French cyclo-cross pedals in a vacuum

Many years later, history still angered François Trarieux, national coach of the French cyclo-cross team, entered on Saturday 6 and Sunday 7 November, at the European Championships. “I brought Julian Alaphilippe home after a race, he was very young and vice-world junior champion, he recounts. He told me that his team demanded that he give up cross country to devote himself entirely to the road, because there was no future for a Frenchman. It wouldn’t have happened if he had been Belgian or Dutch. “

On the other side of the border, the cross country indeed keeps its place between November and January, when the road is slack. The weekend criteria attract tens of thousands of spectators and comfortable bonuses attract the best. Including the two top names, the Belgian Wout Van Aert and the Dutchman Mathieu van der Poel, who shine as well on the asphalt as on the muddy roads of Flanders.

The cross allows you to break the routine of the road

While Julian Alaphilippe left the discipline with the potential to grab a world championship title, the two stars have persevered and shared the cross country crown since 2015. This has not prevented them from winning regularly on the road, in the great classics or on stages of great tours. “The difference is that their team gives them complete freedom during the winter, because their coaches know that a cross country is an excellent training and also a way of resting from the routine of long races on the flat”, continues François Trarieux.

“In cross country, the races are short, around an hour, and the riders have to ride their bikes like motorcycles. I loved it, it’s fun and useful to get by in a peloton on the road ”, adds Dominique Arnould, the last French men’s world champion in the specialty in 1993, and today sports director of the TotalEnergies team.

Convinced of the mental and physical interest of freeing the runners for cross-country races, this boss of one of the great French teams is faced with a dilemma. His training includes in its ranks Anthony Turgis, one of the best French crossmen, who will compete in the next French championships in January, but probably not the world championships in the United States. “We will be in our back-to-school internship for the road team and we need him, even if it is heartbreaking for him and for me”, explains Dominique Arnould.

Like Anthony Turgis, France has no shortage of very good mud runners. Without being able to claim to equal the untouchables Van Aert or Van der Poel, great places of honor are possible, but not sufficient to convince cyclists and leaders. “The race is still going on, but you have to reckon with travel, the mobilization of technicians, physiotherapists, it’s expensive! “, explains a Dominique Arnould convinced that French disaffection is partly due to the geography of France. “The distances are short in Belgium or the Netherlands where the races are close to each other”, He explains, while the cross-country map of France is immense: it passes through Brittany, Normandy, the North, the Grand Est and Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes.

440 cross country races per year in France

Thus, if the races are far from having disappeared in France, they no longer attract the spotlight. “We have 440 races per year which attract hundreds of young people running in the shadows, details François Trarieux. We talk about it a little more recently because Van der Poel and Van Aert have brought the discipline back into fashion, but more should be done. “

→ INVESTIGATION. Cycling from below worried about its future

The cause was partly heard by specialized channels like The team Where Eurosport who took the wheel of these great champions to broadcast a few races on Sunday afternoon. Two World Cup events organized in France this year, in Besançon (Doubs) on November 28 and Flamanville (Manche) on January 16, will thus be relayed. “Things are moving, but as long as the road teams do not release their riders any more, cross country will remain in confidential slots, considers Dominique Arnould. Above all, we would need a French star. We did have Pauline, but it’s starting to date … “ Pauline Ferrand-Prévot was crowned world cross country champion in 2015. But she then gave up the discipline, in favor of the road and, today, mountain biking.


World Championships in France, a first for 20 years

The first world cross country championships were organized in France, in Paris in 1950, and were won by a Frenchman, Jean Robic. Since this period of abundance, the worlds have become scarce in France. The last dates back to 2004, it was organized in Pontchateau (Loire-Atlantique). After 21 years of famine, a new world championship will be organized in 2025 on French territory, in Liévin (Pas-de-Calais). Until then, the Worlds will visit three major cross country countries, the United States (2022), the Netherlands (2023) and the Czech Republic (2024).


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