Interview – World Cup Organiser Simon Burney


One month until history is made as Britain has its first World Cup Cyclo-Cross event. VeloUK talks to organiser Simon Burney

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Interview – World Cup Organiser Simon Burney

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A familiar face in off road racing in Britain, Simon Burney is organising what could be a real game changer in cyclo-cross; the first World Cup in Britain.


The event, on November 29 in Milton Keynes, will see the World’s best cyclo-cross riders coming to Britain to race on what will be a quintessential British cyclo-cross course. It will feature lots of racing on grass on a rather hilly course in the picturesque Campbell Park which is a few minutes walk from MK’s shopping centre.

Embarrassingly, until last Wednesday, I had never been to Campbell Park despite having lived a mile (or less) away for many years when home was Milton Keynes. The course is based around a hill in the park on top of which is the Jubilee Beacon. From there, you can see 80-90 per cent of the 2.6 kilometre course and a lot more of the landscape surrounding Milton Keynes as well.

The hill will provide the terrain to include four off camber climbs on the course which will see a tarmarc start and finish road laid especially for the event. Anyone in Milton Keynes can get an idea of the course already as its been ‘mown’ into the landscape ready for the tapes and fencing to be put into place in the week before the event.

Organiser Simon Burney is a former team manager at the Great Britain Cycling team for the Olympic discipline of cross country mountain biking and also a National cyclo-cross team manager. He is also UCI technical delegate and author of the definitive book on the subject; Cyclocross – Training and Technique.

He admits, modestly of course, in an interview with Rouleur magazine that the World Cup was his idea! He needed council backing to make it happen and found it at Milton Keynes which has strong links with cycling and is home to long time supporter of VeloUK, the Twenty3C bike shop and café in Stony Stratford.

It wasn’t that long ago that Milton Keynes hosted the first round of the Tour Series (2009) and also a stage of the Tour of Britain. Back in the 60’s, it also hosted a stage finish in the Milk Race and only last year, a round of the National Trophy was held there.

Now it will be part of history having the first World Cup Cyclo-Cross event. Simon explained how it will be more of a park based course than the Northern European style of event based around a village and farmer’s field.

“It’s a British style of venue” Simon explained, adding “and probably a little harder physically than a regular British National Trophy. There will be more running than a normal British national series event for example”.

The weekend will see various events on the schedule as per the event website but the two events most spectators will come to see will be the Women’s and Men’s events with the Worlds best ‘crossers competing.

The Men’s race will be between an hour and hour and ten minutes and the Women’s race 40 to 50 minutes. What the officials do is time the first lap and work out how many laps the race should be. In a wild guess, Simon says he expects it to be a ten lap men’s race and seven lap women’s race”. Maybe!



Lining up in those races will be the best cyclo-cross riders in the world and in the Women’s event, Britain has two of the best in World Championship Bronze medallist Helen Wyman and a rider who has podiumed in World Cups, Nikki Harris (above right).

Countries have a quota of riders that they can bring and the maximum is eight per nation. So spectators can expect to see about 70 men and 50 or so women in the respective races. Asked what the selection process is for a World Cup, Simon explained “no matter which team the rider races for, the entry is selected by the nation. It’s a World Cup which is a nation event.”

“So, British Cycling have a selection criteria that they have released and they will be making the selection based on that. The riders don’t have to race in GB colours though. For instance, Great Britain may decide to select eight riders and four of them ride in their own team colours and a team of four that ride in GB colours. Who they select and what they race in, will be their decision.”

Will the race in Britain see different riders coming forward to play the staring role, like in tennis Wimbledon can see different winners to those on clay courts, Simon replied “it won’t be a lot different to the other World Cups”.

“The top 10 guys are usually the same what ever the course is like. Our course will be hard, physical and not super technical although a little bit of that will depend on the weather. So it will be the usual suspects at the front”.

Unlike many events, everyone is gridded in a World Cup based on their UCI ranking and the race held on a course between four and six metres wide that flows nicely. This, says Simon, gives plenty of opportunity for riders to pass and add to the excitement of the race to be at the front.

