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Namur: Best 'cross race of the year or over the top spectacle? - Gallery

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NAMUR BELGIUM DECEMBER 22 Mathieu Van Der Poel of The Netherlands and Team Corendon Circus Mud Bike Detail view during the 11th Namur World Cup 2019 UCICX TelenetUCICXWC on December 22 2019 in Namur Belgium Photo by Luc ClaessenGetty Images

Mathieu Van Der Poel of The Netherlands and Team Corendon-Circus (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)
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NAMUR BELGIUM DECEMBER 22 Sanne Cant of Belgium and IKOCrelan Team Mud during the 11th Namur World Cup 2019 Women Elite UCICX TelenetUCICXWC on December 22 2019 in Namur Belgium Photo by Luc ClaessenGetty Images

Sanne Cant of Belgium and IKO-Crelan (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)
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NAMUR BELGIUM DECEMBER 22 Rider Public Fans Mud Bike during the 11th Namur World Cup 2019 UCICX TelenetUCICXWC on December 22 2019 in Namur Belgium Photo by Luc ClaessenGetty Images

A muddy Namur World Cup (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)
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NAMUR BELGIUM DECEMBER 22 Arrival Joris Nieuwenhuis of The Netherlands and Team Sunweb Mud during the 11th Namur World Cup 2019 UCICX TelenetUCICXWC on December 22 2019 in Namur Belgium Photo by Luc ClaessenGetty Images

Joris Nieuwenhuis of The Netherlands and Team Sunweb (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)
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NAMUR BELGIUM DECEMBER 22 Laurens Sweeck of Belgium and Team Pauwels Sauzen Bingoal Crash Hand Mud Detail view during the 11th Namur World Cup 2019 UCICX TelenetUCICXWC on December 22 2019 in Namur Belgium Photo by Luc ClaessenGetty Images

Laurens Sweeck of Belgium and Team Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)
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NAMUR BELGIUM DECEMBER 22 Lars Van Der Haar of The Netherlands and Team Telenet Baloise Lions Mud during the 11th Namur World Cup 2019 UCICX TelenetUCICXWC on December 22 2019 in Namur Belgium Photo by Luc ClaessenGetty Images

Lars Van Der Haar of The Netherlands and Team Telenet-Baloise Lions (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)
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NAMUR BELGIUM DECEMBER 22 Nicola Rohrbach of Switzerland Peloton Public Fans Mud Landscape during the 11th Namur World Cup 2019 UCICX TelenetUCICXWC on December 22 2019 in Namur Belgium Photo by Luc ClaessenGetty Images

Nicola Rohrbach of Switzerland (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)
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NAMUR BELGIUM DECEMBER 22 Toon Aerts of Belgium and Team Telenet Baloise Lions Mud during the 11th Namur World Cup 2019 UCICX TelenetUCICXWC on December 22 2019 in Namur Belgium Photo by Luc ClaessenGetty Images

Toon Aerts of Belgium and Team Telenet Baloise Lions (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)
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NAMUR BELGIUM DECEMBER 22 Thomas Pidcock of United Kingdom and Team Trinity Racing Mud during the 11th Namur World Cup 2019 UCICX TelenetUCICXWC on December 22 2019 in Namur Belgium Photo by Luc ClaessenGetty Images

Thomas Pidcock of United Kingdom and Team Trinity Racing (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)
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NAMUR BELGIUM DECEMBER 22 Michael Vanthourenhout of Belgium and Team Pauwels Sauzen Bingoal Mud during the 11th Namur World Cup 2019 UCICX TelenetUCICXWC on December 22 2019 in Namur Belgium Photo by Luc ClaessenGetty Images

Michael Vanthourenhout of Belgium and Team Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)
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NAMUR BELGIUM DECEMBER 22 Mathieu Van Der Poel of The Netherlands and Team Corendon Circus Toon Aerts of Belgium and Team Telenet Baloise Lions Mud Public Fans Landscape during the 11th Namur World Cup 2019 UCICX TelenetUCICXWC on December 22 2019 in Namur Belgium Photo by Luc ClaessenGetty Images

Mathieu Van Der Poel and Toon Aerts (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)
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NAMUR BELGIUM DECEMBER 22 Mathieu Van Der Poel of The Netherlands and Team Corendon Circus Toon Aerts of Belgium and Team Telenet Baloise Lions Mud Public Fans Landscape during the 11th Namur World Cup 2019 UCICX TelenetUCICXWC on December 22 2019 in Namur Belgium Photo by Luc ClaessenGetty Images

