Week 21 saw riders return from their various National Championships and head to Nommay for the penultimate round of the World Cup. As a result, our 5 Things to Know this week focus on the World Cup overall and a look towards an exciting finish in Hoogerheide. We touch on the tight race for the Women’s World Cup title. Eli Iserbyt’s win in Nommay means only two riders have won World Cup rounds. However, neither one of those riders will win the over all.
Next we discuss some smaller races that were also dominated by the Belgian men and Dutch women. We then look at how Kevin Kuhn and Thibau Nys extended their lead in the World Cup overall. Finally, we hit the click-bait topic of the week: Denise Betsema. We touch on her return, her team’s support and revisit the story of Ben Berden, who had one of the most famous doping cases in cross.
The Women’s World Cup tightens with one round to go.
With two rounds of the World Cup remaining, the battle for the overall in the Elite Women’s field was incredibly tight. Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado headed into Nommay with a one point lead over Katerina Nash. Nash was the early leader of the series, but has struggled in Europe. After finishing first and second round of the series, her best results has been fifth in Namur. Behind Nash, Annemarie Worst was only 15 points behind Alvarado. It should be noted that both Worst and Alvarado did not participate in the North American rounds of the series.
With Nash losing her grip on the overall, it was clear that things were coming down to a battle between Alvarado and Worst. This should come as no surprise as the Dutch women are leading virtually every UCI series. Fresh off a sprint finish win over Worst at the Dutch National Championships, Alvarado came in as the slight favorite. However, Alvarado has only won one round of the World Cup this year.
If you didn’t get a chance to watch the race, stop reading and go watch it. In the end, it came down to a three rider group featuring Worst, Alvarado and American Katie Compton. Worst would sprint to victory ahead of Alvarado and Compton. As a result, Alvarado maintains her overall lead, but Worst moved up to second, a mere five points back. Nash came across the line in 12th and dropped to third overall. Nash is now over 30 points behind Alvarado and is out of contention for the overall.
With one round to go, Alvarado is in the driver’s seat, but it will ultimately come down to finishing position. If either rider wins the race, they will take home the overall. From there, things get complicated. Both riders would have to finish together (i.e. second and third, third and fourth) for the following scenario. If Alvarado finishes ahead of Worst, she will win the overall. However, if Worst finishes ahead of Alvrado, they will be tied on points. With her three victories, Worst would then take the overall. One last wrinkle to this mathematical mess: if the riders finish outside the top five, unless there is three spaces between them, Alvarado will win the overall. So, if Worst comes across the line in sixth, Alvarado needs to finish in ninth or lower for Worst to win the overall.
We ultimately believe (as our predictions will show) it will come down to who wins in Hoogerheide.
|1||Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado||430|
Iserbyt’s win in Nommay means only two riders have won World Cup rounds.
With the absence of Mathieu van der Poel in Nommay, the race was wide open. Toon Aerts pretty much had the overall locked up despite not winning a World Cup race this year. Last season Aerts won the first two rounds before van der Poel took over. He won every round, except for the race in France, where Wout van Aert won in his absence. Aerts won with his consistency, only finishing of the podium once (he finished fourth in Tabor).
This season, Eli Iserbyt took control of the series, winning the first three rounds. Van der Poel then took over and has won four straight races. Like last year, he skipped the race in France, leaving the door wide open for someone else to win. As we predicted (LINK), Iserbyt ended up coming across the line in first, narrowly beating Aerts. Laurens Sweeck came across the line in third.
Because Iserbyt dropped out of the race in Namur, Aerts took full control of the series. Despite breaking four ribs, Aerts did just enough in Zolder to maintain his lead over Michael Vanthourenhout and Iserbyt. Like last year, Aerts consistency has allowed him to control the overall. He has only finished off the podium twice this year and has finished second five times. Despite his fourth World Cup round win, Iaserbyt sits a distant second, 41 points behind Aerts. Vanthourenhout is another 34 points behind Iserbyt.
