Euro Cyclocross Update – Part 1

Gazet van Antwerpen Trophy Koppenberg 2011
Cyclocross has gained an enormous following in Australia throughout the past year. Race organisers such as Dirty Deeds CX, Trailmix, Port Adelaide, Illawarra and Ipswich cycling clubs have been doing a tremendous job at growing the scene and it's only getting bigger.

For those of you already hooked on cross you’ll already have been closely watching the European race calendar, but I think it’s worth providing some updates for those of you who aren’t intently following it. My apologies in advance for dumbing this down so that more than just the hardcore fans can get up to speed.

Euro Calendar

As far as the significant races go, there are three different series each containing eight races: the World Cups, The GvA Trophy, and the Superprestige. So far this season there have been three World Cups (Plzen, Tabor and Koksijde), one GvA Trophy race (Koppenbergcross), and five Superprestiges that have taken place so far. You can see the full calendar and up-to-date results below:

The Contenders

This is really easy. You basically need to remember five riders to know all the top names of Cyclocross: Sven Nys, Zdenek Stybar, Kevin Pauwels and Niels Albert. Oh, and we can’t forget about Jeremy Powers and Jonathan Page, the lone Americans having a crack. No Aussies in there yet, but just wait five years…

In the first of a three part series throughout the season, local CX nut Paul Aubrey is going to bring us up to speed on what’s happening in the Euro cross scene as well as a few of the technical details. By the end of this post you’ll be hooked.

Euro Cyclocross Update Part 1

by Paul Aubrey

Here at CyclingTips we are going to take some time to examine some of the critical factors of a cyclocross race. This is the first part of our coverage of the 2011-2012 European cyclocross season.

The Start

The start is vital in ‘cross, much like mountain biking it’s a drag race off the line to get the hole-shot into the first corner.  Don’t worry, the corner will not be too tight, the UCI manual states that the decisive first corner must not be more than 90 degrees.  With this in mind you can understand that being on the front row is advantageous; it just doesn’t help if the cameraman is still in the way when the gun goes. For the record Niels Albert in the Belgian National Champion kit “recovered” to finish 8th in the Plzen World Cup.

So how do you actually get on the front row of the start grid? Riders are ranked based on the number of UCI points that they have accrued. That being said, to even make it to the start line for a World Cup, you need to be selected by your national federation.  Each nation has a limit of 8 spots plus the World Champion and/or World Cup leader.  This explains why the field is usually less than 100 riders, with only 8 or 9 Belgian on the start line. This is much more civilised than MTB World Cups that have seen 200 plus riders fighting it out on the start loop. Once the gun has gone and the leaders have made it through the first corner. The first lap is typically really quick, to string the field out in single file. Usually the select lead group forms.

Plzen World Cup – Czech Republic

In the first round of the UCI World Cup in Plzen on October 16th, natural attrition slowly saw the lead group whittled down after multiple attacks from the heads of state.  Going into the last lap it was World Champion Zdenek Stybar, Kevin Pauwels and Sven Nys at the front of the race.  It was looking like coming down to a sprint finish.

So what would be the tactics for a small group to contest the finish?  The important considerations for the Plzen course are that the stairs are within the last 200m and the final corner is 100 metres out from the line.  If I were in the lead group, I would want to be the first rider onto the stairs.

Now back to the racing.  In the closing stages of the last lap Nys jumped from third wheel to lead the group into a hairpin. Stybar asserted control and lead the group into the stairs, he looked over this shoulder to assess the damage.  There was none.  At the top Nys was marginally quicker back onto the bike, he dived through the door left ajar by Stybar.  Nys was the first rider out of the last corner and won the sprint comfortably.  Looking at the finish retrospectively, it was interesting that Nys choose to sprint from the left to right hand side of the road.

  1. 1. Sven Nys
  2. 2. Kevin Pauwels
  3. 3. Zdenek Stybar
  4. 4. Francis Mourey
  5. 5. Klaas Vantornout


Tabor World Cup – Czech Republic

A week later, the elite field lined up for the second World Cup at Tabor.  Local hero and World Champion Zdenek Stybar was the crowd favourite. Tabor was an extremely fast race, once the gap opened it was game over.

