One of the best things about my time following women’s cycling is how much more there is to watch – and that’s most obvious in the cyclocross. When I started out, I’d be happy for tiny scraps of highlights video, and if they got over 5 mins long, I was delighted. Now we can see almost all of the women’s races live, with most of races in the three major series, and lots of the stand-alone ones too. So it’s time for my annual guide to watching and following CX. It’s focused on the women’s CX, as that’s what I do, but the same information applies to the men too, and I’ll talk about European ‘cross, before a bit about the USA. I’m going to start with a mini intro to the sport, before I get onto how to find and watch the streaming – and of course, the ways into streams for people who find the CX geo-restricted in their countries, and then a little guide to what races I think are the priorities, for CX newbies.
What is cyclocross, and why should I care?
Cyclocross is a winter cycling discipline, and it’s SO much more than a way for poor, desperate road fans to get some cycling over the off season! I guess you could start by saying it’s a mashup of cross country MTB and a Crit, but that’s a jumping off point, and it’s super-exciting in its own right.
You can find the full 2016/7 calendar on the UCI’s Cyclocross Portal, but there are three big series that the main riders will be aiming for: the Telenet UCI World Cup, the IJsboerke Ladies Trophy (the women’s series that’s part of the men’s DVV Verzekeringen Trofee, formerly know as the GVA, and the bpost bank Trofee) and the Hansgrohe SuperPrestige, and the smaller, but expanding, Soudal Classics. Once the season gets going, we can see two of these races a weekend, with three races in the Belgian Cyclocross “Holy Week”, including Boxing Day and New Year’s Day.
CX riders race for 40-50 minutes (women – the men race for around an hour) on laps of a course that includes obstacles, and the first rider across the line wins. The obstacles are varied, and include definitely man-made bridges, barriers riders have to bunny-hop or get off the bike for, and stairs they carry bikes up, as well as natural obstacles, including short, steep hills, stretches of sand, and roots in the forest sections. And then, of course, there’s the impact of the weather. Cyclocross is know for incredible amounts of mud, but most courses are transformed by different conditions. Something that’s a fast, sprinty race when dry can be a torturous slog when it’s been raining and the ground is churned up into mud – and then if it snows, or is frozen, it’s different again, and that’s one of the charms. This is also why the races are measured by time, not distance, and the number of laps of the same course can vary from year to year, depending on conditions.
The riders are in teams, sometimes just one rider, while others can be big affairs, but that doesn’t mean the big teams ride as teams, and it’s pretty much an individual sport.
Above all, CX is very spectactor-friendly, both in real life and watching on TV. It’s just fun, and when riders crash, they rarely hurt themselves badly. As it’s such a short racing time, it doesn’t take up the whole afternoon to watch, and the courses are designed so you get to see almost all the action. If you’re at a race in real life, you can often see multiple parts of the race from the same point, and get from spot to spot between laps, and because it’s huge business in Belgium, there are cameras everywhere.
And then there’s the variety – from the steep woodlands of the Namur citadel, to the cobbles of the Koppenberg, to the sand dunes of Koksijde, there are so many different types of courses. It’s glorious! If you want to know more, Helen Wyman once described CX to me as “the muddiest, funnest sport of attrition” and there’s a great newbie guide to cyclocross, Cyclocross Q&A and a short primer on why CX is so awesome over on Podium Café, and four What is cyclocross? videos on Behind the Barriers, explaining the sport in general, starts, cornering and barriers & obstacles, presented by US pro Jeremy Powers.
There are three different ways, to go with the three different series, and it can also vary country-to-country. The women’s races almost always start at 13:30 European CET (12:30pm UK GMT, 7:30am North American EST and 11:30pm Aussie AEDT) and the men’s races pretty much always start at 15:00 CET, which makes life easier. The TV coverage starts earlier, for pre-race analysis, and highlights of previous races.
This is a great guide to where CX will be shown on Belgian and Dutch channels, though it doesn’t specify if the women’s races will be streamed too (scroll down for races). There’s another one here, but this appears to be only the men’s races.
The women’s and men’s CX World Cups are streamed by the UCI, on their YouTube (check out the Cyclocross section), and you can also find the livestreams on the UCI World Cup Portal, which also has startlists and results (scroll down), and the World Cup Chronicle, which has the news from between races. The UCI also have highlights, and the full race streams are archived, in case you miss them, but they might be geo-restricted too.
They’re restricted in countries where a broadcaster has bought the rights to the races, but this doesn’t mean you can watch them live. The first thing to do is check out the TV schedule, and see if you can watch locally – for example, in Belgium, the World Cups are shown on public access channel Sporza, and you can pick up the livestream here. This TV schedule changes a lot – here’s the September iteration, but it’s worth looking for the most recent on the General Documents section of the World Cup site. If you can’t find it live where you are, head below for tips on watching.
You can follow the World Cups with the less-than-snappy #TelenetUCICXWC twitter hashtag, and specific hashtags for each race.
This was the big news of last season, as Belgian TV station Sporza not only streamed all of the women’s Trofee and Soudal races, but their stream was mostly un-restricted – and the fantastic Sporza journaist Renaat Schotte shared the viewing stats, in both numbers and overall audience share. We’ll have to see what happens, but the livestreams are here on Sporza.
In the UK, some of the races will be streamed on the BIKE TV channel (Sky 464, Virgin 552) – hopefully they’ll show more Cyclocross too? Their TV guide is “functionally challenged”, but if you’re in the UK, check nearer each race.
After the SuperPrestige lagged behind, without even highlights of the women’s races last year, it’s stepped up for 2016/7, and some of the races will be shown! There’s not a list at the moment, so we might need to check nearer the time, and hope. Play Sports is the home of SuperPrestige in Belgium, and they’ve come to an agreement with Sporza, so some races will be streamed there too. And in the UK, some of the races will be streamed on the BIKE TV channel (Sky 464, Virgin 552) – hopefully they’ll show more Cyclocross too? Their TV guide is “functionally challenged”, but if you’re in the UK, check nearer each race.