With van der Poel back in action at Hoogerheide, we are going to assume he picks up the win. Our early predictions have Iserbyt second and Aerts third. In order for Iserbyt to take the overall (assuming he finishes second) Aerts would have to finish 22nd or worse. As we mentioned, Aerts finished 14th in Zolder with four broken ribs.
The Belgian men and Dutch women dominate the weekend.
While all eyes were on the World Cup in Nommay, there were two other C2 races on Sunday. The ZAO-sama Cup Tohoku CX Series took place in Zao-town, Miyagi Prefecture, Japan and the Grand Prix Möbel Alvisse took place in Leudelange, Luxembourg. There were no international riders in the race in Japan, so we are looking at the World Cup and the race in Luxembourg.
In Nommay, the Belgian men swept the podium and had 12 riders in the top-20. In Luxembourg, it was much of the same as Wieste Bosmans led a sweep of the podium. Seppe Rombouts finished second, while Gianni Siebens was third. Overall, the Belgian men had 10 riders in the top-20. It goes without saying that there was no way to beat the Belgians this weekend.
On the women’s side, the Dutch women continued their dominance. In Nommay, Katie Compton and Christine Majerus played the spoilers finishing third and fourth. Mannon Bakker finished fifth, which gave the Dutch three out of the top-five spots. In Luxembourg, Pauliena Rooijakkers (Dutch) picked up the victory ahead of Pavla Havlikova (Czech) and Jana Dobbelaere (Belgian). Despite “only” placing one rider on the podium, the Dutch women took five out of the top-ten spots.
Kevin Kuhn and Thibau Nys extend their leads in the World Cup overall.
Switching our attention back to the World Cup, we are going to focus on the U23 and Junior Men’s categories. While we normally focus on just the Elite Men and Women, we thought it was time to shed some light on the up and coming cross stars.
The name Sven Nys is synonymous with cross. Nys had a career spanning 24 years, including his U23 and Junior years. Therefore it comes as no surprise that his son, Thibau, appears to be following in his father’s footsteps. Thibau currently leads the World Cup overall as he is undefeated through six races. However, his average margin of victory (12 seconds) is a lot closer than you may think. There are no North American rounds for the Junior Men, so the series is only seven races long. In addition, they only count the riders top four results. Therefore, Thibau has effectively won the World Cup and has done something his father never did; win every round of the World Cup (as long as Thibau wins in Hoogerheide).
To be fair to Sven, Thibau has opportunities that his dad never had. Sven Nys joined the elite ranks in the 1998/99 season. The U23 World Cup category was introduced for the 2004/05 season, while the Junior Men’s category was first held in the 2008/09 season.
While the focus may be on Thibau, the battle for second and third overall is very close. Switzerland’s Dario Lillo leads Belgium’s Lennert Belmans by 10 points. Emiel Verstrynge is another five points back. Nine points behind Verstrynge is Remi Lelandais. All four of those riders have a chance to finish in the top-three overall.
Like the Junior Men, the U23 Men do not have any races in North America, making it a seven race series. Also, like the Junior Men, only the top four races count towards the overall. Switzerland’s Kevin Kuhn leads the overall ahead of the Netherland’s Ryan Kamp. Kuhn has won the rounds of the series and looked poised to win a fourth in Nommay. However, Kamp was able to get away from the lead group and take the win.
Kuhn finished second in Tabor, meaning that his second place in Nommay and fifth in Koksijde get dropped. That gives him a near perfect score and if he wins in Hoogerheide, he will get the maximum points for the overall. Kamp’s victory puts him solidly into second place, with Britain’s Thomas Mein in third. Antonie Benoist is only three points behind Mein, leaving the battle for third overall wide open.
It is mathematically impossible for Kamp to win the overall.
Denise Betsema’s return to cross sparks controversy.
We try and focus on the cyclocross racing and action, but occasionally a topic comes up that we feel we must chime in on. We did this with the “new” World Cup proposal and feel it necessary to comment on the return of Denise Betsema.
