Run vs Ride | A Comparative Analysis Of Belgian And US CXNATS

Indulge me as I take a bit of a deep dive into the muddy abyss of meaningless statistics. After the running races that took place in Louisville for the U.S. Cyclocross Championships there was a discussion about how much running actually happened. After we saw similar conditions during the Belgian Cyclocross National Championships, I decided to do a bit of side-by-side analysis. If I had more time, I’d have included the French CXNATS, too, because it looked like that mud rivaled Louisville for heaviness. But I’d rather have you read Taylor Jones comprehensive analysis of the French Cyclocross National Championships, coming soon.

It was close, but U.S. CXNATS involved more running than Belgian CXNATS.

The U.S. and Belgian cyclocross national championship tracks were muddy and required a lot of running. Following the elite races in the U.S., there were more than a few pointed complaints about the amount of running and the state of the track after a week of amateur racing. After seeing the Belgians running on similar conditions, but with what looked like a little thinner mud, I was curious to figure out who ran more.

I did not analyze the riding that took place. The U.S. track definitely seemed tougher to ride with deeper mud and heavier conditions. There are also many variable to consider such as course condition changes throughout the hour, strategic decisions, fatigue, and riding/running styles. So I kept it simple: first lap for both races and time spent off the bike.

Here’s the breakdown:

The U.S. men on lap one (I tracked Curtis White and Stephen Hyde for this analysis) dismounted nine times (possibly ten, the keyhole section was not covered on the broadcast).

The least amount of time off the bike was six seconds at the planks. The most time spent off the bike was 36 seconds from the off-camber below the lime stone steps to the right turn after the lime stone steps. You can see below my notes for the exact times and durations of the dismounts and remounts.

My barely legible notes for dismounts on first lap of U.S. men’s CXNATS race.

In the end, the U.S. men spent 153 seconds of the 10:38 lap off of the bike. That is 24% of the lap. The winner crossed the line in one hour and seven minutes, which meant roughly 765 seconds or 12.75 minutes of the race was spent off the bike.

For the Belgian men on lap one (I predominantly tracked Toon Aerts and Michael Vanthourenhout), there were also nine dismounts. The shortest was negligible, 2 seconds for a bike change. The next shortest was four seconds, which came just 21 seconds into the race. The longest time off the bike was 27 seconds at a set of switch back off-cambers. Below are my notes for this lap.

My notes for the first lap of the Belgian CXNATS men’s race. My dad was an MD, scientifically proven to have horrible writing skills and bad penmanship is a genetic trait <– I don’t know if that’s true. I’m also bad at math, so double-check those numbers.

At the end of lap one, the Belgian leaders had spent 136 seconds of an 11 minute and 26 second lap off the bike. That is equal to 19.825%. The winner crossed the line in one hour, eight minutes and 54 seconds, which is around 11.5 minutes off the bike for the entire race.

“The course must form a closed circuit of a minimum length of 2.5km and maximum 3.5 km, of which at least 90% shall be ridable.”

UCI Rule 5.1.017

Here is the course map for the 2.77km U.S. track. The parts shaded in red are the sections that Hyde and White ran. The 90 percent rule, above, is based on distance, not time.

U.S. CXNATS course map with estimated running sections in red.

The course map for the 2.9km Belgian track was a little more difficult to interpret, especially because I only saw the track on television and not in person. Riders for this race were also off the bike for more distance than allowable under the UCI rule but less than the U.S. race.

Belgian CXNATS course map with estimated running sections in red.

Conclusion: A lot of this is comparing muddy apples to muddy oranges. The differing topography at both sites and the thickness of mud made for dissimilar racing conditions. Regardless, both races required minutes per lap off the bike. And that was my focus in this exercise.

Even with many contingency plans in place, I think that the organizers could not have foreseen the amount of rain and mud that was going to completely alter the tracks they created. Lap times were longer than anticipated, even with a parallel track being used in parts in Louisville. But in the end, the amount of running, although more than allowed under the rules, did not take away from meaningful racing. And I think that’s the bottom line: For the US and Belgium, the races were fair and the spectators got a great show, although the athletes may not have been thrilled about the conditions.