Here’s the SuperPrestige website – the hashtags for the races tend to be SP + the race name – so #SPZonhoven etc.
If you can’t get into streams, there are two choices – VPNs and streaming sites. A VPN is a Virtual Private Network, and the awesome INRNG explains what VPNs are, and the advantages. You can buy VPN packages from places like Witopia, which I use, and there are free ones from Hola, BetterNet and Tunnelbear, though these have disadvantages (if you use Tunnelbear, turn it off when the stream starts, to save your free allocation).
If you don’t want to use VPNs, you can look for alternative streams. I look here, here and here for streams, but whatever you do, don’t click on adverts, pop-ups etc, and I recommend having an Adblocker installed to cut down on dodgy pop-ups.
So what should you watch?
Within the big three series, there are some iconic races, and while every cyclocross fan will have their own idea of the Monuments of ‘cross, they’ll all be spread around the three series. It can get a little bit confusing, as some races have two or three different names (the place name, a GP something, and a nickname like Hotondcross).
For what it’s worth, these are my key races:
9th October: IJsboerke Trophy #1, GP Mario de Clercq, Ronse, Belgium
A grassy course, with a BMX-style rhythm section of rolling jumps, and some steep slopes, that in the past had Zdenek Stybar nearly land on a baby, and Niels Albert lose his bike.
16th October: SuperPrestige #2, Zonhoven, Belgium
The key feature of this one is the huge, super-steep sandpit that they race down, then run up, and then race around some off-camber sandy paths to get back to. It was discovered by Tom Meeusen on a training ride, who saw it and thought what a great spot it would be for a race, and wow, he was right. It’s always dramatic, and looks SO painful! Please note, Zonhoven starts later than normal – the women race at 15:30 CEST, the men at 16:30.
1st November: IJsboerke Trophy #2, Koppenbergcross, Oudenaarde, Belgium
Yes, that Koppenberg – the steep, narrow, cobbled Flandrian climb famous for the road Spring Classics. This includes some of the cobbles, and steep farmland where the mud is full of cowpats. Definitely one on most riders’ “to win” lists
20th November: World Cup #4, Koksijde, Belgium
On an army base just off the North Sea, it’s mostly on steep, brutal sand dunes, and anyone who wins this is a Belgian hero! Gorgeous race, one that everyone agrees is special.
17th December: IJsboerke Trophy #5, Scheldecross, Antwerp, Belgium
I’ll always have a soft spot for this one from the year the Schelde nearly flooded the course, but that could just be me… It’s got off-camber sandy runs that make it hard too
18th December, World Cup #6, Namur, Belgium
This is the most MTB-like course, up and down the steep, forested slopes of the Namur citadel. It’s a really lovely race to watch, and the mostly woodland of all the races.
1st January: IJsboerke Trophy #7, GP Sven Nys, Baal, Belgium
The Belgians celebrate all the big winter festivals with CX, and it’s so fitting that New Year’s Day hosts the GP Sven Nys. Soothe your hangover, or get some 2017 inspiration, watching the CX riders take on a really tough course.
28-29th January: 2017 Cyclocross World Championships, Bieles, Luxembourg
While races like Koksijde and the separate series are important, Worlds is head and shoulders the biggest goal of the season. It’ll have huge crowds travelling across from Belgium, and is definitely not to be missed.
More cyclocross resources
There are a lot more resources to help you follow the races. Belgian tv station Sporza have a really nifty Match Centre, which puts up live graphics and information on the men’s races, with links to their livestreams, and has tons of information about each series too (“Veldrijden” is the Dutch name for CX, World Cup is WB, or Werelbeker, and women is “vrouwen” – you’ll soon pick up Dutch following cyclocross!). The UCI Cyclocross twitter account focuses on their races but has all kinds of fun things, and I have a twitter list of women CX riders if you want to follow them.
I adore Balint Hamvas‘ cyclocross photography – check out his website for galleries from the big races, his book about the 2014/5 season, and follow his twitter. I also get my CX fixes from Cyclingnews’ CX portal, Cyclocross Rider, and Cyclocross Magazine.
A mini Cyclocross language guide
Most Cyclocross information is in Flemish/Dutch, so here’s a mini glossary of words you may find useful:
- Veldrijden = cyclocross
- Vrouwen/Dames = women
- Deelneemers/Renners = entries (startlist)
- Uitslagen = results
- Klassement = series rankings – but sometimes results can
- Parcours = course
- Beloften = Under 23 men (riders who are 23 and under can choose to race the elite or beloften categories, but the choice lasts for the full season, like road espoirs)
- Wielersport = cyclesport – so cycling, CX, MTB etc – Wielrennen = road cycling
The biggest, most competitive races happen in Europe, but the Cyclocross scene in the USA is continually growing and developing – and they have some fantastic home-made media that makes following the races a lot of fun. In the Crosshairs always have good coverage, on their site and just their videos on Vimeo, and Dirt Wire have lots and lots of rider video interviews as well as race footage. Behind the Barriers and Cycling Dirt used to do race videos, but I can’t see any recent ones – maybe they’ll come back? And CX Magazine has lots of interviews and galleries all season long.
I love cyclocross, and I’ll always be grateful to TGSgirl for introducing me to it, and answering all my stupid questions, so if you have any questions yourself, please do ask me, and if I can’t help, I’ll find someone who can. You can always leave a comment here, or ask me on twitter. I’ll put posts of CX highlights here on the site, and you can always find links to videos and photos on my women’s cycling Tumblr.