The 2019/2020 Telenet UCI Cyclocross World Cup kicks off this weekend in Iowa City. The series ends January 26th (2020) in Hoogerheide. Once again, there are nine World Cup races in six different nations. Last year, Toon Aerts took the overall ahead of Wout van Aert and Mathieu van der Poel. Read on to find out about our 6 things to know about this year’s World Cup.
The starting grid order has changed
In an interesting move, the UCI has changed the starting grid for the World Cup races. Similar to the mountain bike World Cup, the first three rows (24 riders) will be seeded by World Cup points. In previous years it was based on the most recently published UCI overall rankings. For the first round of the World Cup, it will remain the same and be based on the UCI overall rankings. This change will have a few major impacts on the racing.
The biggest impact will affect those who skip the first two rounds of the World Cup in the United States. A prime example is Mathieu van der Poel. Van der Poel will miss at least the first two rounds of the World Cup. As a result he will have zero points. Under the previous rules, he would still get the number one spot in the grid because he leads the UCI rankings. Now, he will get the 25th spot in the gird, which is on the fourth row. A rider of his caliber should overcome that deficit, but it still poses a tough challenge. Furthermore, he will remain in the second or third row even if he wins a few races.
Another impact, and some may argue that this is the main reason for the change, will affect North American riders. We will use the highest ranked American, Curtis White, in this example. Ranked in 16th place, White has a second row spot in Iowa City. 16th through 20th (second and third row) in the UCI rankings is very close together. However, White is already scoring UCI points that will keep him there, and possibly move him up to 14th. If White finished outside the top 24 in Iowa City, he will have a worse starting spot than under the old rules. In fact, he could start Waterloo in the fifth row.
The schedule is the same as last year (almost)
The schedule for this year’s World Cup is very similar to last year. In fact, there are only two differences. Waterloo and Iowa City swap spots, making Iowa City the first round of the World Cup. This is due to the University of Iowa’s football schedule. Football is big in the US and college football is arguably more popular than professional football. As a result, there’s not enough resources (police, traffic control, etc) to have a home football game the same day as the world cup race.
The only other change to the schedule is a venue swap in France. Last year, Wout van Aert took the win in Pont-Château. This year, Nommay hosts the penultimate round of the World Cup in mid-January. The last time the World Cup visited Nommay was in 2018. Mathieu van der Poel won the race ahead of van Aert and Toon Aerts. If things go to plan for van der Poel and van Aert, we could see a repeat of that podium.
Mathieu van der Poel will not win the World Cup
Our math monkeys plugged away and determined that missing more than one round of the World Cup means you cannot win the overall. In theory this is not 100% correct (ie everyone in the field DNFs a race), but in all practicality you must make the trip to the US to be competitive in the overall. Consistency is key to winning the overall and missing two or more rounds puts you roughly 160 points behind. This should not come as a shock as van der Poel won six rounds of the World Cup (he skipped three rounds) and still finished a distant third.
According to various reports, van der Poel won’t start his season until November 1st. This puts him in line for his first World Cup to be at the Tabor (4th) round in mid-November. Once again, Toon Aerts is the favorite, but if you remove van der Poel and van Aert things get very interesting. Last year the riders in fourth through eighth place were separated by less than 50 points. While both van der Poel and van Aert will pick up some points, their absence will allow others to pick up more points than last year. The battle for the overall definitely begins in Iowa City.
There is no junior women’s category (yet)
The fight for equality took a major step forward with the creation of a UCI Junior Women’s category. While the battle for equal pay still goes on in the Elite ranks, the junior women will receive the same amount of points and prize money as the junior men once all is said and done. However, at this time, there are no official plans to offer a Junior Women’s category at the World Cups. Like last year, there will be junior mens racing at all the non-US world cup rounds. Ideally, they will add a women’s race, but that remains to be seen.
The current plan for the Junior Women’s category is to conduct the first World Championship in February of 2020 (this season). For the 2021-2022 season, it will be mandatory to hold both Junior Men’s and Junior Women’s UCI categories at all UCI Calendar races. In theory this means that the World Cups would have to offer a Junior Women’s field. However, the Junior Men’s field are exempt from the US World Cups. This could easily happen at many, if not all, of the World Cup rounds for the 2021-2022 season.
Prepare for expansion
The UCI rule book requires that the World Cup must have races in at least six different countries. Like last year, this year’s World Cup will visit the minimum required nations. However, a massive change is underway. Telenet’s contact with the UCI ends at the conclusion of this season. Flanders Classic, organizers of the Ronde van Vlaanderen, Gent-Wevelgem, Dwars door Vlaanderen and Omloop Het Nieuwsblad races, received the rights to the World Cup from 2020/21 through 2023/24. The rights allow the Flanders Classics organization to organize, market and broadcast the World Cup.
In an interview, Flanders Classics CEO Thomas Van Den Spiegel and Golazo managing director Christophe Impens revealed that one immediate impact of the switch to a new rights holder will be an expansion of the series. They want the series to be a minimum of 14 and a maximum of 16 events. They would like to see the minimum number of countries go to seven if there are 14 or 15 races and eight if there are 16. Rumours of a third World Cup round in the US have already made their rounds. However, expansion into other countries is even more interesting and the rumors will start swirling soon.
Learn the name Antoine Benoist
Antoine Benoist (the cyclist, not the painter and sculptor) may be destined for greatness on the road. The explosion of current and past cyclocross riders making major impacts on the road this year has led us to dive deep into the U23 ranks. Zdenek Stybar, Lars Boom, Mathieu van der Poel and Wout van Aert were all great U23 World Cup winners and podium contenders. All of them have found major success on the road.
The two cross riders who became stars on the road this year were Mike Teunissen and Julian Alaphilippe. Sure Alaphilippe had success last year, but it was only this year that people realised he raced cross. Teunissen last raced the World Cup in the 2014/15 season. That year, he ended up 10th overall in a series that was won by van Aert, with van der Poel finishing second. Meanwhile, Alaphilippe last raced the World Cup during the 2012/13 season. He finished third overall behind Weste Bosmans and Gianni Vermeersch. Clearly a line can be drawn between U23 World Cup success and road success.
Last year’s U23 World Cup was won by Thomas Pidcock. Pidcock has been around for a while and he does seem destined for a great career on the road. However, he currently rides for a Continental team, which means he will not be invited to the top World Tour races. Finishing second last year was Eli Iserbyt. Iserbyt moves up to the elite ranks this year and is very focused on the upcoming cross season. Like Pidcock, Iserbyt races for a Continental team on the road. Then there is last year’s third place overall finisher Antoine Benoist.
Benoist races for the Corendon – Circus team. They are a Pro Continental team which means they will be racing several World Tour races next year. The success of his teammate, Mathieu van der Poel, only increases the odds of the team receiving invitations to the top races. Benoist still has a few more years in the U23 ranks, so he may not get the call up next year. With that said, history says that when he does, he has high odds of success.