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Ben Berden (Clement-Ops Ale) with the leaders early in the race
Belgian will return next year
At 36 years of age, Ben Berden isn't quite ready to hang up his cyclo-cross bike. A former contender against the likes of Sven Nys and Bart Wellens, he was so frequently the last man on the podium that he was dubbed Ben 'Derden' (derde is third in Dutch). Now, he has to watch from across the Atlantic Ocean as his compatriots rack up UCI points in World Cups in which he will probably never be chosen to compete.
Berden's love of racing brought him to the USA for the majority of the season, where he was able to claim four victories – one in Boulder, both days of racing at the Hendersonville Gran Prix, and last weekend's Cyclocross LA in Los Angeles. His results put him amongst the top five riders in the USA, but unfortunately for him, he comes from a country with a depth of cyclo-cross talent that is unparalleled across the globe.
"In Belgium we have 15 really professional cyclo-cross riders, it makes it difficult to get good results," Berden said. "If you have a bad day in Belgium you'll get lapped or something. If you have a bad day or a bad week in the US you'll still get seventh or eighth. It makes a difference."
When he returns to his home following today's Exergy USGP finale in Bend, Oregon, Berden knows he will have his work cut out for him to gain more UCI points. He's currently the 13th best Belgian on the UCI rankings, and he has only very dim prospects of being selected for the World Cups, which hold far more points than the C1 and C2 races he's done in the USA. Being selected for the world championships is only a dream.
"They'll always take a younger guy or better guy," he said. "In Belgium the World Cup is only for eight or nine guys. There are a lot of professional riders and to make that ninth spot is difficult. It's frustrating. You reach your maximum of points with the cat 1 or 2 races, you're not going to get points anymore, so that's difficult."
It's only his passion for riding and racing that keeps Berden going, and if he's only 13th it's not for lack of trying. He's on his 28th race of the season today, and has 14 more on his schedule in Belgium with one more main goal.
"The nationals is also important and I hope to do good there," he said.
The US campaign has been successful, and it's gotten him farther up the ladder than he's been in several years, and he said that he intends to come back next season before the Worlds are held in this country.
"I'm going to do one more year – next year, but that's what I say every year. Then we'll see how the body feels."