Cyclo-cross continues to push back its boundaries. China and Japan now have their own UCI events, while Australia and New Zealand have just created their national championships. The 2013-2014 UCI Cyclo-Cross World Cup reflects this openness: seventeen nations are listed in the rankings after two rounds. The Belgians, who usually dominate the discipline, are being challenged: they only lead the Junior Men table (with Eli Iserbyt), whereas the United States leads the Elite Women table (with Katherine Compton), and the Netherlands leads both the Elite Men (Lars Van Der Haar) and the Under-23 Men tables (Mathieu Van Der Poel).
If the best crossmen and crosswomen of the world are from increasingly diverse ethnic backgrounds, it is because the passion for the discipline is on the increase in many countries.
“Cyclo-cross has so many key elements working in its favour allowing it to capture more market share in the very competitive sports landscape,” analyses Mike Plant, President of the UCI Cyclo-Cross Commission. “Among these key elements are world-class athletes, challenging closed-circuit courses which create great spectator viewing opportunities, and shorter event times which are more conducive to every moment of the event having an impact on the end result. We should also mention the excitement and danger caused by the difficult terrain and elements, and the ability to draw spectators to the edge of the ropes and close to the action.”
First event in China, three in Japan
China responded to this trend by organising the first UCI event of its history on 21st September, in Yanqing, north of Beijing. Even the Great Wall could not stop the wave of cyclo-cross. The athletes of the China International Cyclo-Cross event were even invited, on the eve of the competition, to climb up this monument belonging to the World Heritage of Humanity. The line-up of 86 competitors represented 18 countries and four continents.
Among them were four Chinese – three men and one woman – who could well pass on their enthusiasm and quickly create a pool of national competitors instigated by the national federation, which appears to have appreciated the event. The organisers (Dalian Qiansen Sports Facilities Engineering Co, a firm specialised in the construction of velodromes and mountain bike and BMX tracks), had for their part fallen in love with cyclo-cross on the occasion of an event in Ronse (Belgium) in October 2010.
“Everything had to be impeccably organised,” emphasised Peter Van den Abeele, Manager Off-Road UCI. “The potential of cyclo-cross in this region is enormous when we consider the demographic potential of Beijing, with its 15 million inhabitants. China just needs time to develop and foster this positive evolution.”
Asia has a total of four UCI cyclo-cross competitions in 2013-2014, as Japan has registered two events; one in Nobeyama and one in Yasu City. In 2010, Japan had inaugurated its first event on the international calendar, in the sands of Daiba’s Park, in the bay of Tokyo. This race, which is associated with a cycling exhibition, attracted no less than 13,000 spectators last season. The country currently has two of its riders up in the World Cup rankings: Ayako Toyooka in Elite Women and Yu Takenouchi in Elite Men.
Oceania wants to attract fixie enthusiasts to cyclo-cross
Cyclo-cross is growing in popularity in the Pacific region. Evidence of this can be seen in New Zealand and Australia, which created their national championships in this discipline last summer. The first nation offers 44 national events, which take place between June and September and boasts singlespeed star Angus Edmond who is a deserving ambassador riding in the rounds of the current UCI World Cup. Australia also hopes to convert to cyclo-cross some enthusiasts from the fixie movement that has flourished in urban centres. In parallel it would like to initiate road and mountain-bike athletes into the discipline. In addition to its championship, this year it has also launched the National Cyclo-cross Series, in the form of six rounds that take place in Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney.
With 21 National Federations organising their championships in 2013-2014, and a total of 34 countries that have sent at least one athlete to the UCI World Championships for the past seven years, cyclo-cross is accelerating its internationalisation.
This trend could also affect new countries, such as Argentina, where investors have some projects on the go. This dynamic situation bodes well for the future development of cyclo-cross in South America.
The USA – from the Californian community to the 2013 Worlds
The northern part of the American continent has been won over for several years now. It can even be seen as a progressive model, as Mike Plant confirms: “Louisville, Kentucky was a great example of how the sport has developed outside of Europe. The American cyclo-cross calendar is now full of events throughout the fall and winter seasons.”
In its early phases in the USA, cyclo-cross was associated with peace and love, a philosophy that drives many current pioneers in Oceania. The first official national championships took place in 1963 in Chicago, and there was another event in 1975 in the San Francisco region. During the same period, BMX and mountain bike were represented by a community of enthusiasts in northern California.
Then came the explosion of cyclo-cross in the USA. The CrossVegas, inaugurated in 2007, was the event that set it off, soon attracting dozens of participants and more than 10,000 spectators to the circuit of the Desert Breeze Soccer Complex. Between 2005 and 2013, the number of international events taking place in the USA increased from 28 to 48. On the 2013-2014 calendar, 49 of international events organised for women will take place in the USA.
To encourage this progression, UCI awarded Louisville (Kentucky) the Cyclo-Cross World Championships 2013, the first to be organised outside of Europe. A total of 152 athletes competed to win the rainbow jersey, while the local population, in fancy dress and waving banners, was joyous and relaxed.
The training of athletes and commissaires
“Whether in the USA, in Europe, or in the rest of the world, no-one would have imagined such a boom in cyclo-cross even four years ago,” explains Peter Van den Abeele. “Our goal is that cyclo-cross reach another major milestone four years from now.”
Mike Plant confirms this view: “As the new President of the Cyclo-Cross Commission, I look forward to working with the professional teams and riders to explore those types of platforms and other ways of growing the sport, to the benefit of the key stakeholders. This will lead to enhanced interest from the media, sponsors and fans in current and new markets.”
UCI has chosen to support the progression of cyclo-cross by developing training programmes. On the occasion of the first event organised in China, a UCI international commissaire and a UCI technical delegate held a working session for twelve of the country’s national commissaires and a timekeeper.
This training programme is targeted at young talent from a variety of countries. For two years now, UCI has been offering a cyclo-cross training session to Juniors and Under-23s, in partnership with the World Cycling Centre. The progress achieved by these athletes seems to be bearing fruit: 15 of them are currently ranked in the World Cup, among whom the Czech rider Adam Toupalik, who was third in the Junior Men’s category.