If a horse can make its way onto the route of Strade Bianche, galloping towards its spiritual home of Siena alongside Demi Vollering, then it stands to reason that a cyclocross course – typically covered in puddles and mud – could play host to a duck or two.
And that’s exactly what happened during today’s latest round of the UCI cyclocross World Cup in the French town of Flamanville, where a pair of ducks casually wandered over from the château’s nearby pond and set up shop on a corner – forcing several of the favourites battling for victory to take last-ditch evasive action.
The unexpected obstacles – which, as former European and national champion Helen Wyman noted in commentary for Eurosport-GCN, probably didn’t count towards the course’s quota for man-made difficulties – made their appearance on lap four of today’s men’s race, almost hampering the progress of early leader Pim Ronhaar.
A few seconds later, it was the turn of the chasing Eli Iserbyt – at that point sandwiched between the Baloise Trek Lions trio Ronhaar, Joris Nieuwenhuis, and Lars van der Haar – to make his way gingerly around the winged course invaders, before Dutch champion Van der Haar narrowly avoided an unfortunate collision when one of the ducks had evidently seen enough of the race and took flight back over the barriers.
Fowl play 😱
There were some unexpected visitors on the course at the UCI Cyclo-Cross World Cup in Flammanville - who found themselves having to, well, duck 🦆@UCIcyclocrossWC | #CXWorldCup pic.twitter.com/UBKAXpYs7I
— Eurosport (@eurosport) December 3, 2023
Fortunately, neither the animals nor any of the riders were hurt during the chaotic mid-race scenes, with the unflappable (apologies) Iserbyt retaining his cool and putting in a storming fifth lap to catch Ronhaar and eventually drop the fading Dutchman, before cruising to his second World Cup victory of the season (and his sixth in total this winter) to extend his lead at the top of the overall standings.
Lars van der Haaaaaaaaar!
It’s perhaps ironic, then, that the build-up to a race which will be remembered for a surprise duck excursion was dominated by calls for cyclocross’ elite riders to avoid another animal for entirely different reasons.
With this week’s World Cup round taking place in Flamanville, Normandy, where both Toon Aerts and Shari Bossuyt recently tested positive for the same drug, the duo’s management issued a warning to those taking part to avoid consuming dairy products, which they believe were responsible for triggering the positive tests.
Belgian cyclocross star Aerts and Canyon-Sram rider Bossuyt tested positive for the cancer drug (and testosterone booster) Letrozole while racing in Flamanville, during the 2022 round of the cyclocross World Cup and this year’s Tour of Normandy, respectively.
Yannick Prévost of ISEA Sport Management, who represents both Aerts and Bossuyt, sent a letter earlier this week to other riders in his stable, including European cyclocross champion Michael Vanthourenhout, advising them to avoid local dairy products while racing in the French town.
The letter also told riders to bring their own food from Belgium and argued that the pair’s positives came about because dairy farmers in Normandy may be using Letrozole to synchronise their cows’ estrus cycles for fertilisation.
There has been no confirmation, however, that Prévost’s letter also warned his riders to carefully avoid hitting any ducks that could potentially stray onto the course (or that the two animals in questions are called Sven and Thibau Geese… Geddit? Never mind).
Animals making their way onto the routes of major bike races isn’t a new thing of course, with one of the more high-profile recent cases of beastly interference taking place at this year’s Strade Bianche, when a horse made its way onto the road with sixteen kilometres to go of the Tuscan classic, almost colliding with eventual winner Demi Vollering.
The animal – doubtlessly startled by the vehicles and helicopters following the race – continued to run along the road between Vollering and the camera motorbike for almost a full kilometre, before it eventually fell on a corner.
Fortunately, the horse, known as Zlatana, managed to get straight back up and didn’t seem to affect any of the other chasers. After the race, Zlatana’s vet confirmed on Facebook that the horse only suffered minor abrasions in the fall, and that its owner apologised for the incident.
“Zlatana is fine, a few days of antibiotics, a lot of fear, but in the end, everything ended well,” the vet wrote on social media.
Ryan joined road.cc in December 2021 and since then has kept the site’s readers and listeners informed and enthralled (well at least occasionally) on news, the live blog, and the road.cc Podcast. After boarding a wrong bus at the world championships and ruining a good pair of jeans at the cyclocross, he now serves as road.cc’s senior news writer. Before his foray into cycling journalism, he wallowed in the equally pitiless world of academia, where he wrote a book about Victorian politics and droned on about cycling and bikes to classes of bored students (while taking every chance he could get to talk about cycling in print or on the radio). He can be found riding his bike very slowly around the narrow, scenic country lanes of Co. Down.