Kevin Pauwels rode a brilliant race riding the last 6 laps off the front, slowly extending his advantage.  Early in the race he featured in an attack with Stybar, who at this time flatted for the second time. The simple action of Stybar changing bikes left Kevin out in front to ride away to victory.

It wasn’t Stybar day; he ended up making two bike changes after flats, which probably cost him victory.  Unlike crit racing you can’t have a lap out with a mechanical; you need to ride into the pits to make a bike change.

In the women’s race Katerina Nash who also races as a mountain biker deserves a special mention for a home win at Tabor.


  1. 1. Kevin Pauwels
  2. 2. Zdenek Stybar
  3. 3. Klaas Vantornout
  4. 4. Francis Mourey
  5. 5. Sven Nys


Equipment Selection and Preparation

The first Superprestige round in Ruddervoorde on October 9th was an education in preparation. Dropped chains ruined Nys’ race. I will make the bold statement; the inability to recover from such a situation without stopping is a function of DI2.  This is based on observations of my only riding buddy with DI2, even with a friendly push along he is unable to recover from a dropped chain without stopping or at least taking your hands off the bars.  A chain catcher such as those make by K-edge easily solves the problem. I personally endorse this product, after four years use I have never had an unrecoverable dropped chain.

Another amusing mechanical issue was Niels Albert who complained that his pedal tension was too tight. Which, I may hazard a guess was a result of not doing a warm up lap on the race bike.  It was easily fixed but took a few laps to tell the mechanic, change bikes and change back to the preferred bike.   At least he took personal responsibility for the issue and didn’t blame his mechanic.

GVA Trofee – Koppenbergcross – Belgium

GvA Trofee – Koppenbergcross (in Aussie, the Antwerp Gazette Trophy) is one of my favourite races of the season. The circuit features the cobbled climb of the Koppenberg and some gnarly off camber paddock sections, which saw even the world’s best riders tripoding through the switchbacks.

The Koppenbergcross was a great case study for the importance of tyre selection. When the rain started to fall both Stybar and Nys choose to swap bikes mid race to roll on what they thought to be the suitable Rhino tread pattern.  This proved to be a costly decision for both as they really struggled after the bike change; it simply wasn’t muddy enough.  Both sacrificed cornering confidence for advantage in the mud that didn’t eventuate.  Pauwels took victory from Nys and Stybar. Nys was trying to go one better than Lance and take 8 consecutive Koppenbergcross’.


  1. 1. Kevin Pauwels
  2. 2. Sven Nys
  3. 3. Zdenek Stybar
  4. 4. Bart Aernouts
  5. 5. Tom Meeusen

The Rhino is the mud tread pattern from Dugast’s tubular range. Pretty much the entire cross elite ride Dugast, whether branded or not.  As the story goes, J-Pow (Jeremy Powers for all of you who haven’t seen Behind the Barriers) insisted on riding Dugast when he joined the Rapha-Focus team this year. The team isn’t sponsored, they choose to buy them.  In case you need another example of how amazing Dugast tubular must be (I say must be, as I have never ridden them myself), Maxxis sponsored MTBer come ‘cross rider Geoff Kabush has Dugast custom make tubulars for him based on his Maxxis tread patterns.

Skills of a ‘Cross Rider

Cyclo cross is somewhere between road racing and mountain biking. Lars Boom is one of the few ‘cross riders who has successfully made the transition to the road.  Racing in the off-season obviously has its challenges.

I remember watching footage of Paris Roubaix from the early 2000’s.  Sven Nys, then riding for Rabobank, featured at the front of the bunch as they raced through the Trouée d’Arenberg.  He was up there with the best of the roadies but lacked the endurance to feature in the finale.  Fast forward to 2009 and I was able to see Nys riding up close at the World MTB Champs in Canberra.  Nys got a great start and was up in the top 5 for the first hour of the race but faded to 14th.  He rode the extremely technical sections but was nowhere near as smooth as the likes of Nino Schurter and Julien Absalon.

Now throw Nys onto the sand dunes of Koksidje and you have a completely different story; it is the domain of the ‘cross specialist.  Last weekend, Koksidje was the venue for the third World Cup of the season.  It will also host the World Championships in January on the same course.

