany a new Kluge, Italy a new Pontoni, Denmark a new Djernis…"