Eva Lechner: “Having a world cup in Italy is a good first step in regrowing the sport”

11x Italian champion cyclocross, Eva Lechner, is optimistic that the worldcup in Val di Sole can mark the beginning of a new era for Italian cyclocross. In an interview on the cyclocross social podcast, she gives her view on the state of Italian cyclocross and the future of it. You can listen to the full interview as a podcast!

This weekend’s world cup in Val di Sole is the first world cup in Italy since Fiuggi in the 2016/17 season. That race was a debacle because the parcours was super slippery, and caused a ton of crashes. The following year, the world cup did not return to Fiuggi. This has been the case with most Italian world cup races since 2000. For 1 or 2 years they are able to find the money needed to organize, but after that they disappear from the calendar.

Eva Lechner however thinks that we wont see a similar scenario happening with the world cup in Val di Sole: “the organizers of the world cup in Val di Sole know what they are doing. For many years they have been organizing the world cup mountainbike, and they even hosted the world championships twice. Those were great events, with quite some spectators. I expect the same from the world cup cyclocross, and therefore think it will stay on the calendar.”

Lechner thinks that having a world cup in Italy every year is important to regrow the popularity of the sport in Italy: “I think the popularity of cyclocross has improved a bit over the last couple of years, but it is still no where near the level of when Daniele (Pontoni red.) was cycling. Having a world cup is important to go back to those times, because people will come to the race to see Wout (van Aert red.) and Mathieu (van der Poel red.). This will hopefully also encourage more young riders to pick up cyclocross. However, the world cup in Val di Sole is only a first step, there is more that needs to be done.”

Current men’s Italian champion, Gioele Bertolini, shares this view. He thinks that the world cup will be extra motivation for young Italian riders to make the step to a higher level.

Alice Maria Arzuffi, the women’s Italian champion, has similar thoughts on this issue. In her opinion there is a lack of top class races in Italy. There are a lot of local races, especially for children, but there are a lack of UCI races to really make the step towards the top. The past few years there were only a handful of UCI C2 races in Italy, and no C1/WC races. This forces riders out of the country if they want to stay in the sport, but not everyone has the money to do that.

This is also why Eva Lechner thinks its a shame that there are no youth world cup races in Val di Sole. She thinks that having those races in Italy is a crucial next step in developing Italian talent, because that will show Italians that it is possible to compete at an international level within your own country.

Her new team, FAS airport services, also has a role in this. Her team is an all Italian team, but provides its riders with the opportunity to ride races at a high level. This year they ride all world cup races, and a handful of other big races in Belgium. Racing at this level helps these young riders develop themselves, and Eva is happy that she can help the younger riders in the team out with her experience during the pre ride. Once she ends her career she would love to become a coach to help these young Italian riders even more.

But for now she will continue racing, just like she will continue hoping that cyclocross can become an Olympic sport. Lechner thinks that this will have the biggest impact on Italian cyclocross, because it would provide more money to develop talent and provide more opportunities for those talents to stay in the sport. Lechner is hopeful that the world cup in Val di Sole will convince the IOC that the sport is one that belongs on the winter Olympic games.

You can listen to the full interview with Eva Lechner in episode 39 of the Cyclocross Social Podcast, it is available on all audio platforms.