What they lacked in numbers, they made up for in enthusiasm. Lining the course of the UCI Cyclo-cross World Championships from the early morning junior race through the late afternoon elite men's event, screaming themselves hoarse, clanging bells and blowing horns, crowds in Louisville may have been a sixth of what Belgium produced in Koksijde for last year’s event, but many of the competitors praised the American fans for their non-partisan support, and the ebullient atmosphere they created.
Although American Katie Compton was one of the top favourites to win a world title on home soil, she suffered a less than ideal first lap and had to settle for a distant second place. Marianne Vos (The Netherlands), who beat Compton, may not have realized that her exploits - five straight world championship victories as well as road and Olympic titles - have earned her great respect and admiration over here, and equally ear-splitting cheers from the fans.
“I have to say, the Americans were really cool and cheering for me, too,” Vos said with a smile. “Becoming world champion is an amazing feeling, it’s different because it’s the first time overseas, and that makes it special.”
Klaas Vantornout, who rode to second behind his Belgian teammate Sven Nys in the elite men’s race, was equally impressed by how the fans supported every rider.
“When I rode the course before the race, the atmosphere was great. It was special. It was another atmosphere like Belgium. The people supported everyone, and it was very nice to ride here.”
Nys was impressed with the amount of support and respect he got from the American fans in the week that he was here, and enjoyed the race-day enthusiasm.
“There was a good atmosphere, everyone was yelling for all the riders, and that’s what we want for the world championships,” he said.
“I felt before the race that I got respect from all the fans over here, and I felt really calm and that’s what I needed to win this race.
“For me it’s the best race of my career! The race itself was a European – it was hard, technical and it was a nice world championship race. It was difficult until the end.”
Nys has been working to help promote the sport internationally, and this year joined the UCI’s new athlete commission. He acknowledged that hauling a team’s worth of gear across the Atlantic for one day of racing was a lot of work for every European country, but thinks it will be worth it.
“I hope a lot of cyclo-cross fans saw this race and the young guys are now motivated to also do ‘cross. It was little stressful for the riders to do all this in one day, but that is what we want, to promote the sport.
“For me it’s special, I’m not the youngest anymore. I try to do a lot of things for ‘cross, to promote our sport. To win here is maybe more special than to win in the home country. Maybe here, there were five, six thousand people, but I felt that the respect I got here that it helped me a lot.”