Bestema began racing elite in the 2016/17 season. She had mixed results, finishing in the top ten just twice. During the 2017/18 season she made steady progress competing in 25 races. She had numerous top ten finishes, but never landed on the podium. The 2018/19 season saw Bestema shoot to the top of the sport, winning 15 races, including three races and the overall in the EKZ CrossTour as well as the World Cup race in Koksijde. She capped off her impressive season with a fourth place at Worlds.
However, this breakout season was immediately brought into question when the UCI announced Friday that she returned an adverse analytical finding (AAF) in an anti-doping control performed on January 27, 2019. The anti-doping test was performed at the World Cup race in Hoogerheide, Netherlands. According to the UCI statement, her sample indicated the presence of an Endogenous Anabolic Androgenic Steroid.
On Monday, the UCI announced that she was provisionally suspended on April 5, 2019, and her period of ineligibility ended on October 4, 2019. This makes her immediately eligible to compete and she plans to do so.
She will rejoin her old team Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal and according to Sporza.be, she will race at Kasteelcross on Saturday. Positive tests for anabolic agents often result in a four-year ban. The UCI did not reveal why the sanction was six months.
Obviously there was outrage across the spectrum from people in the media to current and former riders. While we agree that a six-month suspension is ridiculous, the sport of cycling is full of riders who were given second chances. There are very few of these cases in cross (Ben Berden comes to mind), but on the road it is sadly, very common.
Grand Tour champion Alberto Contador was given a two year ban for a positive Clenbuterol test. 2018 road World Champion, Alejandro Valverde was suspended for two years for as part of the Operación Puerto blood doping investigation. Britain’s David Millar got busted for EPO and raced the 2006 Tour de France one week after his suspension ended. Sadly the list could go on and on, but you get the point.
As we mentioned, the most famous case of doping (and returning from it) in cyclocross is Ben Berden. In 1994, Berden burst onto the scene with a third place finish in the U23 World Championships in Koksijde. A certain Sven Nys finished fourth that day. Berden’s Elite career got off to a slow start, but finished on the podium of the Belgium National Championships in 2003 and 2005. In 2003 he picked up his first Elite victory at the World Cup round in Koksijde. Richard Groenendaal was second followed by Vervecken, Wellens and Nys. In January, 2005, Berden was banned for 15 months after testing positive for the blood booster EPO at the GP Rouwmoer in Essen. Berden admitted to taking the drug, which is why he got a lesser sentence.
Berden return to racing at the GP Lille Metropole on January 13th, 2017 finishing 15th. The following day Berden finishes third at the GP Pierre Kellner in Luxembourg. In all honesty, the race was filled with riders who wouldn’t go on to any success. Jean-Pierre Drucker won the race that day and would only go on to have two Elite wins. Berden would spend the next four season racing in Europe, finishing on the podium 13 times in 141 races. He wouldn’t win another race until October 30, 2011 at the Victory Circle Graphix Boulder Cup.
It was in that 2011/12 season that Berden moved to the US and raced their full time until he retired after the 2015/16 season. Berden never found success in Europe and was a very disliked rider in Belgium and throughout Europe.
Unlike Berden, Bestema returns to action with the full support of her team. However, the negative response that Berden got will surely follow her for the rest of her career. Should Bestema return to the top step of the podium, perhaps some of this negative press will fade away. Though, no matter what she does, she will always be an ex-doper.
One final thought on this. While Bestema is to blame, we believe that Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal is ultimately the problem. The fact that they support her and are fully committed to allowing her to return to the sport sickens us. Yes, she served her time, and yes, she has a right to race, but for Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal to act like nothing happened and welcome her with open arms speaks to the fact that the sport still has its issues. The best case scenario for all involved would be to allow her to finish the season (assuming she’s still under contract) and then let he go at the end of February. There’s nothing anyone can do about the six-month suspension, but surely the sport can do more to punish cheaters.