By Paul Skilbeck
Utah resident Jamey Driscoll Finishes 28th
Another chapter in the global spread of cycle sport began with emphatic victories for Belgium’s Wout Van Aert and Czech Katerina Nash when 120 Elite cyclists from 20 countries contested the first-ever North American UCI Cyclocross World Cup race, the Clif Bar CrossVegas on September 16, 2015.
It was an auspicious start for World Cup cyclocross in North America. A crowd estimated at over 12,000 showed up to watch the night-time race, the competition was fast, tactical and exciting, and the strong international field of athletes commented on how much they enjoyed racing in front of these noisy, yet non-partisan spectators.
Raleigh Clement rider Jamey Driscoll commented on the depth of the field and the course, “It was so deep. It seemed like the first half seemed easy. But then when they wanted to race big gaps were opening. This surface, even though it’s flat, unless you’ve ridden it, it's so deceiving how challenging and sapping it is. It’s similar to mud or climbing. The gaps establish on a flat course much faster than you think.” He commented, “Everyone says that the American crowds are way more enthusiastic. They definitely are… Racing a big race on home soil is pretty amazing!”
With desert winds raking the grassy venue for the night-time race, the men’s field formed large, fast-moving groups. “It seems like it’s a really course with a lot of obstacles, but it’s not at all easy. The ground is really heavy. It’s a power course. You have to be pushing hard on the pedals always,” said race winner Van Aert (Vastgoedservice-Golden Palace). Veterans of this venue are familiar with the energy-sapping grass that comprises almost 100% of the 3.3km course. The only respite was a sand pit.
Driscoll had a slow start off the line, getting stuck behind a rider who couldn’t get into their pedal, and then got caught up behind “another half dozen at least crashes in front of me.”
Michael VanThourenhout (Sunweb-Napoleon Games), one of the emergent generation of Belgian and Dutch stars, lit up the race with a third-lap attack, riding away from a huge bunch of fast-moving riders and quickly opened a gap of 30 seconds.
Two-time winner at Cross Vegas, Sven Nys, bided his time for a couple more laps then set off in pursuit with Van Aert. “When I went to the front, I saw it was the right moment, the strongest rider in the peloton was on my wheel, I went, he went with me and we did a time trial to close the gap as soon as possible. It was good to have just the two of us escape from the peloton,” said Nys.
The gap was closed in under a lap and the leading trio stayed together for almost two laps, until Van Aert made his move.
“The hardest part of the course had three climbs close together so I attacked there,” said Van Aert, who quickly opened up a lead with his well-timed effort. “When I was alone in the last two laps it was really hard to keep my pace, and I was happy to see the finish line,” he said.
Nys’ move had blown the peloton apart, and US national champion, Jeremy Powers, took advantage. “When Sven went away I had got swarmed and was too far back to go with him, so I had to force my own move, and it was great to be able to do that,” he said. Two riders went with Powers: young Dutch star Lars Van der Haar (Giant-Alpecin), and Belgian veteran Kevin Pauwels (Sunweb-Napoleon Games). Having done much of the work in the early part of this move, Powers was left a little short in the closing meters and had to settle for sixth place, but nonetheless was satisfied with his night’s work.
“It was a different level than years past because the depth of talent in the field was so much greater, and it felt great to be wearing the national champion’s jersey in the first cyclocross world cup in America,” he said.
Driscoll came in a respectable 28th place at 3:03 back. Utah rider Jonathan Page rolled a tire, and ended up finishing one lap down.
Women’s winner Katarina Nash (Luna) maintains her Czech nationality, but after several years living in the USA, by now Americans regard the San Francisco resident as one of their own.
The women’s race had boiled down to a leading group of five riders: Nash, Italian champion Eva Lechner, Belgian champion Sanne Cant, Georgia Gould (Luna), of the USA, and Canada’s Catherine Pendrel (Luna). Then with 1.5 laps to go Nash made her move.
She sped to a 50-meter gap in very short time, and held onto a lead that was 15 seconds by the finish.
“I never start to think about winning until I cross the finish line,” said Nash, “but I got a gap and then I pushed it really hard and I was happy to see that nobody came back. I’ve been to every Cross Vegas except one, and it was special to win this one that’s the first world cup race in the USA.”
Gould made an effort to go clear of the four-rider group on the last lap, but Lechner’s counter was the move that stuck. And the crowd appreciated her effort. “It was a really good race with a really nice atmosphere. The Americans were really cheering everybody, and I liked it a lot,” Lechner said later.
Belgian champion Sanne Cant had enough left to outsprint her two rivals from the Luna team to claim the third podium spot.
CrossVegas will again be the host of a World Cup in 2017. For details, see CrossVegas.com.