The Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) is reportedly grappling with a downturn in attendance at the Cyclocross World Cup events this season, which have seen declining visitor numbers. In a bid to overshadow other cyclocross competitions, the UCI overhauled its system to create an international and financially appealing competition. Despite these efforts, the desired impact has not materialised. However, Mathieu van der Poel’s cyclocross schedule has been a beacon of hope amidst challenging times for the cycling federation.
Addressing the situation, UCI chief Peter Van den Abeele shared his concerns with Sporza, expressing his dismay at riders who prioritise rest or other classifications at the expense of the World Cup. The dilemma poses questions about whether World Cup performance should be more rewarding in terms of points and whether the World Cup calendar should be condensed, allowing all top riders to participate from December through to the final weekend before the World Cup.
This season, Van der Poel and his team Alpecin-Deceuninck have announced a programme that will see the star compete in all six World Cup races from December 22 through to the World Cup. This includes participation in Antwerp, Gavere, Hulst, Zonhoven, Benidorm, and Hoogerheide, with Van der Poel only missing the Dublin event last season due to a training trip.
Divergent Preferences Among Teams
Within the cyclocross community, there is a difference in preferences for which events to participate in. Sven Nys, manager of Baloise Trek Lions, has noted his team’s inclination towards Flemish classics over foreign World Cup races. He emphasised that while the World Cup is influential, it should not undermine the importance of other races. He argues that some races like Ruddervoorde, with its rich history, should be given priority scheduling to ensure full attendance and participation of top riders. According to Nys, the current schedule forces riders to make difficult choices, which he finds regrettable.
Van der Poel’s Late Start and Race Selection
Nys has pointed to Van der Poel’s schedule as evidence of the strain the current system puts on riders. Despite participating in World Cup events, Van der Poel will skip several races in the X2O Trophy and Superprestige series, showing his lack of discrimination between different race classifications. The Dutch national coach Gerben de Knegt has remarked that timing is not a significant concern, as Van der Poel has an extensive programme and is making an effort for the World Championships. Sven Vanthourenhout, the Belgian selection manager, also understands Van der Poel’s choices, noting that Wout van Aert’s programme is expected to be similar.
Nys and Vanthourenhout on the Cyclocross Future
Nys sees the cyclocross calendar, which focuses primarily on December and January, as a limitation, suggesting a potential expansion in America with races like Waterloo in October. Vanthourenhout, on the other hand, believes that while top riders like Van der Poel and Van Aert may not participate as frequently, the emergence of new stars such as Thibau Nys brings excitement to the sport.
The cyclocross world is thus faced with the challenge of balancing a packed calendar, maintaining the prestige of classic races, and adapting to the evolving participation patterns of top riders. Despite the challenges, there is an acknowledgement of the need to foster new talent and maintain excitement within the sport.