Posts Tagged ‘Stybar’

Complete Control

February 8, 2012

Words: Ian Cleverly Photos: Daniel Sharp

There was a point, early on in last weekend’s ‘cross race, when the penny dropped. Picking myself up for the second time in quick succession, my team-mate Graham, held up yet again by another’s impetuous behaviour and poor bike handling, issued the following advice: “Calm down!”

It was aimed at me. He was quite correct. A bad start in a ‘cross race is not the end of the world, especially when there is snow on the ground and mistakes to be made. Allow others to make the mistakes while staying loose, focussed and (most importantly) upright. Just because somebody shoves it up the inside on a hairpin bend, doesn’t mean to say you have to shut the door, causing you both to hit the deck. And losing one place approaching a technical section should not raise the hackles unduly. Keep calm, carry on and wait your chance – as opposed to getting riled, tightening up and crashing. Again.

Had I seen the previous day’s excellent GVA Trofee race in Lille (thanks to Dave Haygarth for pointing it out) perhaps the first lap mayhem would have been avoided. The closing stages, with eight men – including Pauwels, Nys, Albert and Stybar – still in contention for the win are some of the finest racing I have seen all season. It certainly knocks the procession of the World Championships at Koksijde into touch.

The winner was Tom Meeusen and the winning move was genius. Nys takes the inside line approaching the right-hander into the woods, pushing Meeusen wide and off his line, with Stybar leading. Tom simply dismounts immediately, sprints round the trees and has the momentum to emerge from the section in the lead, and the power to take the sprint from the front.

It is an object lesson in thinking on your feet – literally, in this instance. The vastly experienced Nys played his ace; the youngster reacted in a split second and got the upper hand. They call him The Iceman, apparently, because of his ability on frozen courses. He’s certainly a cool customer, and that quick thinking and calm under pressure are attributes we could all make use of.

I met Meeusen a few years back at a Fidea team training day in Belgium. Reigning world champion at the time, Erwin Vervecken, pointed out the teenager to me as being one to watch in the future, so I have always looked out for him. Truth is, he blows hot and cold, but when he’s good – like in Lille – he’s very, very good.

Should you have an hour and a half to spare, settle down and watch the whole race. It’s worth it. If not, forward to 1hour 20mins and watch from there. You might learn something. I did.


Flanders Field

February 3, 2011

Extract from Rouleur issue 22, on sale from
Wednesday, February 9th at

Words Ian Cleverly Photos Marthein Smit

© SmitIf there is such a thing as motor home envy among the cyclo-cross fraternity, then Ian Field is guilty as charged. Wandering the competitor’s parking area at this year’s Koppenbergcross at Oudenaarde in search of “Field de Brit”, as race commentators now refer to the slightly-built man from Kent, the pecking order becomes apparent.

The stars riding for major teams are ensconced in almighty wagons, keeping warm before stepping out to prepare for the race on rollers beneath retractable awnings. Sponsor’s names and truly awful, larger-than-life, gurning images of the riders adorn each mobile home. Local residents with the honour of hosting Sven Nys’ or Niels Albert’s vehicles in their driveway are privileged indeed.

Step outside the top 30 or so sponsored riders and the motor homes become slightly more compact: less storage space for bikes, little room to move around inside, but still perfectly serviceable. Step down again and you find guys like Ian Field, doing their damnedest to break into this world of luxury cruisers and the six-figure salaries that come with them.

Our photographer, Marthein, being Dutch and well versed in all things cyclo-cross, and having attended practically every big race on the calendar last season, asks if we’ll be meeting at our subject’s camper van. “Field de Brit”, I point out, drives a Citroen Berlingo, so we’d be meeting there.

© SmitWelcome to the glamorous life of a pro ‘cross rider in Belgium. As branches of cycle sport go, cyclo-cross is about as ludicrous a way to make a living as they come – on a par, perhaps, with Six Day racing in hardship terms, but with added cold, mud and misery. Yet the likes of Stybar, Wellens, Nys and Albert earn very good money indeed. Thousands pay to watch their heroes in action, drinking copious quantities of Belgian beer from plastic cups in muddy fields. Millions more tune in on the TV at home every weekend throughout the winter. It is, in many respects, a hugely unlikely major sport, but the Belgians love it to bits. An hour of flat-out racing where anything can happen – and often does – is perfect Sunday lunchtime entertainment for the average Leffe-fuelled Flandrian couch potato.

© SmitBart Wellens has starred in his own reality TV show, Wellens en Wee, and the weekend before our arrival in Oudenaarde had appeared on The Last Show, “Belgium’s equivalent to Friday Night with Jonathan Ross,” according to Field. “It was a cyclo-cross special, with Nys, Alberts, Wellens and Stybar. And Wellens’ wife. That shows how big it is. A primetime TV show, dedicated to ‘cross racing. They had mud from different places and the riders had to smell it and identify where it was from…”