PEZ Picks the Best ‘Cross Men Ever!
Ed’s Cross Choice: In the last couple of years we have seen cyclo-cross riders do rather well on the road and brining more fans to the muddy discipline. But there has been some big stars that have made their name ‘Fighting in the Fields’ of northern Europe in the winter months. Ed Hood has listed the multi World cross champions, and looks at their careers.
35 ‘cross wins in a row for Mathieu van der Poel and counting… He can do what he wants
The best roadman, ever? Eddy Merckx, of course. But! The generation before mine will say; ‘nonsense, it was Fausto Coppi and he lost a large chunk of his career to World War Two and a prisoner of war camp!’
Eddy Merckx followed by a World amateur and professional cyclo-cross champion Roger de Vlaeminck
But perming Grand Tour wins against Classic victories and factoring in the manner of victory is never an exact science With cyclo-cross it’s perhaps simpler with world titles won serving as the arbiter. Without further ado then, let’s take a look at the top winners and also discuss some names who we perhaps remember as being further up the tree.
Seven time World ‘cross champion – Erik De Vlaeminck
Erik De Vlaeminck, Belgium: is the undisputed king with seven title, 1966, ’68, ’69, ’70, ’71, ’72 and ’73. And four times Belgian champion against quality men like Albert Van Damme and Rene De Clerq. A master bike handler, able to ride where other ran and capable of stunts like riding along the top of walls as his rivals slogged through the mud on a parallel path. He had his demons though and an addictive personality meant time in rehab after his career ended – and he suffered the trauma of seeing his son, Geert die in a cyclo-cross race in 1993. His time as National Coach for Belgium’s ‘cross men was fruitful – not all super stars have that ability. De Vlaeminck senior was a solid roadman too with wins including a Tour de France stage, the Tour of Belgium, not to mention two podiums in the Flèche Wallone. He passed away in 2015 at 70 years-of-age.
Erik – Belgian manager with Sven Nys
Andre Dufraisse, France: was five time champion between 1954 and ’58 – not to mention two silver and four bronze medals between ’54 and ’63. The first world championship was only held in 1950 so Dufraisse wins came at a time when the sport was not as highly developed as it is now and before De Vlaeminck ushered the Belgians into the first of their 30 titles to date.
World champion five times – Andre Dufraisse
Renato Longo, Italy: was Dufraisse successor, taking his first of five titles in 1959 and the last in 1967 with two silver medals in between times and a final bronze in ’69. Long limbed but fragile he was renowned for his technical skills; he was 12 times Italian Champion and won 230 ‘crosses during his career.
Renato Longo – Italian cross World champ five times
Albert Zweifel, Switzerland: is the last of the three men on five titles, his first coming in 1976 and the last a decade later in 1986 with three silver and two bronze medals in the interim. He was nine times nationals champion in an era when the Swiss were very much at the forefront of cyclo-cross with riders like five time podium finisher Peter Frischknecht and 1988 champion, Pascal Richard. The Swiss excelled in the mud which seemed omnipresent in the era before the UCi tightened the regulations to decree that the parcours should be largely rideable.
Cross Worlds’86 podium: Pascal Richard – Albert Zweifel – Hennie Stamsnijder
Roland Liboton, Belgium: the classy Belgian dominated ‘cross between 1980 and ’84; taking four wins, only missing out to lanky Hennie Stamsnijder in 1981 on a muddy Basque Country parcours suited to the long-legged man from The Netherlands. Liboton also took an amateur title in 1976 and was Belgian professional champion for 10 years straight from 1980 to 1989 against opposition which included 1989 pro world champion, Danny De Bie.
Roland liboton – 10 time Belgian champion and 4 times in the rainbows
Roger Rondeaux, France: was the second world champion at the discipline, his first title in 1951 following his silver medal behind inaugural winner, countryman, Jean Robic in 1950. Rondeaux defended his title twice to make him the first of six men with three wins. Before he became a cyclist he was a race walker and performed well in the hills and in time trials before he specialised in ‘cross.
Three time champ from France – Roger Rondeaux
Rolf Wolfshohl, Germany: Longo’s big rival, the German took his three titles in 1960, ’61 and ’63; there were also five silver and four bronze medals – remarkable consistency from a man who also won the Vuelta, Paris-Nice and the Tour de l’Aude. There were podiums too in races as diverse as Het Volk, Liege-Bastogne-Liege, Milan-Sanremo and the motor paced epic Bordeaux-Paris.
Rolf Wolfshohl – Cross star of the 60s
Mario De Clerq, Belgium: the third of our three time winners, with wins in 1998, ’99 and 2002 and a three time silver medallist with one bronze to complete the set. Not a man to smile much, he was a decent road man with podiums in races like the Rund um Koln and Brabantse Pijl. He was a prolific winner in an era of strong opposition, men like compatriots, thrice champion, Erwin Vervecken and double champions Bart Wellens and Sven Nys – of whom, more later.
Mario De Clerq
Erwin Vervecken, Belgium: his wins came in 2001, ‘06 and ‘07 and like De Clerq’s wins, in an era where strong opposition abounded. Unlike the stereo typical small, wiry ‘crosser, Vervecken was a big man who’s strength was peaking for the Worlds.
Three times in the special jersey – Erwin Vervecken
Zdenek Stybar, Czech Republic: champion in 2010, ’11 and ’14 – still racing, still smiling and still winning – but on the road now with the mighty Deceuninck armada; 2019 saw him win Het Nieuwsblad and the GP E3. Another big man with plenty of power and excellent technical skills. He’s won a Tour stage; and a win in Paris-Roubaix – where his terrific bike handling skills are a boon – is still possible.
Stybar World champ in 2010, plus ’11 and ’14
Wout Van Aert, Belgium: he should have won in 2015 but shouldn’t have ridden a new ‘trick’ machine with ‘one x’ transmission which gave him grief and enabled a certain Mathieu van der Poel to don the rainbow. No mistakes in ’16, ’17 or ’18 though – but the big Dutchman got the better of him again this year and it looks like VdP has his name on the title for as long as he wishes.
It looks like Wout van Aert will concentrate more on the road
And there you have the 11 men who have won three or more titles; but there are a couple of names, surprisingly missing.
Sven Nys, Belgium: ‘only’ twice a champion but a prolific winner; perhaps if hadn’t been so good for so much of the season and had concentrated on peaking for the Worlds then that title count would be higher? But as with Adri passing the good genes on, Sven’s genes have been passed to his son, Thibaud who’s European Junior Cyclo-Cross Champion and dominating junior ‘cross all across Europe.
Sven Nys should have won more rainbows
Adri Van Der Poel, The Netherlands: ‘just’ one win but five silvers, two bronzes – and a Tour of Flanders, Liege-Bastogne-Liege, Amstel Gold. . .
Adri van der Poel – Cross and road star… and father
Young Mathieu already has one more ‘cross title than his dad and has matched his Amstel win – roll on 2020. And right now it looks like world title number three is Mathieu’s to lose; and could even Erik’s seven wins be in danger?
Watch this space . . .
How many world titles can Mathieu take?
It was November 2005 when Ed Hood first penned a piece for PEZ, on US legend Mike Neel. Since then he’s covered all of the Grand Tours and Monuments for PEZ and has an article count in excess of 1,800 in the archive. He was a Scottish champion cyclist himself – many years and kilograms ago – and still owns a Klein Attitude, Dura Ace carbon Giant and a Fixie. He and fellow Scot and PEZ contributor Martin Williamson run the Scottish site www.veloveritas.co.uk where more of his musings on our sport can be found.