Wout van Aert makes it two while Sophie de Boer makes up for last year
Spectators at the 2016 Clif Bar Cross Vegas UCI Cyclocross World Cup season opener, September 22, were treated to the most exciting bicycle race action yet seen at the Desert Breeze sports complex, on an uncharacteristically cool and humid evening that threatened thunderstorms throughout.
The weather may have remained calm, but in both the Elite Men’s and Elite Women’s Telenet World Cup races, on a shorter, tougher 2.8km course, electrifying battles enthralled the spectators.
Wout van Aert, the reigning UCI world cup and world champion, was heavily favored going into this race, coming off two consecutive victories at high profile events. He convincingly won the Clif Bar Cross Vegas last year, yet a repeat suddenly looked uncertain when he took a tumble on a stepped run-up early in the race. Michael Vanthourenhout decided to make the most of the opportunity and rode away from the field in a solo move that at one point had him around 20 seconds ahead of van Aert.
“I was not as concentrated as I should have been. It was a stupid crash,” said van Aert, who at the post-race press conference was still suffering pain from that fall. On remounting, his focus turned immediately to regaining control of the race and trackside spectators reported expressions ranging from indignation to anger animating his face.
Riding as van Aert put it “on adrenalin,” it was impressive how well he impersonated a maglev train, skimming over the Las Vegas grass as he cut through the deeply talented field with an ease that cannot have brought much joy to those that would seek to match him.
Van Aert soon made it to the head of the chase group and quickly rode clear, still on a mission to rein in the plucky Vanthourenhout. Laurens Sweeck was the only one capable of going with him at this point, and shared some of the work with the world champion.
“When Wout made it up to the front, I realized I had to go with him,” explained Sweeck, who was not willing to squander the opportunity.
Yet once van Aert came up within a few seconds of Vanthourenhout he eased the pace, apparently allowing the hard-charging chasers back into the race. Vanthourenhout was soon absorbed with van Aert briefly going to the front as if to let his compatriot know the game was up, and with names like Toon Aerts, Quinten Hermans, Rob Peeters, Dan Hoeyberghs and Tom Meeusen among a group of 14, the front of the race had a distinctly Belgian feel about it.
Sweeck was doing a lot of the work, but with less than three laps to go van Aert went to the front and attacked on the punishingly steep Hyper Threads staircase, taking only Vanthourenhout and Sweeck with him: apparently the three strongest riders on the night.
Van Aert didn’t stop attacking there. Sprinting into the Diamond Legal Group sandpit, which sloped uphill and awkwardly off-camber, the champion forced open a gap that grew massively when Vanthourenhout made an error, losing both his line and his balance.
From then on the gap opened at a surprisingly fast rate, and van Aert’s closest rivals must be wondering what it’s going to take to beat him this year.
The sandpit saw more attacking action a lap later, where Vanthourenhout opened a small gap over Sweeck and held it to the line.
“I looked back and Laurens was 20 meters behind me, so I just gave it everything, I was confident I could keep that gap,” he said.
Earlier in the evening, the women had brought the vocal crowd to fever pitch with a race of sustained uncertainty, ignited by the first lap attack of Clif Bar rider Catherine Pendrel, which went all the way to a thrilling three-rider sprint.
Pendrel went out so hard and fast that only three riders were in the chase group: two-times world cup winner Katie Compton (Trek), Pendrel’s team-mate Katerina Nash, and Dutch rider Sophie de Boer.
With Compton doing much of the work to slowly reel in Pendrel, and Nash not taking any turns on the front, it might have appeared that Pendrel was working for her team-mate, but Nash later refuted this saying “There’s never a plan! I knew Catharine was strong and she has great endurance. I thought she could do anything, so I just waited in the first few laps to see what happened.”
Compton was confident of catching Pendrel. “II wasn’t worried when Catharine Pendrel was leading. It was too early. When the lead approached 20-25 seconds I decided to shut it down,” she said, and that’s what she did.
After the catch, Pendrel didn’t stay long with the trio that had been chasing her, but these three riders were hard to separate.
On the last lap it seemed that de Boer had come unstuck, when she struggled on the steep Hyper Threads climb, letting a small gap open to her companions. “I thought it was all over when they gapped me, but then I saw them looking at each other and I knew I was faster than them through the sand. I knew I could close the gap.”
De Boer’s reunion with her race-long companions couldn’t be called friendly. She attacked both of them in a determined effort to be first on the tough Focus stairs leading up to the finish straight.
Event organizer Brook Watts had placed these stairs deliberately in an effort to break up any parties that arrived intact for the sprint to the line.
“I thought it was good to be first into the final step. But Sophie punched it by me and got there first. We all had the same idea, I guess,” said Nash after the finish.
