The dunes of Koksijde have long been a stronghold for Belgian cyclocross. When the world champs were held there in 2012, the top 7 riders were Belgian on a day where Niels Albert took a dominant win. The 2013/14 season has been different though, and we were interested to see if the internationals could break the duck at Duinencross (Dunecross).
With the first two rounds of the world cup in Valkenburg and Tabor having a mixed nationality podium in both men’s and women’s races, the 3rd round would really show whether the Belgian stronghold was being lost.
We like to think of Belgian Cyclocross as being dominated by mud, but Koksijde is sandy, on the dunes on the north coast of Belgium facing the North Sea. It has been unusually dry lately and that made the sand even looser and harder to ride than normal.
Katie Compton showed that she was best on the day, and currently best in the world by extending her lead in the series with a dominant win. Compton lead every lap and extended her lead at every opportunity, her white leader’s skinsuit just as brilliant on the final lap as the first. Sanne Cant used her power to ride where the others couldn’t and the Belgian champion crossed second for her biggest result of the season, while Nikki Harris picked up the final podium spot to lock down second in the Series standings.
The men’s race was exciting, with all the big names coming out to play and each trying to take their chances. Van der Haar, Nys, Vantornout, Pauwels, Walsleben, Mourey and van Kessel all tried to get away, but in the end, the powerful Belgian Niels Albert was able to reassert his dominance in the dunes. Behind him there was a 3 way battle for the podium, with Frenchman Francis Mourey, the German gun Phillip Walsleban and Sven Nys, viewers were treated to a display of raw power as Mourey and Walsleben tried to avoid sprinting against the wily World Champion, and Mourey looked to have cracked. Suddenly in the final turns the Frenchman was back on and lead the trio into the straight where he could not be beaten ahead of Walsleben. BrewCX favourite Lars Van der Haar had an unlucky day with mechanicals, breaking his shoe in another riders wheel, but his tenth place was enough for him to retain the series lead by just 2 point over Walsleben.
The talking points of this race are certainly around the sudden emergence of a host of international stars taking over from the previous couple of years of Belgian dominance. The last three world cup podiums have been filled with 3 different nations. Prior to this, the last time this happened even once was in January 2009 (thanks to @irishpeloton), when road stars Lars Boom and Zdenek Stybar were still racing ‘cross. Six of the top ten in the world standings are non-Belgian, which bodes well for the future of the sport. If ‘cross can give these guys a good career, and they are not tempted to follow Stybar and Boom to Classics glory, it is certainly an exciting future for fans of mud and running.