Every year when the elite cyclocross calendar is released, I circle a few race dates I don't want to miss. One of those races is Diegem, a night race held under the lights in a town center, traditionally around Christmas time. Diegem helped inspire the Cross Vegas night race in the United States, which was organized by Brook Watts.
The second must-see is Zonhoven, which features a steep, challenging, race-defining sand pit that riders run up and ride down several times. Sadly, both these events were cancelled in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but they're both back in 2021. Zonhoven takes place tomorrow - Sunday, October 24, 2021.
What does "De Kuil" mean?
De Kuil is the defining feature of the Zonhoven circuit. De Kuil is a nature preserve in Zonhoven, Flanders region, in Belgium. Translated from Dutch, "De Kuil" literally means "the ditch", but for cyclocross fans, "the (sand) pit" might be more accurate.
The key feature is a massive, natural ampitheatre, shaped like a bowl that holds most of the action. Riders fly up and down the massive slopes repeatedly during the course of the hour, hemmed in by spectators on both sides of the "beach". It's fast, loud, and thrilling.
Going up, the running ability of the athlete is tested with steep, long climbs multiple times each lap; going down, riders struggle for control as they plunge at high speed down the sandy ramps. It's really a spectacle!
Zonhoven De Kuil video highlights
Due to the incredibly steep sand descent, there's no shortage of great footage from prior events available on the internet. I've gathered a few that attempt to show this unique course feature:
Zonhoven 2019 cyclocross full race replay
If you want a longer preview prior to tomorrow's live stream, check out this full replay of the 2019 Elite men's and women's races on YouTube from GCN:
Even the world's best riders struggle to maintain full control on the Zonhoven descents.
Here's Mathieu van der Poel getting sideways:
First a Superprestige, now a World Cup
Historically, Zonhoven has been found as a stop on the Superprestige calendar for the past 15 years or so. With the 2021-22 expansion of the World Cup calendar, Zonhoven steps up to World Cup status for this year.
Zonhoven is the first European World Cup this year, following the season kick-off which featured 3 World Cup events in the United States. Eli Iserbyt and Marianne Vos will look to defend their leads in the overall series at Zonhoven.
When is the Zonhoven cyclocross 2021? Is there a live stream?
The 2021 edition of the Zonhoven cyclocross is Sunday, October 24. For the 2021-22 season, the cyclocross World Cup events, including Zonhoven, can be streamed on the FloBikes service.