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Mixed results for Canadians at North American cyclocross World Cup opener in Waterloo

After a rough race weekend for Canadians, Michael van den Ham and Maghalie Rochette look towards Iowa City

by Molly Hurford

Toon Aerts leads Wout van Aert. Photo: Molly Hurford

It was an exciting weekend of racing in Waterloo, Wisconsin, as the UCI Cyclocross World Cup kicked off in a big way. Highlights included the all-Belgian men’s podium topped by Toon Aerts, the return of seven-time world champion Marianne Vos who won the women’s race and a second place finish for Ellen Noble, the young American storming the international cyclocross scene.

It was a tougher day for Canadian riders. Despite wins at both RenoCross and Rochester already this season, Maghalie Rochette didn’t finish the women’s race, while Dana Gilligan and Siobhan Kelly finished 37th and 38th, respectively. In the men’s field, Michael van den Ham finished 29th, with Gunnar Holmgren in 35th.

Compared to last year’s event, the temperatures were mild and only a few racers wore ice socks to keep cool in the race. However, both Vos and reigning world champion Wout van Aert elected to race with bottles. In the men’s race, Aerts and van Aert established their lead midway through the race, thanks to a crash for Daan Soete, which took out Quinten Hermans as well. Aerts attacked with a third of the race to go and van Aert couldn’t counter. Aerts rode in ecstatically celebrating his first UCI World Cup win.

Michael van den Ham on the long run-up. Photo: Molly Hurford

After RenoCross, Canadian national champion van den Ham was feeling under the weather, but luckily, he mostly recovered in time for the World Cup and finished in 29th. “Everyone comes in with expectations through the roof for this first World Cup. You don’t really know until you ride around on a good race or on a bad race,” he says. “You just go as fast as you can…And maybe fall over.

“On the first lap, I’m not typically a good starter, but I was so intent on having a good start,” van den Ham explained. But that start cost him, and he hit a bump on the course and had a minor crash, causing a derailleur incident that forced him down to just two gears until he could make it to the pit for a bike change. Between that, a bout of poison ivy and a head cold, “America really didn’t welcome me this trip,” he laughed.

Under-23 racer Gunnar Holmgren had a solid race considering he just came back from the UCI MTB World Championships and he credits his solid result with leftover fitness. “The more technical course worked in my favour,” he said. Holmgren was easily one of the smoothest riders up the run-up, despite only getting back on his cyclocross bike in the last two weeks.

Maghalie Rochette in the early going of Sunday’s race. Photo: Molly Hurford

On Instagram, Rochette — who flew in Thursday after stomping the field at Reno Cross — wrote, “Obviously not the start to the World Cup season I was hoping for with a DNF yesterday. Our motto is that health should be the #1 priority, and health has not been there in the last few days. I decided to call it a day yesterday cause I felt like racing was making my situation worse. But I’m not too worried, with a few days of rest, I should be back to 100% for next week!”

The next round of World Cup racing takes place next Saturday in Iowa City for Jingle Cross, so most of the racers will be staying in the midwest for a week of training and race prep.

Gunnar Holmgren in action. Photo: Molly Hurford

Canadian results

37 – Dana Gilligan
38 – Siobhan Kelly
DNF – Maghalie Rochette

Rochette gets shelter from the sun at the start in Waterloo. Photo: Molly Hurford

29 – Michael van den Ham
35 – Gunnar Holmgren
40 – Craig Richey
41 – Trevor O’Donnell
43 – Isaac Niles