Erwin Vervecken concerned about Cyclocross World Cup reforms

Three time cyclocross world champion, and sports technical manager at Golazo, Erwin Vervecken is concerned about the world cup reforms. In an interview with cyclocross social he raises his concerns. His main problem with the world cup  is that it puts races in Belgium under pressure which: ”could lead to the failure of the entire sport.” The full interview is available as podcast on all audio platforms!

After retiring from cyclocross, Erwin Vervecken started working for Golazo. He is the sports technical manager there, which means he is involved in organizing races, arranging start contracts with riders and designing courses for the races Golazo organizes. Golazo organises the x2o Badkamers trofee, the Ethias Cross series and the World Cup rounds in Namur and Antwerp. The World Cup reforms have put these, and other, races under pressure, as it claimed almost all all Sundays between October and the world championships at the end of January.

This means that races like Diegem and Loenhout are almost forced to join the world cup if they want to stay on their preferred date, which they have had for years now. Joining the world cup isn’t easy however, as organising a world cup costs almost twice the price as organising a x2o or Superprestige race. The returns of hosting a world cup race are also not higher than if you host a x2o/Superprestige race.

Vervecken explains that as a race organizer, there are three things that earn you money: Ticketing, VIP Sales and sponsoring. Being a world cup won’t result in more tickets, both VIP and normal ones, being sold. These sales mainly depend on external factors like the weather and the startlist. The world cup in Zonhoven showed this. According to Vervecken this year we saw relatively disapointing spectator numbers, whilst just a few years ago ”de kuil” was a lot more crowded.

Zonhoven in 2021
Zonhoven in 2018

In terms of sponsoring, there is also hardly a difference between world cup races, and non world cup races. The companies that are interested in sponsoring are the same, and as the exposure is roughly the same, the prices for banners is roughly the same as well. This makes the world cup races dependent on subsidies from the local government, and also explains why Golazo is able to organize Namur and Antwerp, but was not able to organize Zonhoven. The races and Namur and Antwerp receive funding from the local governments, whist in the small village Zonhoven the local government doesn’t have the money to do that. Due to that, Golazo gave back the organization of the cross, and Flanders Classics organized the race at a big loss this year.

Despite all this, Vervecken doesn’t oppose the internationalization of the sport. He thinks it’s good, and needed if the sport wants to outgrow the reputation of Belgian national sport. However, the pace at which it is happening is to high. The sport isn’t ready to scrap starting fees, as riders now need to pay for the travel expenses themselves. He also thinks there should be a stricter selection for the races added to the world cup calendar. Throughout his career he has seen a lot of races come and go, especially in Italy. Vervecken thinks this doesn’t work, because new classics will never be created that way.

Vervecken: ”The races coming and going is down to the high costs of being in the world cup. This was already the case, but with the higher race fee it’s even more the case now. We already saw the French Pontchâteau and Nommay disappear from the world cup calendar, and we almost lost Iowa due to it. I wonder how many races will be able to survive, both in and outside the world cup.”

Vervecken thinks its best to find sustainable venues that will be able to host world cups for multiple years, but acknowledges that these venues are hard to find due to the financial issues mentioned earlier. That is also the reason why Golazo doesn’t organize a British world cup round. Vervecken sees that the interest is there, but that funding is still an issue. They can’t find a sponsor that is interested in sponsoring a British world cup race, most interested companies are still in Belgium. That’s also why Vervecken warns us for moving away from Belgium too fast: ”The base of cyclocross is still in Flanders, and if you push down where the success is, it could lead to the failure of the entire sport.”

New world cup venue Besançon in 2017

Vervecken thinks that there needs to be a major global sponsor to step in to solve the financial issues for race organizers. However, he doesn’t think that’s likely until the sport becomes Olympic, but talks about that haven’t progressed the passed 25 years.

For now, Vervecken would like to see a smaller world cup concentrated around December and January. This way the big riders, Mathieu van der Poel, Tom Pidcock and Wout van Aert, are able to compete for the overall win. This would look better in terms of reputation, as you want the best riders to win the biggest races. Vervecken doesn’t see this happening however, and remains concerned about the future of the sport.

You can listen to the full interview with Erwin Vervecken in episode 23 of the Cyclocross Social Podcast, it is available on all audio platforms.