Michael van den Ham is gearing up for a big season of cyclocross, starting this weekend at GoCross in Roanaoke, W.Va this weekend. This will be no average year for the Canadian. World championships are returning stateside for the first time in nearly a decade, landing in Fayetteville, Ark. early in 2022. That, plus the return of cyclocross racing to North America after a pandemic-induced pause, means a season full of opportunity as well as a few logistical challenges.
The GoCross double header, both UCI C2 events, kicks of a busy six weeks for the Canadian national champ. Back-to-back weekends of the new USCX series in Rochester and Baltimore, at Charm City CX, follow. Then there’s a big trio of World Cups, in Waterloo, Fayetteville and Iowa City. Van den Ham wraps up that block of racing with another USCX appearance at King’s CX before heading, finally, back to Canada in late October.
Along with the excitement of a North American world championships, this will be the first year of proper cyclocross coverage in North America. Both the USCX series and World Cup events will have full live coverage, on FloBikes and GCN.
Caught up with van den Ham over the phone while he was waiting for a connection in Seattle’s SEATAC airport, on his way to start his big U.S.A. cyclocross road trip.
Canadian Cycling Magazine: How are you feeling going into your first full season of cross in a while?
Michael van den Ham: I did have the chance to start a few races in Europe back in December, so I feel like in that respect I have a leg up on some of my competition that really hasn’t raced in two seasons now. But yeah, it’s still going a little into the unknown. My power numbers are good, I felt good motor-pacing behind the scooter, and I’ve done a mix of mountain biking, road racing and gravel racing this summer and I was pretty happy with how I felt through all that. But I guess we’ll find out, talk to me again on Sunday evening.
Last year, Europe was the only option to race ‘cross. Does it feel different getting the chance to race in North America again?
This is the first time I’ve travelled to the states since late February of 2020, so it’s been a while. It’s also been a while since I’ve seen a lot of these people, too. I’ve known some of the cross racers in America for six or seven years now, so I think it’ll feel good meeting up with everyone.
It’s also been a while since I’ve been able to race at the front of a UCI cross race. I’m not doing that in Europe, so it’ll be a different experience. It’ll be exciting knowing I’m going back to a UCI race with maybe a shot of winning instead of Europe, where I maybe have a shot of finishing 20th.
You’ve put together a busy early season schedule. How is it different trying to organize travel this year?
It was a lot. Most cross seasons I end up travelling for two weekends, then I fly home for a while. With travel restrictions and the extra challenges crossing the border, I’m just going out there and I’m not coming back until the end of October. I’m basically doing this weekend, all four stops of the USCX Series, as well all three U.S. stops of the World Cup and I’ll just be on the road the entire time.
I’ve doing a combination of renting a van for part of it and I’m jumping in with a team for the first part of the trip. But it definitely hasn’t been easy logistically this year.
Wait, are you van life-ing?
Ha ha, no, definitely just driving a van around. I think van life sounds great until you’re at a muddy race and you have to wash all your stuff. It’d get old quickly, I think.
Are you heading back to Europe after this U.S. racing block?
I’ll be home for the month of November, race nationals, then maybe do one quick trip back to Texas for PanAms (Dec. 4-5). Then in December, my plan is to race in Europe. With world championships being here this year, in Fayetteville, it’ll be a bit different. I’m just doing one Europe trip, so December will be that block.
But I’m not thinking that far ahead yet. The way the calendar shapes up this year, my full focus is on this next six weeks of racing. Because I’m home for so long before I race again it’s almost like two seasons. I get to go home, refocus and prepare for that second block of racing before Europe and world championships.
With worlds being in Fayetteville, is it a little more exciting going into this season?
Yeah, it definitely is. My first world championships was in Louisville in 2013. I still have such great memories of the fan support, from Canadians and Americans, there’s just so much excitement to cheer on North American riders. This isn’t to say there’s no support in Europe, people do cheer for me there. But it’s different when it’s people you know, when it’s your family – who might be able to come to world championships for the first time since 2015. I’m really excited about it.
In some respects, it’s nice to level the playing field a little bit. It’s tough for us North Americans to travel over to Europe for big events. The Euro riders are still going to do really well, there’s no doubt about that. But it is nice not to have to deal with the time change, with the trans-Atlantic flights, and all the challenges that go with being in a country you’re not as used to. It’s easy for us to show up in the U.S. and feel comfortable right away.
This is the first cross season in ages that people will actually be able to follow live, too. GCN streaming the whole USCX series and you’ll be able to watch the World Cups on Flobikes. That’s a big deal for North American cross. We’ve never had really well produced live streams of the domestic UCI races. I can tell you from racing those for years and years, there’s some intense battles in there. I think people will be impressed, it’s good racing.