Slick Mud In Milton Keynes

We’re still picking mud out of our eyes after a weekend of cyclocross racing in Milton Keynes, where the crowd was treated to two fine afternoons of slick racing on a slicker course. Some 8,000 people turned up for the World Cup on Saturday, making for a raucous atmosphere. That the IPA sold out at an unfeasibly early hour and the chip van was taken aback by the crowd’s appetite for mayonnaise are clear signals that a good time was had by all.

The course was a classic – grueling physically and mentally, with some genuinely head-scratching off-camber sections. The first corner alone was a sign of the organisers’ sadistic treachery, forcing the riders into flying over a concrete lip onto a steep hillside, trying to control two-wheel slides at sprinting speeds. This set the tone for the lap, which knitted together running, ruts and elevation changes into a dramatic and demanding lap.

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Two (unnamed) doyennes of the cross peloton asked for the course to be widened at key points to allow for better (and less deadly) line selection. The American Gavin Haley (Red Zone Elite) made the most of these new lines, smoothly pedaling through the junior race when many of his adversaries had to run. Alfie Moses (Paul Milnes Cycles) defended his National Trophy leader’s jersey with a strong second place despite flinging himself over the bars in spectacular fashion within a minute of the starter’s gun.

As the women lined up for the start, theirs faces seemed equally split between stressed anticipation and beaming joviality. The season so far has felt like the Sanne Cant (Enertherm-BKCP) show with occasional guest appearances from the rest of the peloton, but on Saturday her spotlight was shared equally with Katie Compton (Trek). The duo spent most of the race in each other’s company, putting in a series of flawless laps. Their eventual sprint, which Cant nicked with a near-perfect bike throw, was as exiting a finish as any this year.

The men’s race had an undeniable element of slapstick, with riders suffering at the mercy of the well-churned course. Every few minutes, some rider could be spotted lifting himself out of the mud, trying to figure out which way they were meant to be facing. Sven Nys (Trek) suffered a couple of early set backs that left him mixing it with domestic pros as the rear of the race – yet he managed to work his way back up to fifth. A note to the TV production crew: there should be a camera dedicated to chronicling Nys’s journey through every race. We simply miss too much of his genius in the throng.

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Ian Field (Hargroves) had a spectacular afternoon, putting on an accomplished performance and earning twelfth. Francis Mourey (FDJ.fr) once again bolstered his credentials as a superlative rider of the mud, and Rapha’s Jeremy Powers showed that you can still put on a good show when you’re having a bad day by riding up (yes, up) the stairs every lap. After the third time round, the crowd was his.

Still, the day belonged to teammates Kevin Pauwels and Klaas Vantornout (Sunweb-Napoleon Games). Their contrast in style was a show in itself: Vantornout is loping and rangy, seemingly at ease during even the most intense efforts; Pauwels is more compact and sprightly, attacking the runs with high foot speed and a sense of urgency.

They dispatched the others in their group more through attrition than attacks, and repeated the finish of the women’s race with their two-up sprint – although many might argue that Compton put up more of a fight than Vantornout, who seemed a bit too ready to concede the win to his teammate and leader of the World Cup standings.

Jeremy Powers said of the course, “it’s intense – you do 500 watts for two minutes, then run 4-minute mile pace up a hill while carrying your bike, try not to crash in a technical section, then go back to doing 500 watts. It’s incredible.”

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