Cross Worlds: The hunt for the stripey jumper
This weekend saw the UCI Cyclo Cross World Championships take place in Tabor in the Czech Republic. It’s fair to say there was some amazing racing to be seen. Saturday saw the junior men and elite women, and the U23 men and elite men on Sunday afternoon. (let’s move past the disparity between sexes for now). Every race saw gun to flag action, with podium spots being fought out till the very last moment.
Junior Mountain bike world champ, Simon Andreassen doubled his world title count before lunchtime on Saturday with a powerful display. Pulling away from the rest of the field at the end of the first lap by hopping the barriers where the chasers failed to do so. After the fastest chasers chose to pit early on lay two, the gap slowly grew out to 30 odd seconds by the chequered flag. Behind though, it was all to play for as the Belgian Iserbyt, Dutch rider Max Gulickx and US hopeful Gage Hecht fought out for the final placings. It was only a slipping chain that prevented Hecht and Gullickx from a fair sprint for the final podium position as Iserbyt pulled away in the middle of the final laps.
After the British National Champ, Helen Wyman, led the field round the circuit for most of the first lap, the racing settled down to make way for a group of full on favourites duking out for the honours. At one point on the second and third laps, there were 7 or 8 riders in contention; Sanne Cant, Pauline Ferraund Prevot, Marianne Voss, Helen Wyman, Nikki Harris, Lucie Chainel-Lefevre, Katerina Nash and Ellen Van Loy. Wyman and Van Loy fell back off the pace a little and for the next two laps the six names threw in attack after attack to try to drop their rivals, but they rarely stuck for long, and by the final lap Chainel-Lefervre had succumbed to the slug fest. Cant and PFP pulled away slightly from Harris, Nash and Voss – the latter just edged Harris for the final place on the podium after Nash had two bobbles on the second half of the final lap to fall out of contention for a podium in her home Worlds. The consummate racer, Cant, tried to manoeuvre the all rounder Ferraund Prevot coming onto the start straight but failed to do so and was just out gunned in the sprint for the stripes. We had our second Double World Champ of the day as PFP won the road race title in October too.
Photo courtesy of GIANT Liv
Check out the highlights here:
With the two fastest under 23 riders opting to race with the Elite men, the U23 race was open to more potential champions and the racing didn’t disappoint. Much like the races the previous day, the course defrosted slightly leaving a thin layer of wet mud over frozen ground, so there was a definite finite speed limit to the cornering possibilities. Plenty tried to exceed nature’s speed limit, but all failed and by the mid point of the race a group of four favourites coalesced at the pointy end of the race. Two Belgians, a Frenchman and a Dutchman took turns in firing off the front and either legs, lungs or technique prevented any attack sticking until Michael Vanthourenhout halfway through the fourth lap. With a countryman behind, it was left to the Dutchman Stan Godrie to do the work to bring the flying Belgian youngster back. Godrie failed to do so, and ended up being worked over by the wheel sucking Sweeck, who attacked repeatedly in the final lap, eventually getting away to seal a Belgian 1-2.
Photo’s courtesy of Ridley Bikes
With reigning champ and local hero Zdnek Stybar not racing, there was sure to be a new world champion come Sunday afternoon, and if the season’s racing was anything to go by, it could well signal a true changing of the guard as the U23 riders that have dominated much of the Elite racing this year, stepped up to race with the ‘Bigger Boys’ at the worlds too. Could Van Aert and Van Der Poel make the jump?
It didn’t take much time for it to become clear that they certainly had faith in themselves. Both youngsters were in the thick of the action from the start and after just half a lap, the two U23 riders were away from the pack with just Tom Meeussen for company. After another lap or so, Meeusen had fallen back, and Lars van der Haar and Kevin Pauwels were the closest chasers of the raging van der Poel. Wout Van Aert had a couple of stumbles, and a mechanical fading back to around 7th with 5 laps to go. The Belgian commentators noted that team principle Neils Albert said he was badly hurt in one accident but, a few minutes later, he had caught and passed his older team mates Meeussen and Vantornout. A lap or so later and he was back – almost up with Lars van der Haar and Pauwels , making a three way fight for the final two podium places.
Photo courtesy of Stevens Bikes.
At the end of the penultimate lap Lars came within 3 seconds of Van Der Poel, and Van Aerts was within a couple of seconds of Pauwels. Kevin Pauwles took a galnace at the stair run, stumbled and appeared to lose a lot of time – and perhaps his head. He faded continually from this point, dropping back to a final fourth position. Van Aerts continued to catch van der Haar quickly until he ended up with the Dutchman for the final half a lap. The gold medal had ridden awaty, and while Lars tried to attack to make it a Dutch one-two, Wout Van Aert held on, and easily beat the older rider in the final sprint. The two U23 riders did it, beating all the older names to take the top two spots on the podium. (The average age of the Elite podium was actually younger then that of the U23 race; 21yrs, 115 days vs 21 years, 162 days)
Video catch up
If you want to catch up with the races in their entirety, check out the UCI Youtube channel, as the full race re-runs, or highlights programs are all up now, so set up with your tea and cake and prepare for some epic racing.