Last year I went to the Cyclocross worlds in Fayetteville, Arkansas. When I heard that the 2023 edition was going to be held in the Netherlands, my native country, I had to go.
I combined it with visiting my family in the Netherlands, where I went a few days before the event. My Dutch high school friend Meindert and Neil from Princeton joined me for the weekend.
Friday, February 3rd
After I picked up Neil from the airport Thursday, we drove to Hoogerheide the next day. The team relay race started at 12:30. Unfortunately, we just missed the race. I had rented an electric car that needed charging, and we had some failed attempts at the fast chargers. We ended up parking in Bergen op Zoom a town 5k from Hoogerheide. There we found a slower charger and hooked up the car. I had brought my Dutch bike and lent a mountain bike to Neil, which we rode to Hoogerheide.
Arriving in Hoogerheide, we asked two young men for directions to the course. Turned out they were from the Boston area. Chris and Greg. Chris supported his sister Lizzy racing on Sunday, and Greg worked for Team USA.
When we arrived at the venue, I was amazed at its size. Three huge party tents, a large 2-story VIP temporary building that looked like it had been transported from a horse race track, and zillion beer and food stands.
We saw some riders pre-riding, including Lars van der Haar. The course had a start/finish, which was on an uphill road. A section thru the woods with some loose sand and a fast descent. A vast triple lane flyover, and then a loop out to slightly uphill barriers followed by a steep descent turning into along stairs. Then an off-camber turn onto the finish straight. This last section would be critical to the Elite men's final.
Meindert joined us later in the afternoon. He had his campervan with him and could carry 3 bikes. Once we were done checking out the course, he drove us and our bikes back to Bergen op Zoom. We went to our Airbnb, about 45 minutes from Hoogerheide.
Saturday, February 4th
The next day we drove to Huijbergen, near Hoogerheide, where we parked the car. The shortest route was actually through Belgium. And after a 4km bike ride, we ended up at the venue again. Now there were definitely more folks. 30.000 tickets had been sold for Saturday.
The junior women's race had just finished when we entered the town. We encountered a young Dutch rider in tears on her bike. She was probably Laura Molengraaf. The race obviously did not go as she had planned. We did see the podium ceremony; two Canadian twins, the Holmgren sisters, took place 1 and 2, followed by a France young lady in the 3rd spot.
For the start of the under-23 men race, we found a nice spot at the first corner expecting some drama. A benefit was seeing the riders' pre-ride loops from the start and back. Fortunately, there were no crashes at the beginning. After the racers came through, we went to a spot on a bank that gave us a view of the finish straight, the barriers, the stairs, and the big jumbotron showing the race proceedings. We stayed there for the rest of the race to see Thibay Nys (son of Sven Nys) win.
The last race of the day was the Elite women. We camped down on the side of the course just before the first corners. Again we saw all the Elite women pre-riding while chatting with each other. The start went well, except for Puck Pieterse, who slipped pushing off and ended up in the middle of the pack. We moved to the center of the course, where we had a better view of the triple-lane overpass and the windy little section between the overpass crossings.
Within a lap, Puck was back with Fem van Empel, and they raced each other until Puck crashed in a downhill corner. Fem immediately attacked and stayed ahead of Puck for the rest of the race. Puck finished 2nd and crossed the line with an impressive 1-handed wheelie. Lucinda Brand finished 3rd.
Just after the race, Paula, watching the race on Flosports, saw Neil and me on the live feed. We hadn't even noticed it.
When we rode back to the car, we accidentally took the wrong road and passed the Team USA van. There, the 2 American racers, Clara Honsinger and Raylyn Nuss doing a cooldown spin. It was fun to see 2 young boys asking for a photo and autographs. Besides a picture, they were also treated to a jersey and a signed water bottle. When Stephen Hyde (former US champion) walked by, we had a quick chat about Pioneer valley, where we both live, the race, and one of the athletes he coaches.
Sunday, February 5th
The day before, we had heard from Stephen Hyde that 5 junior Americans were racing Sunday morning, so we made sure we were on time to see that race at 11am. Again we waited for it in the first corner after the holeshot. And soon, the first young riders came through. But there were only 20 or so. Turned out that 100 meters after the start, there had been a crash with a massive pileup. Shortly after, we saw riders involved in that coming through. Riders with ripped clothing walk with their bike or stride it, all into the pits, to get a new functioning bike. The race was won by a young french rider Leo Bisiaux, who managed to keep the Dutch competitor Senna Remijn at bay. The latter ended up in a battle with a few Belgian riders for 2nd place and prevailed.
We had found a spot at the bank again during the junior race. From there, we saw Shirin van Anrooij easily win the under-23 women's race.
It was time for the final and super exciting race: The Elite men. Would it be a Wout van Aert vs. Mathieu van de Poel shakedown, or would other riders also be in the mix? Even before the race the crowd was getting loud. We were in a section with Belgians. They were singing the Woutje van Aert song. Fan clubs came out with their support flags, which sometimes blocked the view on the jumbotron, resulting in loud shouting, demanding to keep the flag down. Before the final race, we saw Jeremy Powers (former US champion and Pioneer Valley resident) walk by. Microphone in hand towards the Men Elite start line. I called out to him, and we had a quick chat and fist bump before he had to move on.
We had a good view off the start sprint and saw Lars van der Haar with another Dutch rider lead Matthieu van de Poel out. Wout van Aert jumped onto Matthieu's wheel. Matthieu did not want any other Belgian to make his life complicated and had a furious pace through the first lap, which only Wout van Aert could keep up with. What followed was a nail-biting race with WvA, but especially MvdP taking stabs at each other at the climb and the barriers. MvP definitely hopped the barriers more efficiently and always came out with a 10-meter lead, which WvA had to close. Except for the last lap, where everyone expected MvdP to attack at the barriers, he chose not to. This was the first time he stayed behind WvA, and stayed there until they ended up on the finish straight. Only then did MvdP unleash a wicked sprint, which seemed to surprise WvA, and he was unable to counter. Mvdp won the world championship in his home country. The 40,000 fans went crazy, well, except maybe for the Belgians.
It was so busy with all the spectators leaving that we had difficulty moving, let alone seeing the ceremony. We ended up seeing it at the jumbotron.
Afterward, we walked to our bikes and quickly made our way back to the car despite all the foot and car traffic. Neil and I then said goodbye to Meindert, who went home, and we went to the Airbnb. It had been an exciting weekend with 5 races, lots of beer, fries, mayonnaise, and bratwurst.
Maybe next year....?