Mathieu van der Poel and Toon Aerts (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)
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NAMUR BELGIUM DECEMBER 22 Toon Aerts of Belgium and Team Telenet Baloise Lions Bike Mud Detail view during the 11th Namur World Cup 2019 UCICX TelenetUCICXWC on December 22 2019 in Namur Belgium Photo by Luc ClaessenGetty Images

Toon Aerts carrying his bike through the mud (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)
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NAMUR BELGIUM DECEMBER 22 Laurens Sweeck of Belgium and Team Pauwels Sauzen Bingoal Mud during the 11th Namur World Cup 2019 UCICX TelenetUCICXWC on December 22 2019 in Namur Belgium Photo by Luc ClaessenGetty Images

Laurens Sweeck of Belgium and Team Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)
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NAMUR BELGIUM DECEMBER 22 Lars Van Der Haar of The Netherlands and Team Telenet Baloise Lions Mud during the 11th Namur World Cup 2019 UCICX TelenetUCICXWC on December 22 2019 in Namur Belgium Photo by Luc ClaessenGetty Images

Lars Van Der Haar of The Netherlands and Team Telenet Baloise Lions (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)
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NAMUR BELGIUM DECEMBER 22 Rider Bike Mud Detail view during the 11th Namur World Cup 2019 UCICX TelenetUCICXWC on December 22 2019 in Namur Belgium Photo by Luc ClaessenGetty Images

The awful conditions at Namur (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)
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NAMUR BELGIUM DECEMBER 22 Mathieu Van Der Poel of The Netherlands and Team Corendon Circus Mud Public Fans during the 11th Namur World Cup 2019 UCICX TelenetUCICXWC on December 22 2019 in Namur Belgium Photo by Luc ClaessenGetty Images

Mathieu Van Der Poel making his way through the mud (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)
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NAMUR BELGIUM DECEMBER 22 Katerina Nash of Czech Republic Clara Honsinger of The United States Christine Majerus of The Luxembourg and Boels Dolmans Cycling Team during the 11th Namur World Cup 2019 Women Elite UCICX TelenetUCICXWC on December 22 2019 in Namur Belgium Photo by Luc ClaessenGetty Images

Katerina Nash and Clara Honsinger (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)
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NAMUR BELGIUM DECEMBER 22 Katherine Compton of The United States during the 11th Namur World Cup 2019 Women Elite UCICX TelenetUCICXWC on December 22 2019 in Namur Belgium Photo by Luc ClaessenGetty Images

Katherine Compton of The United States (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)
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NAMUR BELGIUM DECEMBER 22 Eva Lechner of Italy and Team Creafin Fristads Rebecca Fahringer of The United States during the 11th Namur World Cup 2019 Women Elite UCICX TelenetUCICXWC on December 22 2019 in Namur Belgium Photo by Luc ClaessenGetty Images

Eva Lechner of Italy and Team Creafin-Fristads leads the way (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)
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NAMUR BELGIUM DECEMBER 22 Katie Clouse of The United States and Team Cannondale Cyclocrossworld during the 11th Namur World Cup 2019 Women Elite UCICX TelenetUCICXWC on December 22 2019 in Namur Belgium Photo by Luc ClaessenGetty Images

Katie Clouse of The United States and Team Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)
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NAMUR BELGIUM DECEMBER 22 Katerina Nash of Czech Republic Mud during the 11th Namur World Cup 2019 Women Elite UCICX TelenetUCICXWC on December 22 2019 in Namur Belgium Photo by Luc ClaessenGetty Images

Katerina Nash of Czech Republic (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)
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NAMUR BELGIUM DECEMBER 22 Clara Honsinger of The United States Mud during the 11th Namur World Cup 2019 Women Elite UCICX TelenetUCICXWC on December 22 2019 in Namur Belgium Photo by Luc ClaessenGetty Images

Clara Honsinger of The United States (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)
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NAMUR BELGIUM DECEMBER 22 Annemarie Worst of The Netherlands and Team 777 Mud during the 11th Namur World Cup 2019 Women Elite UCICX TelenetUCICXWC on December 22 2019 in Namur Belgium Photo by Luc ClaessenGetty Images