Thoughts? Leave a comment below.

Feature photo © 2018 Ethan Glading. Follow him on Instagram at @thepenultimatestage

You can follow Bill Schieken on Twitter and Instagram at @CXHAIRS. 

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3 thoughts on “Run vs Ride | A Comparative Analysis Of Belgian And US CXNATS

  1. It would be an interesting thought excercise to consider whether the leading Belgians would have run less on the US course. Some of their best riders make it across off camber mess that always looks unridable. Also – hard to judge because initial laps don’t have the ruts that develop later in the race and make the muddy sections actually more ridable.

  2. Good work! Not that anyone really cares for the musings of yet another master’s guy… but I did my own similarly nerdy post-race analysis exercise comparing my 35-39 race on Friday (relatively dry conditions just before all hell broke loose) and the SS race on Saturday (full megaepic). While the bike was different the ability to compare conditions and stats on the same course allowed for some similar sleuthing to yours…to see how much harder the effort was when significantly more time was spent running, and how much more running there was than a more typical, but still “this is cyclocross” type of muddy race. Deets here ( but in summary: 1) Lap times were 3 minute longer on Saturday; 2) Time off the bike: 30 seconds on Fri (7% of race time) vs. 4:15 on Sat (40% of race time, versus that of the leading 2 elite’s at 24% on Sunday); 3) HR: short duration HR peaks were consistently 2 bpm higher on Sat; 4) Power: Though not a true tell, but nonetheless interesting since the course was the same, I used power at 0->200w as a proxy for time off the bike (acknowledging lots of time is spent on bike, coasting in any race)=> I took 3 years of average CX race power data which showed: on average in dry conditions 30-40% of time is at 0-200w; on average muddy conditions this only increased to 35-45%; and sure enough on Friday I spent 46% at 0-200w; but on Saturday I spent a whopping 71% of race at 0-200w. So undoubtedly yes, the racing from Friday PM through Sunday at CXNats was atypical, and required way more running than an average muddy race, but interestingly once the Elite’s got out there (and things did dry up a bit plus allowing for course mod’s) not so much more than what we revere as true Belgium mud conditions like their Nats this past weekend. For the haters on the amount of running at our CXNats, its quite simply a case of run what you brung, and that is the beauty of this sport.

  3. I think a huge point to note here is that we are talking about US Nats and Belgain Elite Nats. When the course gets opened up a week out for the Belgians, outside of a lucky few, it is only elite riders on the courses until the race. Which means a lot of things for the race it’s self. 1. In order to ride in mud you must have ruts. Ruts become a track to put your wheels in, it doesn’t matter what kind of tread you have when you have a slot car track to drop your bike into. Even scootering along is faster and easier than running. With only skilled riders on your course, you develop the lines that will then help you later in your race. Practice them, race them, make everyone believe in magic. 2. Types of mud. With most of the Euro mud you will see, it doesn’t stick much. There is very little rocks and roots and even when it’s “dry” in the winter, the ground is soaked and soft. Therefor tires break right through the grass and dig straight down to form lines. In the US we saw not mud but CLAY. Big difference here. More rain would have made it less sticky and the farther out we were from the rain the harder the clay stuck to feet, tires and bikes. You didn’t see bikes getting clogged at BK. You also saw less pitting at BK, where as the US riders pitted from the very first pit to the last one.
    3. RUTS AND GOOD LINES. The magic combination of a professionally built course ridden only by professional and elite riders means that very few parts of the course actually have tire marks on them and very specific sections get feet on them. When you have everyone from 12yo to 90yo’s on course for an entire week, you get nothing left to ride on. 4. Fitness. Absolutely not wrong about the US riders being less fit in general. This is a much longer write up and has been gone through a hundred times. But yes, most riders in the Elite field are not actually professional riders in a sense and do actually go slower. Also, not having the ability to ride professional only course we end up not being able to ride in lines like we would like to race on without them getting trampled by the masses before the start of our events.

    The list goes on.

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