Koksidje World Cup – Belgium – Race Summary

Saturday’s racing was simply amazing.  The display of raw power when riding the sand was a sight to behold.  Each lap the riders would fight for the critical position of being first wheel into the sandpit.  The major selection of the race was when Nys managed to ride the entire major sand pit.  Rather than taking the low line he started high a dropped down when he lost momentum.  Instantly he had a huge gap over Pauwels, Aeernouts and Stybar who were off and running. (1hr 6mins in full race replay)  On the final sand pit, Pauwels capitalized on a Nys mistake and closed the gap by the end of the section.  As is frequently the case in ‘cross, small mistakes can be very costly, however this time both mistakes seemed to cancel out and Pauwels and Nys were together for a sprint finish.

That Sprint Finish

The finish in Koksidje is best described as controversial.  As he did in Plzen, Nys started his sprint on the left hand side of the road and ended up on the right.  Watch the footage and draw your own conclusion. The sprint starts at 1hr 24 min into the replay and racing starts at 21minutes.

Once you have seen the video have a look at the photos from the reverse angle. I will let you be the judge…

Hopefully the UCI will have an overhead replay ready for the world championships, just in case.

  1. 1. Sven Nys
  2. 2. Kevin Pauwels
  3. 3. Bart Aernouts
  4. 4. Zdenek Stybar
  5. 5. Tom Meeusen

Stay tuned for our next Eurocross update on December 27 when the weather starts turning foul!

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Showing 5 entries

  • Jonathan.

    Great write up. Thanks.

  • Thomas

    Top photo – That’s some bunny hop !!!

  • Sven Nijs

    My wife is getting sick of hearing Sportzas Dutch commentary coming from the office in the evening…
    From recent races Pauwels is looking good, Nys is coming on form while Stybar is looking laboured.
    Bart Wellens isn’t firing yet but he’s always smiling & laughing when interviewed and seems a top bloke.

  • SammyEdwards

    Some coverage on SBS would be awesome

  • Priestie

    Great reading , thanks.


  • BigMatt

    Anyone know where you can watch these races live online?

  • Andy Logan

    Awesome information on CX, love it.

    Also check out the following blog on CX, my mate from England that I ride with recommended it, its pretty awesome. It has a lot of the videos from the above blog post, but other posts as well.

  • Slhaydon

    how does the anatomy of a X bike vary from a road bike other than the obvious wheels (?) tyres, brakes? no getting lazy cleaning these bikes after every ride too I guess!?

  • Robert Merkel

    How about some Flemish country pop to go with your cyclocross (H/T The Inner Ring)…

  • Greg Murison

    What Paul has failed to mention is that he is so obsessed by ‘cross, that he has organised a 3 race Cyclocross series in Perth this summer. First race of the ‘Sweat and Sand CX’ is this saturday at Claremont Showgrounds, 4pm. $10

  • Notso Swift

    Skills of Cross riders are impressive, even when they get it wrong

    Surprised you didn’t mention that Niels was taken out by a car, hence his not featuring in the latest events

  • Sugar Ray

    Hi, I am new to mountain bikes sport and this look exciting and fun. The race is
    amazing and the skills performed by the bikers are superb. I am looking forward
    for more reports.

  • Hardo

    Watched a UK Cross race recently somewhere on the interweb, [Rapha I think] where riders could take a shortcut if they skulled a Tequila. Good dirty fun. What I got from the article was that Cross in the US was peppered with a little more fun and the UK were slowly adopting that style of racing. Not sure what the Aussies prefer… although I can take a guess?

    Could have used some fatter thins this morning… chubby tropical rain and fermented Mangos with seeds the size of cagged eggs laying like land mines on the tarmac make for some “clenched” riding.

  • Hardo
  • Anonymous

    Having watched the last lap and a half on Saturday, I thought Nys’ move in the sprint was one of the biggest chop-ups I ever saw!!

  • Guest

    Awesome article, thanks heaps.

  • Anonymous

    Then there is Joey, who gets it so wrong.

  • Nikcee

    increasingly the bikes are very similar. the big differences at the top end are:
    - more clearance for wider tyres
    - canti brake mounts
    - the ever-controversial bottom bracket drop (it used to be higher than road, but its now a source of much argument)
    - carbon is a lot more recent a development for frames…
    -wider bars
    - much smaller chainrings (usually 34-36 for the small and 42-46 for the front)

    people tend to run a more upright position as well.

  • Justin

    FWIW SBS did run Euro Cx races back in the 90s IIRC but haven’t shown them for some time.

