The discipline of cyclo-cross is enjoying increasing popularity, particularly among young riders, as demonstrated by the training camp being held this week at the UCI World Cycling Centre (WCC) in Aigle, Switzerland.
A record 12 nations are represented at the six-day camp, which is held annually for young athletes in the discipline. The UCI WCC received 37 applications for the camp, from which it made a final selection of 20 who are training under the expert guidance of Rudy De Bie, Belgium’s national coach for 15 years and now in charge of the youth movement for Cycling Vlaanderen, and Belgium’s current national cyclo-cross coach Sven Vanthourenhout, former Under 23 UCI World Champion and two-time bronze medallist at Elite level.
Aged 16 to 19, the cyclo-cross riders – 9 females and 11 males - come from Switzerland, Germany, Luxemburg, Italy, Great Britain, Ireland, Sweden, Russia, Estonia, the Czech Republic, Israel and the USA.
Israel does not have a cyclo-cross tradition, but 16-year-old Naomi Luria jumped at the chance to train with her counterparts from around the world. On her return home from the UEC MTB Youth European Championships in Italy in August, Naomi set aside her mountain bike and borrowed a cyclo-cross bike to get ready for the camp.
“We built a track and did some mock races as simulations. I also watched cyclo-cross racing as part of my preparation. I am learning so much here (at the UCI WCC) and feel I am getting better with each lap of the cyclo-cross track.”
Estonian Kätlin Kukk took up cyclo-cross four years ago at the age of 14. Her father Sigvard Kukk, a former professional cyclist, launched the Estonian National Cyclo-cross Championships and it has been “her” discipline ever since. Her week in Switzerland is helping her develop skills, in particular bunny hopping. Before returning to Switzerland for the UCI Cyclo-cross World Championships in Dübendorf in February, she will spend some time in Belgium training with the international youth cycling team Cannibal.
Nearly all the training camp participants will participate in the EKZ CrossTour Aigle being organised in the grounds of the UCI WCC on Sunday October 6.
A further sign of the discipline’s growth is the registration of an impressive 60 riders in the Junior Men’s category at the EKZ CrossTour Aigle, compared to just 17 last year. A new UCI regulation requiring organisers of events on the UCI International Cyclo-cross Calendar to stage a separate Junior race has met with similar success and popularity worldwide.
Road cycling stars put cyclo-cross skills to good use
Current road cycling stars undoubtedly have a role to play in this growing popularity.
The Netherlands’ Mathieu van der Poel, who shone in this year’s Spring Classics with victories in A Travers La Flandre and Amstel Gold Race, is reigning and two-time cyclo-cross UCI World Champion. His cyclo-cross rival and three-time UCI World Champion Belgian Wout Van Aert made waves in his first appearance at the Tour de France this year, including a victory in the 10th stage from Saint Flour to Albi. French road cycling star Julian Alaphilippe also started off in cyclo-cross, with UCI World Championship medals as a Junior and Under 23 rider, as did Peter Sagan, Junior UCI World Champion in 2008.
Other incredibly successful cross-discipline athletes include the Netherlands’ Marianne Vos, Czech Zdeněk Štybar, the Dutch Mike Teunissen, the Italian Matteo Trentin … the list continues.
These athletes have stand-out bike handling skills thanks to their hours on the cyclo-cross bike. Skills that enable them to adapt quickly to changing conditions, manoeuvre their bikes with dexterity in the peloton and read race situations, even without the input of a race director.
Course for International Cyclo-cross Commissaires
As cyclo-cross continues to develop worldwide, the number of qualified International Commissaires is also on the increase.
The UCI’s next Cyclo-cross International Commissaire’s course, to be held next 11-13 October, will see the participation of 19 men and seven women from 16 nations.
At the end of the course they will sit a written and oral exam, followed by practical assessments during upcoming competitions.
Further indication of the globalisation of the discipline is the participation in this course of a Commissaire from Russia. Two of his country’s athletes are currently part of the UCI WCC cyclo-cross training camp, and for the first time in its history, Russia has registered its cyclo-cross National Championships on the UCI International Calendar.
Cyclo-cross is undoubtedly expanding both in terms of international reach and number of participants.