From the moment I started to talk to Simon, it was easy to see there was a great deal of importance placed on giving spectators value for the entry fee into the park to watch the World Cup. In the men’s race, spectators are likely to see the riders close up every six or so minutes with Simon adding that on the course they have designed, spectators will also be seeing the race pass by them several times a lap too in many places.


Photo: – Helen Wyman will be one of the favourites in the Women’s race in Milton Keynes.

Those who have been to a British cross race will know the usual type of obstacles the riders have to face in a typical cyclo-cross event. ‘The planks’ for example or at some venues, some steps. At Campbell Park, it will be no different.

“We’re going to put a set of hurdles in to get the riders to dismount before quite a long run up” Simon explained. “We’re not putting them where they can necessarily be bunny hopped for instance although that may still happen. And Martin, who is building the course, is also going to create a feature with some long steps that good riders may be able to ride.”

Everyone can ride it
The great thing about the course however is that riders entered for the National Trophy on the Sunday will get to ride the same course as the World stars did the day before and who knows, we may we’ll see a few of those stars ride the Trophy too?

“I thought it would be nice for a regular British rider to come and watch a World Cup and then race on the same course the next day and get the experience of what a World Cup course is like” says Simon.

Creating a cyclo-cross venue is a lot more involved than just putting some tape out to guide the riders around a lap though. For a World Cup, there is so much more involved and as already mentioned, the course will see a strip of tarmac laid especially for the start and finish.

Then, there’s parking for teams, the expo, the food & beer tents and much more, the demands of the TV (yes, its going to be on TV) and so much more.



The process in designing the course has been running now for the last four or five months says Simon. Working out where the pits are going to go, spectator crossing points, how long it will be and so on.

“We needed to take into account television so the guys came over from Belgium and based on their feedback, there were small changes made based on camera lines and lines of sight”.

“Now, the design is pretty much fixed and the actual build has already started with the council mowing the grass to a good length to produce a stronger surface. Right now, the start and finish road does not exist so that will be laid in the second week in November.”

“Then the actual build will take five days so we’ll start on the Sunday before and finish Thursday afternoon and then the UCI will make their inspection on Friday morning before racing on Saturday.


The podium will be here and the course will take in the amphitheater as well in front of it.

Asked what can spectators expect when they turn up to the event, Simon replied “we are trying to make it a show piece for spectators as much as we can. We are going to have an event village which a lot of races don’t have and we’ll have some big brands showing off cross bikes and equipment. You’ll be able to buy stuff from the teams as well as event merchandise and we want to offer people a good experience and not just a race”.

“There will be lots of options on food and drinks (frites – of course), three beer tents, and three big TV screens. Also, like many pro races like the Tour of Britain, the teams will all be parked up close to the course where spectators can mingle with them and that says Simon is a big deal for him”.

The atmosphere is sure to be special too as the fans from Belgium and Holland etc come to Britain for the event and perhaps there’ll be some competition in the fancy dress stakes! It wouldn’t be ‘cross if there wasn’t!

And this is ‘cross at the highest level too as it’s the biggest series in the World for the riders involved on the cyclo-cross circuit. All the riders of any note do the World Cups Simon explained and the World Cup’s provide for the riders, the most UCI ranking points which is important at the World Championships for gridding.


Campbell Park and the course mowed into the landscape

Measuring its success
Taking on the job of organising a World Cup is a huge challenge for anyone and when asked what the event will have to achieve for him to measure it as being successful, Simon replied “I’d like the riders to go away and be surprised by how good it was, like the Belgian riders and teams to be happy they came and happy to come back”.

“And I’d like the spectators to have had a good day out and experience as well as enjoying the race. To know they don’t have to go to Northern Europe to have a big cyclo-cross race experience. And couple of Brits on the podium would be a bonus!”

Another measure of it being a success will be if it returns the next year as Simon says the intention is for the Milton Keynes council to bid again for the 2015/16 season. The big date for that bid is the day after the event, December the 1st and simon says the UCI will be in Milton Keynes in some numbers to check out the event and is keen to impress them. I’m sure seeing a park full of spectators will help that process!

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Read more here about how the event came about in Rouleur 


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