One of the interesting aspects of cyclocross is that despite the fact that people are often riding for teams, team tactics (for the most part) don’t factor into races. But just every so often, they come into play.
There was a bit of drama this past Kerstperiod in Belgium in Bredene. Generally speaking, Versluys Cross is a quite race, being smack dab in the middle of the Kerstperiod, right after two hard UCI World Cup races and sandwiched by C1’s. It’s a nice race for start money, but most of the riders aren’t on top form. No Tv coverage, but a bit of drama from Gianni Vermeersch (Sunweb) and Sven Nys did give us some great after the race footage and some Twitter drama.
— Sven Nys (@sven_nys) December 30, 2015
But this did foreshadow an excellent win by Dieter Vanthourenhoutt for his fourth win of the year. Dieter has been an interesting rider to watch this year. He has ventured to Switzerland several times this year to race in the new EKZ series and done many non-Belgian races. This has given D. Vanthourenhout quite a boost in the past year from a start at 89th position to a current 367 points and 45th position, a jump of 12 places from the previous week.
This boost put Vanthourenhout into the magical top 50 of the UCI rankings and guarantees him a start position at the last two World Cups of the season. I’d put money that so many Subweb guys showed up to that race with the sole intention of getting D. Vanthourenhout the win. There were several Sunweb riders riding a very defensive race from what I have heard. It may even go as far as to explain the aggressive tactics of Vermeersch.
The previous week D. Vanthourenhout was in 56th position with 314 points. A 21 point gap was between him and 50th position and a start. But even a 3rd place would likely keep him out of the top position and in fact for this past week 50th place required at least 349 points, which really meant even 2nd place at the race would have left him 5 points shy of making it. He needed the win. It may very well be D. Vanthourenhout was able to beat his brother Michael Vanthourenhout (U23 World Champion of 2015) and current Belgian Champion Klaas Vantornout through team tactics. They couldn’t risk Nys making it to the front of the race and having D. Vanthourenhout risk not winning.
But these tactics paid off, along with his win Vanthourenhout placed 10th in the C1 finale of the EKZ series to give himself another 10 points to his haul. A nice padding to solidify his position at in the rest of the World Cups.
And I guess while I’m talking about the subject, another interesting fact I parsed while researching this quick post. Does the current World Cup system keep people in the top 50, continuously in the top 50? In many ways it does for some. One rider of interest is Jens Vandekinderen. He came on my radar after HPCX in New Jersey. Here was this unknown Belgian who showed up to do two random races on the East Coast and ended up scoring a 1st and 2nd place for a points haul of 60 for the weekend. Not bad for one weekend that shot him from 56th to 44th position. He’s currently in a solid 39th in the world ranking with 421 points. The interesting point factoid is this, if you take out his current World Cup points he’s earned this season due to being eligible to race the World Cups, he is actually ranked 54th with 317 points, outside the top 50 which earned him the right to continue to be in the top 50 and keep racing World Cups with their disproportionately high points.
And that is the conundrum of the World Cup. Once good enough to get into the World Cup, you virtue of being in the World Cups can often insure you continue to stay in the World Cups and that keeps you in the top 50. It’s a bit of a paradox for some who are Belgian Men or American Women (the two groups who this Top 50 rule mostly affects). I’m not saying Vandekinderen is a bad rider who doesn’t deserve his World Cup place (his 3 top 30 placings confirm he belongs racing there) but it’s not just him.
Amanda Nauman became eligible for the World Cup in Zolder with an automatic place after the ranking that came out after Namur with just coming in at 50th place, but she was past the deadline for entry and therefore could not enter that race and is now ranked 53rd. A race at the World Cup could have kept her in the top 50. The same could be said for Arley Kemmer, who was just one point shy of the top 50, was in Europe and couldn’t race the Zolder World cup. This cost Kemmer 42 points that she couldn’t defend to keep; further pushing her outside the top 50.
I am still very much for the Top 50 rule, it keeps talented riders from being either left off national rosters or disenfranchising people due to limited selection ability of the national federation, but it’s not without it’s flaws. As we have a more competitive cyclocross field we will find more and more people (especially ambitious Belgians) chasing points to get into World Cups for both the publicity, but also the better start position and high points available.