The biggest stars of cyclo-cross are currently having a blast in Belgium. On Sunday, Mathieu Van der Poel and Lucinda Brand conquered the Citadel of Namur in front of a delighted Tomas Van den Spiegel, CEO of Flanders Classics, organisers of the UCI Cyclo-cross World Cup as part of the reform implemented to develop the event on a global scale.
Although the worldwide health situation has halted some projects this winter, Van den Spiegel is anticipating more spectacular action this season, with the big guns battling it out this Sunday in Dendermonde. He feels "combative and optimistic" looking towards 2021.
We've just seen the second round of the 2020-2021 UCI Cyclo-cross World Cup, in Namur, and everyone is heading for the third round in Dendermonde. How is it going so far?
TVDS: “I'm still buzzing with Namur's atmosphere. We've seen something kind of historic, with three cycling stars [Mathieu Van der Poel, Wout van Aert and Tom Pidcock] providing great publicity for cyclo-cross. One of our challenges is to make the UCI World Cup global and rounds like this one definitely help move towards that goal. It's not an easy year, the number of events had to be reduced, but we've seen very motivated teams in Namur and Tábor. We appreciate the efforts the organisers put in every round so that we have a competitive UCI World Cup in these circumstances. I'm looking forward to the next three rounds.”
The UCI World Cup celebrates the turn of the year in Belgium. What does this country represent while you're working on the globalisation of cyclo-cross?
TVDS: “Belgium remains the main market, the country where cyclo-cross is most famous. Other nations have a great tradition, and there are countries with a lot of potential such as Great Britain and the USA. We're trying to get them more and more involved but it's a huge tradition in Belgium, especially at Christmas and New Year. Now the fans have to watch it on television, but they usually attend the races. It's part of our culture, we're proud of it. And the fans can still enjoy high level races in these times.”
Dendermonde is a newcomer in the UCI World Cup. What can we expect?
TVDS: “I think it's a unique parcours with no equivalent on today's circuit. It's very difficult to compare it with other venues and we hope it will be a great success for this first before it comes back in the future. In Belgium, it's easy to find cities willing to organise events and I expect a great show in Dendermonde.”
"We're counting on a return to normal for 2021-2022"
The riders will then go to Hulst, in the Netherlands. This round illustrates the necessity to adapt to the health situation...
TVDS: “We have to take responsibility not to put anyone in danger. That's why we don't have fans at our events. We're working with the UCI and with National Federations to enforce strict protocols. The situation in Hulst is specific because the race was supposed to be held in the city. With the help of the local organisers and authorities, we were able to move it to a venue outside the city so we can control the crowds and not jeopardise public health. We also need to protect the riders, they are the stars of the show.”
Beyond health matters, how does Flanders Classics work with local organisers to build the calendar of the UCI World Cup?
TVDS: “Every year, organisers can submit their case. There are many candidates. We have direct talks with most of them. We look at what they offer, and we try to build an attractive calendar. This year is a bit different, we've had to adapt, but Hulst, for instance, is a beautiful event and it has a future in the UCI World Cup.”
What do you want to keep developing as part of the UCI Cyclo-cross World Cup reform launched in 2020?
TVDS: “We hope the situation will get back to something more usual in 2021. The model of cyclo-cross needs it, with paying spectators enjoying food and drink, hospitality programmes... We're counting on a return to normal for 2021-2022. And we want 14 to 16 rounds in different countries, as was planned for this season, to have an event every Sunday. We've always said we want to follow the model of the Champions League. We are combative and optimistic for next year.”