The massive crowds cheering at their idols. A mix of fries, beer and smoke is in the air. Every weekend from November until February. A huge folk festival. You got to be there and soak up the unique atmosphere of these races. But what happens behind the scenes? How do the protagonists of the spectacle prepare for the race? What happens the day before and the final hours before a race? We came to Valkenburg to find out and give a unique inside look at 2018 UCI Cyclocross World Championships.
It’s Friday afternoon, 24 hours still until the women race starts. Annemarie Worst – last year’s U23 world champion, who is starting in the elite ranks this year looks confident and ready.
“I checked the course earlier today, had some media appointments after and now it’s just relax. Sometimes we watch movies or play videogames with the other riders but now it’s just about staying calm and focusing on the race”.
The competition is strong and while last year around five women were contending for the gold medal in the U23 race, there are more than ten women all capable of winning the women elite race tomorrow.
“I know that competition is super strong and therefore I’d be really happy to make it into the Top-10. I’m still young and got time to learn”, Annemarie says before heading back to her hotel room.
While Annemarie is already focusing on the race, Eli Iserbyt still has some time until his race on Sunday morning. He is one of the top contenders for the world champion title in the U23 category. While others riders, like his Marlux-Bingoal team- & roommate Michael Vanthourenhout, went out on the course Eli opts for an easy spin on the rollers in Watopia.
“I’ll do a final course check tomorrow, today it’s only about spinning the legs, I like to do that with Zwift from time to time”
Eli says, pedaling “easy” at 240 Watts. After the roller session Eli has some time to relax and watches videos on Youtube.
“Man, I just love cars. Right now I’m driving an CLA shooting brake, a great car, but actually the CL 63 AMG is the one I’m dreaming about” Eli says with a twinkle, showing us pictures of his dream.
The next day – Saturday morning – the male pro riders go out for a final course inspection and so does Laurens Sweeck from ERA Circus.
His dad is thoroughly preparing three bikes for the training session. The tires are pumped up with a pressure between 1.1 bar and 1.35 bar. Depending on the conditions Laurens then chooses his set-up for the race.
“It’s important to get a good feeling for the course. To know the correct lines and to get an idea how to ride it in race.”, off he goes and rides three laps using all three bikes.
After only half a lap there is already so much dirt at the bike he needs to change onto a new one.
“It’s definitely one of the toughest courses if ever ridden. But I like it. It’s going to be an honest race.”
Same is true for Eli who passes us with a big grin on his face.
“That’s going to be a fun race tomorrow, that’s for sure” he smiles, shoulders his bike and climbs up the short hill section.
The women race in the afternoon is a thrilling fight between Belgian Sanne Cant and US athlete Katie Compton. They are battling it out all the way to the line with Sanne Cant winning the gold medal in the end.
Annemarie is fighting hard to stay in the top ten but has to pay the tribute in the final lap letting some competitors past and finishing on 14. Place. No sign of disappointment though.
“I am still very young and I knew it would be hard today. Even though I didn’t manage to finish in the Top-10 today, I still have a lot of years to compete and one day make it to the top of the worlds” she says keeping her smile.
On Sunday morning the Cauberg is even more crowded than the day before. More than 40000 spectators have come to see the mens battle in the U23 and the elite category.
Soon after the start of the U23 race Eli Iserbyt makes clear that he’s the one to beat today. With a sovereign performance he is leading throughout the complete race and crosses the finish line in first place.
“Repeating my victory from 2016 and becoming World Champion for the second time in the U23 means so much too me!”
Everyone can see how emotional he gets at the awards ceremony with his fans going nuts celebrating their hero Eli.
With a World Champion title the day is already successful for Eli’s team Marlux-Bingoal. But it’s getting even better.
The highly anticipated fight between CX superstars Wout van Aert & Matthieu van der Poel quickly turns into a one-man show of van Aert leading the elite race from the start.
But it’s young gun Michael Vanthourenhout, who rides a fantastic race, even beating van der Poel for the silver medal achieving the biggest success of his career so far.
Eli Iserbyt and Michael Vanthourenhout – the most successful roommates of this weekend in Valkenburg!