The announcement of a UCI World Cup Cyclocross round in the UK was, for the nation’s small but diehard group of cyclocrossers, as exciting a prospect as LeTour coming to Yorkshire earlier this year. Previously the only way of getting to see Sven and co was with a trip abroad to an obscure Flandrian town or village, or possibly jumping the ferry to Oostend and the iconic venue in the dunes nearby at Koksijde. Whilst Milton Keynes is arguably also relatively obscure as a destination, at least in terms of the UK ‘cross scene, we were now treated to the possibility of seeing the full Euro ‘cross circus without having to find our passports.
And so as the day for the MKWCX round got nearer, the giddiness in the Fluent in Cross camp reached fever pitch. The addition of various FiC supporters and contributors to the road trip only heightened the anticipation and so it was a pretty excited group of 7 that pilled into a people carrier and headed off South to that most celebrated of UK New Towns.
Suffice to say we had an absolute ball. On arrival, we were greeted by the Junior (non-UCI) race slithering and staggering it’s way across the arguably the wildest, most up and down and off camber course yet seen in the UK. Simon Burney and his team had devised a beast of a lap, barely rideable in a number of places, a real rollercoaster of climbs and descents, technical in many places yet requiring considerable raw power to make it flow. In other words, a proper World Cup course for the very best the sport can muster.
Once the Juniors had finished, dominated by a super smooth and impressive American rider, Gavin Haley, we trawled the team ‘village’ of motorhomes and mechanics looking at the bikes on show. Marvelling at a Fidea mechanic methodically drying recently-washed cassettes and rims with an air hose, before scrubbing up carbon brake pads with a nail file and then air-hosing, the attention to detail that goes into bike prep at World level became abundently clear. Not to mention the huge resources of spare wheels, bikes and kit that a professional cyclocross team carts around with it to each race. Walking back to the course from the village we were surprised by a sudden flash of yellow, red and black as Sven Nys emerged from his encampment and breezed by toward the course for a few training laps. Cyclocross is still small enough for you to be able to get in amongst the riders and teams with only the occasional surly looking Belgian mechanic to scowl at you if you get in the way.
Whilst it was hugely exciting to be able to watch the favoured Belgian and Dutch riders, up close and personal, we were also really excited to be able to support the Flanders-exiled Brit pack of Helen Wyman, Nikki Harrris and Ian Field. We normally only ever get to see them at the Nationals, if then, so we were all well up for shouting ourselves hoarse to support them riding against the best in the world. And shout we did, with the odd cowbell ring thrown in. For us as ‘cross fans, the ability to stand on the very edge of the track and lap after lap look not only at lines, tyre pressures, body positions but the flow of the race as well, was as fascinating as it was entertaining. That we could cheer on the Brits as well as our Euro heroes, was just the icing on the cake.
Now there’s been a couple days to let things sink in, a few particular memories stand out – Nikki Harris riding her heart out for 3rd as the battle raged out front between Sanne Cant and Katie Compton, the different soundtrack the British crowd made compared to Belgian/Dutch crowds (cowbells), Tom Meusen and Bart Wellens cruising by on warm up laps and Bart’s quiet amusement when Tom (not he) was stopped for selfies by female fans, Helen Wyman and Fieldy getting the chance to (emotionally) thank the British fans for their support, Sven’s almost complete lack of pressure in his rear tyre (16psi apparently) and the lessons lap after lap on how to ride cambers and gripless, greasy corners. The riders appeared to enjoy the different World Cup experience as well as the hard, hard course and we can only hope the the Milton Kenyes round of the WC will be back each year for our little slice of Euro racing, just off the M1.
Dave Haygarth took some ace pics on the day so here is a selection: