The great Las Vegas sporting tradition is of prize fighting. Boxing occupies exalted position in the lore of Vegas, and the faces of fighters stare down from billboards like malevolent gods.
The charm of CrossVegas has always rested in its unrepentantly Las Vegas style, complete with an Elvis impersonator (who belts out a rendition of, you guessed it, “Viva CrossVegas” before the pro races), bright lights, and a course that rewards pugilistic racing. Now that the race has been promoted to the rank of UCI World Cup, it felt like the bike racers challenged the boxers for the city’s affection, at least for one night this Wednesday, 16th September.
Thousands packed in to the Desert Breeze Soccer Complex for the racing, enjoying the sight of 40 or so bemused-looking European professionals warming up in the already warm air. The North American racers enjoyed the reversal of roles – at the highest echelons of cyclocross, Americans rarely get to feel ‘at home’. As the sun set and a welcome breeze worked its way across the fields, the race announcer introduced each competitor at the start line. It was surprising to not hear a long and pronounced shout of “let’s get ready to rumble” after the final name on his list.
The racing was truly a slugfest, as it is every year. Rapha’s Jeremy Powers [pictured above] put this down to the incongruously lush and tacky grass, which resists all but the most determined accelerations. This means that CrossVegas plays out unlike any other World Cup race, with large packs of racers riding side-by-side, matching each other’s efforts, looking for the decisive moment in which to make a move. The course never requires a rider to shoulder their bike – a fact sacrilegious to some cross fans – and it’s even possible to ride the whole course without setting a foot on the ground, provided you can bunny hop 40cm and have little trouble riding up sets of stairs.
The women’s race was fraught, as Katerina Nash (Luna) made a late move from a select group that included last year’s overall World Cup winner, Sanne Cant (Enertherm-BKCP). Nash never seemed to have more than a 20 second advantage, but ripped through every corner to secure a solo win. Lisa Jacobs [pictured above], the Australian national champion who represents Rapha and Focus bikes, fought her way from the back row to a solid 22nd place.
The men’s race followed the same pattern, with racers trading digs at the front of the group, followed by a huge and marauding peloton. Confusion reigned for the first handful of laps – it seemed that a dozen riders tried their luck before Michael Vanthourenhout (Sunweb-Napoleon Games) broke free, eventually being chased down by young Wout van Aert (Vastgoedservice-Golden Palace) and the evergreen Sven Nys (Crelan-AA Drinks). The insouciance of youth was not to be denied, however, and Van Aert dropped his companions, holding a 23 second advantage at the finish line.
The experience and racing intelligence of Jeremy Powers was evident in the way he seemingly appeared from nowhere to lead the chase for the podium. He was joined by Lars van der Haar (Giant-Alpecin) and last year’s overall World Cup winner, Kevin Pauwels. The group tried everything to cut their deficit to Nys, even eschewing the wooden banking of the course’s wide U-turn in favour of a more direct route across the corner’s grassy apex. Showing impressive strength, Powers rode the stairs on every lap, and did more than his fair share of the work in the chasing group. He was outsprinted in the end, but this was his best ever result in a World Cup, and the pedigree of those he left in his wake is testament to his achievement.