The American cyclocross circuit has always been second fiddle to the European racing scene. While major American cyclocross talents have certainly developed and there is a burgeoning and promising American professional racing scene, Americans – particularly American men, who have fared worse against their European counterparts than American women – have had limited success racing in Europe.
The tables are turning in a curious manner. With next year’s 2012/2013 World Championships slated to take place in Louisville, Kentucky, more and more European riders are coming to North America to get experience riding courses in the American style. Growing numbers of Europeans have been coming to the States in order to accrue crucial UCI points early in the season, but this year, more and more are taking the chance to learn a distinct style of racing.
Last year saw Francis Mourey, the French National Champion, and Christian Huele lead the charge; this year sees riders including Gerben de Knegt, Bart Wellens, Under 23 World Champion Lars van der Haar, Bart Aernouts, Ben Berden,Tim van Nuffel, Rob Peeters, Ian Field, Joyce Vanderbeken, Caroline Mani, Helen Wyman, and Gabby Day. Where are they going? Some, like the Brits Field, Wyman, and Day, are staying on the East Coast – the UCI Calendar opens on 9/10 with Nittany Lion, part of the Mid-Atlantic Series – and will go on to race the Shimano New England Pro Cyclocross Series. Others, anchored by the Telenet-Fidea team that includes Wellens and Peeters, will head west to race CrossVegas, first of the Cross After Dark series.
They face challenges: the size of the United States makes travel from one race to the next particularly tiring compared to similar races in Europe. Furthermore, American cyclocross is a different style than European ‘cross – the reputation is that American courses are often less grueling in a technical manner but faster, requiring high-speed cornering and maintaining inertia in a way unlike European courses. Even considering this, expect Europeans to put the hurt on the Americans, snatching some big early season wins while everybody hits their stride.