Cyclocross has to be one of the most brutal cycling disciplines out there.
A 60-minute full gas effort raced through thick mud and torrential rain in the deep winter, CX is not for the faint-hearted.
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For that reason, cross is often a popular off-season training tool for the world’s best road riders.
This season, we saw a fascinating selection of WorldTour riders head off road in order to sharpen both their skills and fitness in preparation for the 2020 road season.
While there are genuine stars of both road and CX, including Lucinda Brand, Marianne Vos, and Mathieu van der Poel, we’ve picked the riders who aren’t racing in the winter as part of their regular plans, but are instead specifically using it to prepare for next season.
Here are six riders WorldTour riders who raced CX this winter:
Perhaps the most surprising rider to make an appearance in CX racing in the 2019/2020 season is Romain Bardet.
The French star is a pure Grand Tour talent who is most comfortable battling up high-altitude climbs in the Alps or Pyrennees.
But after a few seasons of disappointment while chasing glory in the Tour de France, Bardet has opted to mix things up for 2020, including racing cyclocross and opting for the Giro d’Italia instead of the Tour.
Ag2r La Mondiale rider Bardet has raced five CX races in France since November, including Montbron-Eymouthiers on December 22.
His results are actually pretty impressive too, as he finished third in Romagnat, Cournon D’Auvergne and Malintrat.
Let’s see if the top-end efforts over winter pay off in the Grand Tours.
If there’s one rider who doesn’t need to prove his hard-man credentials, it’s Michał Kwiatkowski.
The Team Ineos rider is an ever-present feature in the spring Classics and can always be seen burying himself in support of others at the Tour de France.
In November, Kwiatkowski hit the dirt in the Polish Cup, where he finished 13th.
Wout van Aert
Now of course, you could easily put Wout van Aert in the same category as Van der Poel – a phenomenal cyclocross rider who can also dominate on the road – but this season is very different for the Belgian superstar.
While Van Aert had planned to race a complete cyclocross schedule, a disastrous crash during the time trial stage of the Tour de France put him out of racing for the remainder of 2019.
After a laborious recovery from a deep wound in his thigh, Van Aert finally returned to competition in Loenhout CX in December, where he finished fifth.
He followed up with fourth in Gullegem this month.
While Van Aert, a triple CX world champion, is still clearly performing at an unbelievably high level off-road, his plans for this winter are to get back up to full speed ready for the spring Classics.
That being said, it wouldn’t be a shock if he’s able to find the legs to take a victory in the remaining few weeks of the CX season.
Annemiek van Vleuten
After another phenomenal road season in 2019, in which she won the World Championships, the Giro Rosa and Liège-Bastogne-Liège, Van Vleuten was already looking to 2020 when she lined up at the start of the Superprestige CX round of in Gieten in October.
Van Vleuten abandoned the race three quarters of the way through, but stuck around at the side-lines to cheer on her rivals.
A recent convert to the world of cyclocross is Bahrain-McLaren’s Heinrich Haussler.
The Australian decided to test his off-road legs after Merida launched a CX bike, and he seems to have fallen in love with the discipline.
Haussler has raced seven events this winter, including the World Cup in Zolder where he finished 51st.
He had more luck in Germany in November however, finishing third in the Bundesliga-Vaihinger.
In an interview with Dutch broadcaster Sporza, he said: “It was very fun but very difficult. You can do 16 sprints or so in one hour. My average heart rate was very high, you just go in the red for an hour.
Once upon a time, Zdenek was a cyclocross superstar in his own right.
The Deceuninck – Quick-Step rider won the CX World Championships back in 2010 in front of home crowds, taking a follow-up world title the following year.
Since then he has become one of the best-recognised Classics specialists in the peloton, but still keeps up with the CX racing in the winter.
He’s raced nine times this CX season, including a number of World Cup rounds.
His best result was sixth in Sint Niklass on December 21, but he is a consistent top-20 rider in any event he enters.
Stybar will be hoping to come out swinging for the cobbled Classics one things kick off with Opening Weekend in late February.