Wout and Crelan-Charles Cross Talk
Following the Trek CXC Cup and Waterloo World Cup cross races we welcomed a portion of the Crelan-Charles Cyclocross Team to SRAM’s global headquarters in Chicago. The team was making their way to O’Hare international airport to return home after two weeks in the US, which included the previous weekend’s Jingle Cross World Cup in Iowa.
As team mechanics were boxing up bikes in SRAM’s virtual shop, we spent time with the athletes on a tour of SRAM as well as a quick interview, which included World Champion Wout van Aert (Bel), Tim Merlier (Bel), Stan Godrie (Ned), and one of two females on the team, Maud Kaptheijns (Ned). Topics of discussion included the unique course conditions in Waterloo, the evolution of cross, what it takes to excel at cross, as well as rider’s long-term goals. Wout was especially candid about the burden and the bonus of wearing the World Champion's jersey.
Talk about the Trek CXC course conditions:
Wout: The course was great, very challenging, but we have never seen this before. It's dry but slippery, you have grip at first but after a lot of riding it gets slick. The extreme heat and dust were something none of us had ever experienced. The dirt in Europe is very different.
NOTE: Because of the extremely high temps (32+ Celcius / 90+ Fahrenheit) the team warmed up with ice vests and wrist coolers.
Tell us about the evolution of cross from your perspective, what has changed that fans can and can’t see?
Tim: I think the technical skills of the riders have gotten much better over the years, we are starting to see more riders jumping barriers, which is awesome. Disc brakes have made such an improvement, when it rains you still have braking. You can brake into turns later, which is way faster.
Wout: The big things are the change from cantilevers to disc brakes, electronic shifting, thru-axle, and the bikes now are one kilogram lighter. Courses are more technical, there’s much more turning.
Maud: The women are much more technical riders now. And now there are more women dedicated to cross. Also, there is more money in cross than in road races.
NOTE: Ellen Noble of Aspire Racing was bunny-hopping barriers at the Trek events.
Is jumping the barriers an advantage?
Wout, how do you feel about wearing the World Champions jersey?
I think it’s like a boat sometimes, but it’s more positive than negative, and when you put on the jersey every day it’s reminder of a beautiful memory. When you’re in a more difficult period it is more difficult because there is more pressure on you and people are watching more than other riders. It’s something difficult to handle but it’s the coolest jersey in cycling to wear. For the others it’s a difficult thing, if the others (teammates) get results it may not be reflected in the race stories.
Is it a good thing to have the World Champion on your team?
Tim: It’s a great thing for sponsors and we learn very much from Wout. And it’s normal that Wout’s results, good or bad, will be reported ahead of ours.
Maud: Yes, it’s less pressure for us.
Stan: I think it’s a positive thing.
Is a team helpful, how does the team dynamic play out in Cross races?
Wout: It is difficult to help each other during the races, but it’s critical for training to have teammates to push each other. In the races, maybe 5 of the 40 races teammates are helpful.
Tim: Wout always has a good start so he doesn’t need much help. When there are teammates you try to work together if you can.
Maud, there appears to be more depth in women’s racing, can you talk about this?
Maud: There was a big evolution last year, it (women’s racing) is on television now, and so now there are more sponsors. I think there are also a lot more pros. It’s a really good evolution.
Let’s talk about your individual strengths:
Stan: I think I have good explosive skills, cornering and technical.
Wout: I prefer more powerful course, I like long straights and heavy sections. My sprint also is not bad.
Tim: I have a good start and finish, I have a good sprint, I like technical races and I like the cold races. This was my first time in the heat (Tim finished 5th in Sunday’s hot WC).
Maud: I prefer the muddy and sandy courses, and I also have a good sprint.
What’s the role of road racing to your Cross season?
Tim: It has become more important, we are all racing on the road.
Maud: For me it is only good, but I only do short races.
Wout: It’s important to push your limits in the summer and work on your power (on the road). We take it a little easier at the end of the road season, and then we start to ramp up for our season in August.
What does it require to be a good Cross racer?
All: Work on explosive skills, technical skills, and commitment. Also it requires more core stability and weightlifting.
Short and long term goals?
Maud: Classiment (ranking), Super Prestige, and the DVV Trophy.
Tim: World, European and National Champs. Classiment (ranking) and DVV. I hope to win a race. It is also an honor to make the Belgian World Champion team.
Wout: Focused on the World Championship. World Cup is important, I messed up my chances in the WC these past two weeks. Ultimately, I want a racing career with a lot of different achievements.
Stan: Top ten will be my goal, next to Tim and Wout, a top 10 for Trophys and championship races.
Wout, in terms of your goals, is anything other than a World Championship jersey a disappointment?
I think it always depends on how the race went. If someone else is stronger than I can accept. And one day it will be impossible to win again, so I always go into to win.
Wout van Aert Bike Quick Spec:
Frame: Felt fx
Drivetrain: SRAM RED eTap HRD WiFLi
Wheels: Zipp 202 Firecrest tubular
What's on the Other Side of Victory is what really counts - Check out our new video featuring Wout and his fanatics!
Thanks to the team for making time to visit and best of luck as they return to Europe to continue their season. Stay tuned to SRAM and Zipp Facebook, Instagram and Twitter (@SRAMRoad) for regular images and reports.