The second round of the UCI Cyclo-Cross World Cup will unfold tomorrow.
After an opening tussle in Tabor last week, the world’s best ‘cross riders will go wheel-to-wheel again a little over 100km down the road in Plzen.
Kevin Pauwels (Sunweb-Revor) and Sanne Van Passen (Rabobank) made a successful start to their campaigns in the elite men’s and elite women’s categories and will seek to build on solid foundations.
Two other riders seeking to do so will be Great Britain’s reigning ‘cross champions, Helen Wyman (Kona) and Ian Field (Hargroves).
Wyman kicked off her World Cup campaign with an impressive podium finish while Field, the sole British rider in the elite men’s category, finished just outside the top 30 and will hope for better this weekend.
Victory at the opening round of British Cycling’s National Trophy Series reaffirmed his status as British number one. Field will compete in the final round of the series at Derby on January 6 as preparation for the defence of his national title the following week, but his focus is firmly on the sport’s elite level. “You can’t really compare the National Trophies to a World Cup because the standard is so different,” he says.
While the continental courses have more ‘power sections’, the difference between the competitors at domestic and world level represents a wider divide. “It is obviously the best 60 guys in the world all charging into the first corner together,” says Field. “It’s a lot more physical in terms of fighting for position over the first few laps and where I am in the races there is no let up. It’s ‘flat stick’ from the lights to the finish for me.”
Last weekend in Tabor saw Field compete on the world stage in the jersey of British champion for the first time. Despite wearing it for over 10 races since his victory at the beginning of the year, people still offer their congratulations. “It’s pretty special to wear the jersey at any race because it feels like you are representing the UK by wearing it,” he said. The national champion’s jersey has begun to feel like his own.
Field is the only British male competing at the world level of cyclo-cross. He admits to being driven by the desire to develop his potential, to find out how far he can go in the sport, and not to be left wondering what could have been; a certainty, he says, had he continued to compete only in the National Trophy Series. “It can only be good for you as a rider to compete against guys that are better than you,” he reasons. He welcomes the physical and technical challenge of the World Cup, of being pushed to his limits, physically and technically, “week in, week out”. The satisfaction of giving everything against the world’s best and finishing among the top 25 riders is comparable to winning a domestic race, he says.
In cyclo-cross, proving yourself against the world’s best means taking on riders from the Low Countries. The first seven riders home in last year’s world championship were Belgian, and the Dutch, dominant in women’s ‘cross, remain a force in men’s racing. Field attributes their dominance to strength in depth and the financial rewards on offer to riders from nations where the sport holds a much higher profile. “From a very young age, the riders are very good, and if you are growing up surrounded by good guys you can only improve faster. They really push each other and up the standard every year and I guess the big money to be earned is a great incentive for them from such an early age,” he says.
Having achieved a lifetime ambition by becoming national champion last season, Field has no main goal for 2012/13. Instead, he has set himself a series of smaller targets, the first of which he has achieved by scoring more World Cup points at this stage of the season than last.
Field is backing last year’s World Cup and world championship victors to continue their success. Kevin Pauwels (Sunreb-Revor), winner last week of the opening round of this season’s World Cup, will successfully defend his title, Field believes. “He is super strong again this year and with a loyal team mate usually in the front group with him like Klass Vantorhout he is really dangerous.” He also backs Sven Nys to add a second world championship to his palmares, with the caveat that world championships are “always crazy” and likely to be more so in Louisville, Kentucky. “It will be really interesting to see how the Europeans cope with the travel,” he muses.
Field will line-up alongside both men at tomorrow’s second round of the World Cup in Plzen. He is likely to do so again in Kentucky, with his opening round victory at the National Trophy Series proving that he is among the very best, perhaps the best, ‘cross rider Britain has. Field lists Paul Oldham (Hope), his Hargroves teammate, Jody Crawforth, Endura Racing’s Oli Beckingsale, and mountain bike racer, David Fletcher, as those likely to contest national honours, but not Liam Killeen, owing to his ongoing recovery from an injury suffered in the Olympic mountain bike race.
Resident now in the Belgian town of Oudenaarde, Field is cutting no corners in his drive to race with the best. He has a nickname in his adopted home (“Field de Brit”) and a British champion’s jersey to prove his pedigree in his own land. Cyclo-cross remains one of the few outposts of cycling that Britain does not dominate. Tomorrow, Field will again do his best establish a British presence among the ‘cross elite.