After some nice riding on Saturday in the Rochefort area we went to see the real pros on Sunday in Houffalize for round 2 of the World Cup XCO. The new track built by the organization is simply spectacular although a bit confusing for spectators at times, even without the “on course” obligatory Belgian beers. The course is now completely situated on the slope and hill top next to the permanent fourcross track allowing a great view on the action from the other side of the valley.
The race itself, as far as Belgian fans were considered, consisted out of two parts. One was the WC race itself with an expected battle between Absalon and Schurter, the other the race within the race of cyclocross ace Sven Nys trying to score points and a better starting place towards the London Olympics. Absalon and Schurter delivered on the expectations to say the least putting in time on the chasing group every round and spoiling the fans on the steep descent towards the finish line with some of the finest technical riding. Fontana, Fumic and Stander, in a league of their own as well, were left to battle it out for the rest of the podium. In the end Absalon played his cards on the second to last climb out powering Schurter and creating a comfortable 25 sec lead for the final descent on his way to his third victory in Houffalize.
In the meanwhile Nys, massively supported by the Belgian fans, was biking an impressive “catch up” race maneuvering between other bikers in both the climbs and descents. Most of these fans, mainly coming from the cyclocross world, didn’t know anyone outside Absalon, Nys and van Hoovels, the other Belgian rider, but what the heck. You could simply locate Nys by the decibel peaks produced around the track. In the end he managed to move up from starting position 90 to finish as 33rd which is, in this world class field of riders, quit a performance.
With temperatures of around 5C and forecasted rain still around 5000 fans showed up for this mtb event in the bike friendly community of Houffalize. The speed of execution, calculated risks and endurance of the top riders are still impressive to watch. XCO still is, sorry guys, way more interesting than watching cyclocross or road races and seems more like a fair man (or women) against man battle. With a 10 mins report on national television Sunday evening it seems like interest is growing. Hopefully Houffalize keeps its WC slot for next year or even, as rumours go, organizes the World Championships in 2013. At least the prizes for the podium finishers, a magnum La Chouffe and smoked Ardennes ham, would make us return next year as a racer!