Annemarie Worst of The Netherlands and Team 777 (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)
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NAMUR BELGIUM DECEMBER 22 Katerina Nash of Czech Republic Mud during the 11th Namur World Cup 2019 Women Elite UCICX TelenetUCICXWC on December 22 2019 in Namur Belgium Photo by Luc ClaessenGetty Images

Katerina Nash (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)
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NAMUR BELGIUM DECEMBER 22 Marianne Vos of Netherlands and Team CCC Liv Mud during the 11th Namur World Cup 2019 Women Elite UCICX TelenetUCICXWC on December 22 2019 in Namur Belgium Photo by Luc ClaessenGetty Images

Marianne Vos of Netherlands and Team CCC-Liv (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)
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NAMUR BELGIUM DECEMBER 22 Clara Honsinger of The United States Mud during the 11th Namur World Cup 2019 Women Elite UCICX TelenetUCICXWC on December 22 2019 in Namur Belgium Photo by Luc ClaessenGetty Images

Clara Honsinger (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

Re-working a classic Belgian cyclo-cross course that has been used for 20 years is always going to cause tension, but when organisers Golazo tinkered with the UCI cyclo-cross World Cup course at the Citadel of Namur they created what could easily be described as the best 'cross race of the year.

But with the course erosion and a number of crashes, including one that left new World Cup leader Toon Aerts with a fractured rib, was it a case of too much spectacle at the cost of safety?

Three-time world champion Erwin Vervecken was the mastermind behind the new route, which went down a set of stone steps that were previously used in the opposite direction. Wanting to incorporate a steep cobblestone ascent at the base of the steps, Vervecken's team packed the steps with sandbags and covered the slope in sand to create a rideable, UCI-legal descent.

But mother nature had other plans and soaked the race in heavy, ice-cold rain. Riders who normally would excel in muddy conditions struggled to control their bikes with frozen hands and shivering bodies. 

"It is sport in the extreme, but this is what people come to the cross for," Vervecken said to Sporza. "It was raining for a whole day and yet we recorded a new spectator record: 8,100. That is a lot for Wallonia. Incidentally, there was a striking number of French speakers. In in the early years of the 'cross in Namur that was only 10 or 15 percent of the spectators, now that is much more."

By the time the elite men raced, the rain had created deep puddles that came up nearly to riders' axles, soaking them in ice cold muddy water every lap. Eli Iserbyt abandoned with hypothermia.

NAMUR BELGIUM DECEMBER 22 Arrival Joris Nieuwenhuis of The Netherlands and Team Sunweb Mud during the 11th Namur World Cup 2019 UCICX TelenetUCICXWC on December 22 2019 in Namur Belgium Photo by Luc ClaessenGetty Images

Joris Nieuwenhuis exhausted after racing in Namur (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

There was no denying it was one of the most exciting races of the season, with Aerts and eventual winner Mathieu van der Poel taking turns leading then suffering crashes or punctures. The tension was undeniable.

"People come out for this", Vervecken told Sporza. "Spectators and journalists were wildly enthusiastic. That makes me happy."

"We can't control the weather. It was heroic, but it was also extremely difficult for the riders," he admitted. "What we do control is the safety of the riders and that wasn't too bad. Apart from the crash, for example, of Toon Aerts at the end. That also happens in regular 'crosses."

Vervecken says the weather was even worse than the worst case scenario they planned for. An always tough course turned into one that was difficult to ride and even harder to run.

NAMUR BELGIUM DECEMBER 22 Rider Bike Mud Detail view during the 11th Namur World Cup 2019 UCICX TelenetUCICXWC on December 22 2019 in Namur Belgium Photo by Luc ClaessenGetty Images

(Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

"It is mainly the descent, the one that was taken in the opposite direction last year, that we have to evaluate," he said. "There were a lot of tree roots and they were exposed by the rain. It is because of this that Aerts has fallen. I don't know whether there is an alternative, because we are in a nature reserve and with a protected monument. So not everything is possible and allowed, but we will look at it."

Vervecken admitted that with the weather, the previous course would have led to a similar kind of competition.

"A good crosser must be able to handle every course. It was a spectacle, but also top sport. The riders were completely empty on the finish line. The best riders come forward in extreme circumstances."

Look back at Sunday's races with the gallery of images from Getty Images Sport above.