Cyclo-cross world champion Wout Van Aert has come out in support of the UCI's decision to host two Telenet UCI Cyclo-cross World Cup races in the US, writing in his regular column for Wielerflits.nl that the UCI has more work to do in its effort to globalise the discipline, but the early season trip across the Atlantic is "not a waste of time."
Building on the momentum of the 2013 World Championships in Louisville, Kentucky, Cross Vegas in Nevada was the first US race to reach the World Cup level in 2015, marking the first time the UCI hosted a World Cup race outside of Europe. Jingle Cross in Iowa City, Iowa, followed Cross Vegas to the World Cup in 2016. Cross Vegas dropped from the calendar last year but was replaced by the Trek CX Cup in Watrerloo, Wisconsin. Both Iowa City and Waterloo returned to the World Cup this year, with Waterloo opening the series on September 23 and Iowa City following on September 29.
Former world champion Marianne Vos (WaowDeals Pro Cycling) returned to 'cross triumphantly with a win in Waterloo, while American Kaitie Keough (Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld) topped Vos and Evie Richards in Iowa for her first World Cup victory. On the men's side, Toon Aerts (Telenet Fidea) beat Van Aert in both races and now leads the series. The World Cup returns to Europe for round 3 in Bern on October 21.
In his column, Van Aert addressed multiple criticisms he's heard concerning the US races - and some published the day before on Wielerflits.nl - taking them on directly.
"That Iowa City - compared to Waterloo - barely had spectators around the course is not correct," Van Aert wrote in response to a critical analysis printed Monday on Wielerflits.nl. "Photos can be decieving. In my opinion, the attendance was more than decent, as was the enthusiasm of the fans.
"But do not compare a World Cup in Iowa with a race on the Koppenberg. In the United States, a number of amateur competitions are held before the pros. All those participants then spread across the course to support the pros. They are not in dense crowds at a beer tent like in Belgium, but they are spread over the entire course."
Van Aert also compared the US races to other World Cup races outside of Belgium, such as Pilzen in the Czech Republic or Bogense in Denmark last year.
"Do you think thousands of spectators are there to applaud us? Not really," Van Aert wrote. "Look, when I entered the hotel in Iowa City, a casual passer-by asked me, 'Are you here for the Jingle Cross?' Discussions were also held at other locations in the neighborhood. I mean, in Iowa a bunch of residents were aware of what was going on that weekend.
"By the way, I did not hear anyone complain about the World Championships in Louisville a few years ago," Van Aert continued. "There was really a lot of people and atmosphere there. Too bad that so much criticism continues to come on those American World Cups."
Van Aert went on to acknowledge the logistical challenges and extra expense involved with travelling from Europe to the US for two races, but he said the week-and-a-half early season block required for the races is well-coordinated and mitigates jet lag. Moreover, he writes, prize money can offset the added costs of the trip, and riders can supplement their income with the other C1 and C2 races held on those weekends in conjunction with the World Cup event.
"On the road there are two one-day WorldTour races in Canada (Québec and Montréal)," Van Aert wrote. "Nobody complains about that because it is well organized. The riders are flown with a charter to there, they all stay together in a hotel where they receive logistical assistance, and the travel between Québec and Montréal is well organized by the organization. This can also be done better for cyclo-cross in the US. So yes, there is still a lot of work to do. But it can be done..."
In closing, Van Aert addressed the issue of cyclo-cross sponsorship and acknowledged that many of the discipline's Flemish sponsors have little interest in the US market. But he argues that the reliance on Belgian sponsors is one of the issues the UCI is trying to address with its move to globalise the discipline.
"And why does cyclo-cross only have Flemish sponsors?" he asks. "That is a logical consequence of how the sport has evolved. If we keep looking at it that way, it will indeed never change. Only with a different vision, international sponsors are interested. But once again: the UCI must also contribute even more by organizing more coordinated logistics."
The Telenet UCI Cyclo-Cross World Cup continues October 21 in Bern, Switzerland. Round 4 takes place November 17 in Tabor, Czech Republic, followed by a return to Belgium for round 5 in Koksijde on November 25, round 6 in Namur on December 23 and round 7 in Heusden-Zolder the day after Christmas. The series travels to France for round 8 in Pontchâteau on January 21, and it concludes in Hoogerheide, Netherlands, on January 28.