For de Boer, those stairs were key. “I know I have an OK sprint, so I thought if I can reach the top of the stairs first, then I had a good chance,” she said. In the charge down the finish straight she never looked like being passed.
“I didn’t know what to expect coming into this race. Last year when I raced here I had OK form, but at the end of the first lap I was dead, I finished I don’t know how far back. So it was hard to have expectations coming here. It is very special to win, and it makes it well worth the trip here,” said de Boer.
It’s hard to imagine that anybody who attended the event disagreed it was well worth the trip. When you see race action like tonight’s, it’s immediately clear why cyclocross is such a popular sport.
2016 Start List
Wheelers and Dealers presented by Kask Helmets
Results and standings will be available shortly after the finish of each event.
2016 TV Schedule
Tip Sheet for World Cup CrossVegas
No doubt you agree that the odds makers would have a difficult picking the winners of Clif Bar CrossVegas, the kickoff event of the Telenet UCI World Cup Cyclo-Cross series that takes place Wednesday evening September 21 under the lights of Las Vegas.
What makes the pick so difficult? The strong field of international racers, the unpredictable nature of the early season and the unusual element of surprise that the desert climate plays on racers are all factors.
In a city that’s built on gambling, it’s a tough choice to pick a winner. But for the fan, the odds are in their favor for a great viewing experience.
Wout Van Aert (Belgium) – Van Aert had a record-setting 2015 season. Winner of CrossVegas 2015. Reigning World Champion. Winner of the 2015 overall World Cup title. Now, with a “W” in his record last Sunday on the legendary Geraardsbergen course, expect another fast start to the season for the young Crelan - Vastgoed Service team rider.
Michael Vanthourenhout (Belgium) – The young Flandrien was the early animator of CrossVegas 2015 and held on to take the 3rd spot on the podium after Van Aert and the now retired legend Sven Nys. Vanthourenhout combines skill, youth and a blazing start so watch for his Marlux-Napoleon Games uniform among the leaders.
Jeremy Powers (USA) – Winner of CrossVegas in 2012 and current US national champion, Powers was within striking range with a 6th place finish last year. He’s already starting the US schedule with a win, and if revenge and the desire to start the new season with a “pow,” count for anything, keep an eye on J-Pow.
Tom Meeusen (Belgium) – The Belgian strongman, who has uncorked some great rides over the years, looks to prove himself to his new team owner, Sven Nys. The Telenet-Fidea team has taken the nickname “Lions” in their title and Tom is eager to show who’s the king of the jungle.
Laurens Sweeck (Belgium) – Quickly gaining ground, this young ERA Real Estate – Murprotec team rider has proved he can be an animator of any race. His 7th place finish at the World Championships in 2015 was no fluke as he showed consistency season long.
Rob Peeters (Belgium) – Rob missed CrossVegas in 2015 with an illness, but the Crelan- Vastgoed Service ride is back, with a victory in the Chinese season opener race in late August in his account. No stranger to the grassy parcours of CrossVegas, Peeters has raced here two times before with a 3rd place in the 2011 edition.
Jen Adams (Belgium) – With a 2nd place finish in in China two weeks ago, the Crelan -Vastgoed Service rider shows his top 10 finish at CrossVegas 2015 was no fluke. He can start the season strong with a solid place in Las Vegas.
Kevin Pauwels (Belgium) – A former winner of the overall world cup title, the Marlux-Napoleon Games can be expected among the leaders in any race. His 5th place finish in 2015, and podium finish at the 2015 World Championships, shows he is never far from the action.
Thijs Van Amerongen (Netherlands) –Van Amerongen is part of the powerhouse Telenet-Fidea Team that enjoys starting the year in Las Vegas and always has good team results. Expect that streak to continue with this Dutch strong man.
Curtis White (USA) – A top 20 finish in CrossVegas 2015 and a strong road season behind him, expect a power performance from the Cannondale- Cyclocross World rider.
In any Tip Sheet, it’s worth mentioning a few who will not make the start line this year. 2013 & 2014 winner Sven Nys is now retired but still present on the sideline with his Telenet-Fidea Lions Team. Also missing is Lars Van der Haar, another previous winner of CrossVegas, who is recovering from tendonitis and resting for the long winter season ahead. Two-time CrossVegas winner, Ryan Trebon has hung up the bike over the summer in favor of retirement. Perhaps most prominent among non-starters is Mathieu Van der Poel, who is recovering from double knee surgery over the summer. While these strongmen will be absent, don’t expect a let up in the pace. World Cup series points are at stake and the prestige of winning the biggest cross race outside of Europe is a big motivator.
