Felipe Orts and Kevin Kühn, alongside Cameron Mason, are considered key figures in the internationalization of cyclocross. They manage to hold their own among the Belgians and Dutchmen who dominate the men's scene. In Merksplas, Orts even seemed to be on his way to a podium finish for a good while. They are the figureheads of the sport's internationalization, so IDLProCycling.com sought them out for a chat.
The internationalization has indeed been the topic of discussion in cyclocross over the past few weeks. The UCI wants to make the World Cup increasingly important and is talking about introducing a starting obligation for riders looking to compete in the World Championships. Many riders in Belgium and the Netherlands have criticized this view, but what is it like for riders from exotic cyclocross countries such as Switzerland and Spain to have to travel up to Belgium over and over? "I am very happy that there is now a World Cup in Benidorm," says Orts. "That is super important for the sport in Spain. And for that World Cup, it is crucial that the best riders are at the start."
Orts flies back and forth to Spain every week: "Being close to my family is good for me"
It also means that Orts doesn't have to hop on a flight to Brussels for once. Those who think the Spaniard lives in Belgium during the winter months are mistaken. "I fly back and forth from Alicante to Brussels every week. The connection is very good and it's cheaper than a second house in Belgium. Also, my family lives in Spain and seeing them is good for me," says Orts. He again emphasizes that he has no problems with the intense travelling he has to do in winter. "Overall, I am happy that I now have a team that wants to support me in this sport."
Orts rides for the Spanish team Burgos-BH, which has no base in Belgium. This is different for Circus-ReUz-Technord, the team Kevin Kühn rides for. He can stay in Belgium for several months with the support of his team and has developed well in recent years. The Swiss is currently fifth in the Superprestige standings, just two points behind second-placed Laurens Sweeck. "It's a bit more difficult for me than for the Belgians and Dutch, but with the support of the team, I can do this as a job. I am grateful for that."
"If I ride a race outside of Belgium or the Netherlands, like Val di Sole, I travel there from Switzerland"
That does not mean, however, that Kühn lives in Belgium for the entire season. "I have several blocks, but if there's a race in Val di Sole (Italy) for instance, then I travel there from Switzerland. I have to plan my travels well, but it's worth it. This is the discipline I enjoy the most, but unfortunately, I don't see the sport growing in Switzerland. That's not nice to see. The cycling federation seems to focus more on mountain biking and road cycling."
On the other hand, Orts does see significant progress in Spain, especially with the arrival of the World Cup in Benidorm. "The best riders in the world were at the starting line there and that was super important for Spanish cyclocross. We see that the level in cyclocross has gone up in recent years. In the north of Spain you can race at a decent level. It's still better in Belgium and the Netherlands, but I definitely see progress and the cyclocross in Benidorm gives extra motivation for Spanish cyclocrossers to improve. Suddenly, there's an opportunity to race against the best in your own country. The number of spectators also showed that the sport is alive.'"