This year, North American is spoiled with not one, but two World Cups happening within the same week. Cyclocross is continuing to grow worldwide with more fans and participants joining in events, such as the Rochester and Wisconsin during the past two weeks. Both races featured heated battles between top North Americans and Europeans who are over early to help acclimatize to the time change. Top racers from around the world, including Sanne Cant, Katie Compton and world champion Wout van Aert are in attendance for these first two rounds of the 2016 series.
The CrossVegas course
As usual, CrossVegas will happen late in the day, under the lights of the Desert Breeze Park. This year, the course has been change with most of the action happening in “the bowl” to ensure that riders are constantly challenged by off-camber, gruelling grass climbs, technical stair steps (some with sand on each step), two fly-over bridges and a wall-ride. The course is hard and challenging.
Who to watch at CrossVegas
An easy pick for the win this year is world champion and 2015 CrossVegas winner Wout van Aert who rode away from the stacked field at last week’s UCI C1-level Trek CXC Cup (reports for Day 1 and Day 2). Many of the top riders to watch over the next week of racing are from the Telenet-Fidea team owned by newly retired, cyclocross legend Sven Nys. Rob Peeters who has been third at Vegas before and who also battled with Canadian Michael van den Ham both days at the Trek CXC Cup after winning an early season opener in China. Michael Vanthourenhout (Belgium) settled for third behind van Aert and Nys in 2015 and will certainly be aiming to improve on this result on Wednesday. Kevin Pauwels was fifth at Vegas last year and was on the podium at 2015 world championships is often a favourite on fast courses.
From North America, Jeremy Powers (Aspire Racing) has been a top name in cyclocross for several years. He secured another U.S. cyclocross championship in 2015 and a career best sixth at Vegas that year. Stephen Hyde (Cannondale) is quickly becoming well-known with many strong results in European World Cups and was also the only racer to best Powers in the 2015 domestic calendar. Hyde had a very strong showing this past Sunday at Trek CXC.
For the women, Ellen Van Loy showed speed and consistency during the Trek CXC Cup weekend. With the speed and flatter terrain at Vegas, however, it is likely that the rider to beat will come from the Luna squad. Luna is lead by last year’s Vegas winner Katrina Nash, who has been on the podium nine of the past 10 years. Eva Lechner (second at 2015 Vegas) joins Nash, Georgia Gould and Canadians Catherine Pendrel (fourth last year) and Maghalie Rochette. Sanne Cant is a strong favourite given last year’s third place at Vegas and her strength throughout the past year winning the European championship and the World Cup overall. Recently, she sprinted for the win at Geraardsbergen to open her season. Finally, the U.S. has several strong riders, including Katie Antonneau (Cannondale) and Ellen Noble (Aspire) who were first and second at last weekend’s Trek Cup beating out two other strong racers who are showing strong form ahead of Vegas, Katie Compton and Caroline Mani (France).
Canadians at CrossVegas
Again this year, Canada has sent 16 riders evenly split between the women’s and men’s fields including several top names in Canadian cycling. Catherine Pendrel has had time to recover and spend time on her cyclocross bike after her Olympic medal in August. National champion Mical Dyck is in attendance along with top mountain bikers Sandra Walter,Cindy Montambault and Maghalie Rochette who have all had several weeks to prepare specifically for these early cyclocross events this year with the front loaded mountain bike season. Sidney McGill, Ashley Barson, and Siobhon Kelly round out the Canadians in the Pro Women’s race.
For Canada Men, Michael van den Ham is leading the charge after very strong form at last weekend’s Trek CXC. Van den Ham reduced his road racing this year and spent much of the summer focused on ‘cross. Perennial favourite in almost any bike race, Geoff Kabush is motivated to improve on his strong CrossVegas last year and has spent time preparing on his ‘cross bike winning last weekend in Sacramento. Kabush will do both World Cups and some fall gravel races. Joining Kabush is fellow Scott-3-Rox teammate and national cross country champ, Derek Zandstra, who has also been spending time on cyclocross throughout August as well. Aaron Schooler, Mark McConnell, Craig Richey and Jeremy Martin round out the Canadian men.