Katerina Nash (Czech Republic) – Reigning champion of CrossVegas and a 3-time winner, there has perhaps never been a CrossVegas winner who made the grueling race look as easy as a pleasant ride in the park. The only time Nash has not stood on the CrossVegas podium in the event’s ten-year history was the single year she did not start. Looking for consistency, start with Nash.
Eva Lechner (Italy) – Now with the Luna team, Lechner took the 2nd place spot in the 2015 World Cup CrossVegas. The heavy course with the Velcro-like grass did nothing to slow down Lechner, so expect her to return with a vengeance.
Sanne Cant (Belgium) – Cant rounded out the CrossVegas podium in 2016 with her 3rd place finish. She charged hard through the 2016 season taking the European Champion title and the overall World Cup series title, but fell short at the World Championships with a third place finish. Her stated goal this season is to capture the one jersey that has eluded her – the rainbow jersey of World Champion. Her sprint finish at the Geraardsbergen race this past week shows her form is good.
Catherine Pendrel (Canada) – A relative newcomer to cross who shared the 2013 CrossVegas podium with her Luna teammate Nash. Coming from a season of mountain bike racing, you can expect a lot of power from her diminutive build.
Caroline Mani (France) – The French rider with the American Clement-Raleigh squad finished her 2016 season with a well-earned Silver medal at the World Championships. And opened her 2016 season account with a win in Rochester. Never count out Mani in a tough race like CrossVegas.
Katie Compton (USA) – Winner of the World Cup title two times, the top gun of America’s cross scene returns to CrossVegas. Expect her to return to her usual dominating style, especially if she gains a length or two on the others.
Katie Antonneau (USA) – Often called “the other Katie,” this one is from new crop of US cross racers. Fresh off a win in the season-opening race in Rochester NY, expect this young blood from the talent rich Cannondale – Cyclocross World Team to make her mark.
Maghalie Rochette (Canada) – Another Luna pro who has come on strong in a relatively short cross career who comes straight from a long mountain bike season. If her form carries through to CrossVegas, you can expect a strong finish.
Georgia Gould (USA) – No stranger to CrossVegas or the CrossVegas podium, you can expect both fireworks and a knack for making every race a fun event from Georgia.
Elle Anderson (USA) – The latest American rider to make the commitment to a European-based season, CrossVegas is one of her last races before departing for Europe. That means going out with a bang to score valuable points and prove to the Europeans she’s one to watch.
Handicapping the women’s field has to include making a note of the “No-Shows” like World Champion Thalita De Jong of the Netherlands, who has a road season to complete before joining the cyclocross ranks. Also absent is Great Britain’s Helen Wyman, who is resting before kicking off her campaign. These strong riders will be missed but don’t expect the action to be any calmer once the start light goes green.
Apex Coaching Training Tips
Each Week CrossVegas partner Apex Coaching will present training tips to prepare you for cross season and some of the unique features of the CrossVegas course at Desert Breeze Soccer Complex in Las Vegas. Coach Grant Hollicky presents Tuesday Training tips to prep you for CrossVegas and the entire cross season.
The cyclocross start. Big Gear, Little gear. Seated or standing. Push off or pushdown.
So many options and so many questions.
Much of this is pretty personal and takes some time to figure out, but we at APEX hope we can give some guidance. For more insight we turned to APEX athlete and Clif Bar rider Brady Kappius for some insight:
"Gear choice is key. You want a low one to get a great burst off the line, but not one that spins you out too quickly" Brady also talks about power being secondary and learning how to work through the cassette as you sprint. "Shifting to progressively harder gears through the sprint ensures that you continue to accelerate and get to top speed."
The question of seated or not seated at the start is very personal. Hard to say one is better than the other for everyone. Just be sure you can hit the second pedal stroke pushing on the pedal. Not down to hit set the cleat, but forward into the pedal stroke without concern for getting in. There is plenty of time for that, but you never get that first several strokes back as they are the key to acceleration.
Now that you are up to speed, there are an additional set of challenges:
Most starts are in two pieces. Start, then secondary effort. Everyone gets off the line pretty well ,barring pedal issues, but not everyone finishes the start sprint. Too many racers lose places as they relax before they hit the first turn. Stay on the gas through that turn to hold that spot and look for openings as they develop throughout the opening straight. There are lots of chances to take places as they open through the sprint and through the first turn.
The big effort at the beginning is worth the energy to establish your position in the field in the first lap.
Last week we spent some time on the issue of run training for cyclocross. This week we will look at the cause of a good bit of that running...barriers and stairs.
CrossVegas has 4 sets of stairs and one set of barriers/planks on its course. For the mortals among us, all of the obstacles are running obstacles. If you have the skill to ride these, you are at a distinct advantage. However, if and only if, they can be ridden with certainty. The old adage is, unless you are 100% sure you will be successful, don't try it. The risk/return has to be low risk, because if you make a mistake, your race and maybe your season, are over.