  • Nikcee

    I can give you a hint about Australia’s preferences (or at least Vics)

    The North American races are a much more participatory scene with racers as fans, whereas in Europe its very much your average bogan (fat, smoking and drunk) fan. however races like koppenbergcross will get 20K  people turnout.

  • Notso Swift

    LOL sensational!

  • Nikcee

    interestingly it was perfectly legal under UCI cx rules which dont cover appropriate behaviour for sprints.
    this is a good summary of why:

    IMO he shut the door, but didnt endanger pauwels. as Paul says, Nys regularly drifts across the straight when sprinting for the finish and apparently there was a lot of cross wind.  as one of the commenters says on pavepavepave ‘Sven knows how to win, and if that means shutting the door in the
    sprint, fine. It seemed pretty clear early in the sprint that Sven was
    moving over to his right, but Kevin continued to try to go that way.
    Even when Sven was already up against the the barriers, Kevin was still
    trying to fit in there. Kevin brought a knife to a gun fight.’

    Interestingly Pauwels didnt actually lodge a formal protest about it…

  • Nikcee

    Nice work… this season in both the US and Europe is looking pretty good with pauwels finally coming into the form the last few years have hinted at.

    my bet is that styby will come good soon enough (much like ‘winless timmy’ finally did over the pond). he has had a harder season with his first PRO season on the road and like Marianne Vos he is probably still recovering.

    other notable road Pros who are (or were) very handy cx riders are: john gadret (AG2R), steve chainel (FDJ and whose wife is getting podiums in the womens elite races as well) and peter sagan. old mate chris horner isnt afraid to toe the line with cantis either, and ted king (liquigas) wreaked havoc in the new england area earlier this season.

    for my mind the real battle this year will be in the women… vos has had a huge year on the road and compton is really targeting the worlds. we have also seen some outstanding performances from van der brand (including beating vos @ koksidje) and van passen (moreso earlier in the season) so it might be a quite the race come january.

  • Will

    There is also some Cross racing in Sydney this Saturday. Put on by Manly Warringah Cycling Club the race is held up at Terrey Hills. The first of 4 for the summer. More info over at

  • Chadwick

    Ive been staying up late every sunday to watch the cyclocross races. Im in love with it and i think Australia needs more of it :) Brunswick did a stella job, we just need more….and with this weather its perfect time for a Melbourne Summer series :P

  • Vincent Flanagan

    A comprehensive review and much appreciated.
    I just had a great weekend at Nobeyama cross in Nagano, Japan. Following on from a  tough race the weekend before in Yasu near Kyoto. The cross racing scene in Japan is alive and healthy. I have raced CX here for over 10 years. Anyone interested in a Cross Race / cycling tour of Japan in November 2012 let me know [email protected]

  • Danielj4

    Totally right Justin. SBS was way cooler then than now.I have all those CX worlds races on VHS. Excitement over the TDF and Tour of California even has been excessive in recent years. How can Australia pretend to be one of the world leaders in Cycling if Cycling Australia does not encourage CX?

  • Mark Hester

    I was lucky enough to head over to Belgium on the weekend for the World Cup and it was an awesome event, the dirty deeds guys are onto the right idea just need 9000 more spectators! The track looked incredibly difficult, there was no contention on disk brakes or not as they didn’t need to use the brakes because every corner was basically a sand pit!

    One of the highlights was the beer hall with flags, singing and kongo lines in between races.

  • pinarello413

    love the laugh!

  • Nikcee

    Adelaide has their CXTwilite series going (including a race during TDU).

    Whispers have been heard about Trailmix doing a night series @ Westgate or nearby…

    It’d have to be after dark as I can tell you that racing cross in temps above 20C increases the pain factor exponentially (as people who raced the last couple of Cross Melburn races will attest).

  • tED

    Koksijde, not Koksidje. The ij-combo is a Dutch language version of the y.

  • tED

    Koksijde, not Koksidje. The ij-combo is a Dutch language version of the y.

  • Pro_rider

    This is what happens when you think you’re a pro rider. Bloody newbies.

  • Anonymous

    Never realised the sprint laws didn’t apply in the same way – mind you, it makes sense since a CX sprint and a road sprint are such different animals.

  • binotto

    Good article Paul!

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