Let's say you're hopping is good but not great. What's the key to keeping the gap small to those
who can ride them or how do you gap the rest of us who are in the same boat?
The answer is Foot Speed
Barriers are about the entrance speed and more importantly the exit or rather the retention of momentum. Practice coming into the barriers at high speed and dismounting while carrying that speed. Stepping through or not stepping through (my apologies to the purists) is irrelevant. How can you get over the first plank with all your momentum. Quick feet are a must.
As you clear the boards either lift the bike or tilt the bike to clear them. Keep it low. This keeps the energy output low and also allows your body to stay in line which helps keep the speed. As soon as possible after clearing the second barrier mount the bike. Easier said than done I know, but the more speed you mount with, the easier time you will have being on the gas out of the obstacle.
Practice makes perfect and repetition fuels practice. Our athletes start the season with one day a week in which they will total 40-80 mounts and dismounts in a session. Start slow and get comfortable and then work your way up in speed.
Riding sand is a skill that can be developed with practice and with focused attention. There are few things that are key for riding sand well, but they are a bit counter intuitive and you will have to actively think about them. The CrossVegas course featured some really fluffy sand in 2015 and this year the challenge will be taken to a whole new level with the sand dune.
There are 3 main technical aspects of riding sand
1. Keep the weight back. As you enter the sand section be sure to be on the saddle and weighting the rear wheel. This will help keep that wheel driving into the sand and provide traction and grip.
2. Steer with the body, not the arms. In fact, steer with the hips. Watching elite riders in the sand is like watching modern dance. Their bodies, hips and knees are going every which way in order to keep the wheels in the rut and moving in a straight line. If you try and steer with the handlebars, the sand grabs the front wheel and you've got problems.
3. Let the bike go where it wants. Steer the front wheel into the rut you want and then let the sand do the work. The sand and the established ruts and lines will take you where they want you to go. Enjoy the ride.
On top of these three things are the two all including themes.
Relax and Pedal Hard!!!
To Run or Not To Run
When it comes to cyclocross training , how to training for the off bike parts of racing are hotly debated. Some say to log miles running, some say run training isn't important. This is how we approach run training for cyclocross at APEX.
In my opinion, the important aspects of running in cyclocross are foot speed and agility. The early season could definitely contain some base energy level running in order to have the muscles ready for the impact of faster running. We have many of our athletes go for an easy run once a week up to the start of the season. This readies the muscles of the legs and has the added benefit of helping strengthen the skeletal system. We also do an off bike strength session one to two times a week. Ours is led by endurance sports strength specialist Erin Carson at RallySport in Boulder, but you can find similar session nationwide.
With strength and running musculature prepared our athletes will perform one to two workouts a week of sustained uphill running (for strength) and/or uphill sprinting for leg speed and strength. As in our on bike sprints, foot speed and cadence are focus points during these sprints. We also use rugged off road terrain for these sprints in order to get used to the unbalanced nature of running of the bike in cross.
These short running session are crucial in preparation for the CrossVegas course at Desert Breeze Park. Unless you have the bunny hopping ability of the Elite riders, you will be off the bike at high speed 2-3 times per lap. Quick feet are crucial to navigating the stairs and barriers at CrossVegas and in most cyclocross courses.
Cyclocross is a style of racing in which power and leg strength are very important. From the start, to short, intense climbs and racing out of the barriers and corners, top end power is a must.
This is particularly important in the energy-sapping grass of Desert Breeze Soccer Complex, the venue of CrossVegas.
Try adding short (20-40) second effort at a full effort to you training program. Take a lot of rest (3-4 min) between the efforts in order to maintain the highest quality and watts. Perform some of the efforts standing and some seated.
These efforts will help make you legs stronger and raise the power they are able to put out.
Leg Speed and Cyclocross
Cyclocross is all about being able to react quickly and explosively to the terrain and the riders around you. This is one of the reasons our athletes train and race at high rpm's. This allows them to accelerate quicker out of corners and to attack the hills and contours of any course.
CrossVegas is a perfect example of this. The frequent changes in elevations, barriers and 180's require correct gear selection into the feature so the rider can easily get to speed out of it. Watch for the best riders to spin their way out of corners or the barriers and strung out the field behind them.
Train your legs by spending the majority of your training at a cadence of 90-100 rpm's. Also try adding in some 30 sec to 1 min efforts at a very high cadence (120+) as well. Finally, practice prepping your gears into obstacles and corners so you can exit with a high cadence and a higher acceleration.
Complete details about Apex Coaching available HERE