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Prior to the Elite Women Cyclocross World Championships, we asked ‘can anyone beat Vos?’ The answer was a clear no on a cold, grey Sunday morning in Koksijde, Belgium. With a huge crowd, getting bigger every lap, Marianne Vos of the Netherlands, took over the front of the race halfway through the first lap and went on to win her fifth Cyclocross World Championships, and her eighth World Championships in all cycling disciplines – all at the tender age of 24.
Though Vos stated at the post-race press conference that she didn’t feel dominant.
“Obviously it’s a very happy feeling.” she said of her win. “When you race and you give full speed for one lap you feel that you’re quite far ahead of the other ones but I didn’t actually feel a dominant feeling today, it took a lot of my efforts this race.”
Vos continued, “I think I’ve been in the past seasons more dominant in some races than I was today. It gives confidence when you’re far ahead and get a gap but as I said previously the competition is getting stronger every day but this Cyclocross World Championship in combination with the road program, you never know how it’s going to work out.”
Crowds were building to record numbers for the 40-minute race at 11am on Sunday morning. They were massed everywhere, three to four deep behind the double barriers and ready to cheer on the women, often rare unfortunately in Belgium. The start was fast with Helen Wyman (GBR) taking the holeshot and leading into the first sandy climb.
For one rider the start was a prelude to a tough day. One of the pre-race favorites into the day, American Katie Compton just couldn’t clip and was already mid-field by the first climb. Then, a crash on the turn into the pit put her even further back.
Meanwhile at the front, Vos chased down Wyman and powered away.
“I missed my start a little bit and that actually gave me a boost of adrenaline and I really gave it everything and I knew that there was a possibility that I had to take the initiative but I knew it would be a very, very tough race.” she explained.
Then, she simply continued on solo, opening her gap and riding smoothly to the win.
“I just block my thinking.” Vos replied with a laugh when asked what she was thinking during those five laps. “I just think of what the next stretch is going to be, what the stretch is going to bring. I try to get some breath on the straight stretches to get into the difficult parts again. I think how long it still is and most of the time, it’s still a long time to go. And then obviously, the crowd, you don’t know who exactly is shouting what but it’s just fantastic.”
Emotions were pouring out when she crossed the finish line for another rainbow jersey. “I’m very happy with my fifth title, every time you have to work harder, the competition is getting stronger. Today, I’m very happy, as happy as with my first win.”
Behind her, the chase was shuffling and re-shuffling. It was first led by Daphny van Brand (NED) who was joined first by Belgian Sanne Cant and Dutch Sanne van Paassen. And after putting in two massive laps, setting the fastest lap times for two laps, a resurging Compton also connected with the chase group.
A four-way battle was on for the silver medal. Still together into X-dune, crowd favorite Cant, knew what she had to do.
“I actually did my own race until half of the race, and then I saw Daphny and then I thought why not? I’ll try to catch up with her but I had a lot of people on my wheel. The idea was that I would lose one every lap and I knew that I had to be first or second on the X-dune otherwise it would have been lost and I succeeded in doing that.” she explained.
But the silver medal came down to that final corner before the finish and to experience. Wily van Brand, retiring at the end of the season, outsprinted Cant for the silver.
“The last stretch was a very difficult one, I knew that Sanne was very good in the sand but I felt in the last minute that I had still some power left and that’s why I won the sprint.” van Brand said. She then added a laugh that you have to sprint in the drops when looking at Cant. Vos quickly piped in, “Don’t give her any tips.”
With that, van Brand claimed her seventh World Championship medal. “I’m not disappointed at all.” she said about getting silver. “I knew that Marianne was good, she’s good anyway. The start didn’t work out like I’m used to but anyway I felt very confident in the sand stretches, and I tried to catch up and maybe that took a lot of my effort, I tried to catch up with Helen in the sand but no I am not disappointed.”
Though Cant showed a bit of frustration with losing the sprint, she was quite happy with her first ever World Championship medal. She added, “I hope that this medal gives a boost to the women’s cyclocross in Belgium to make it even more popular.”
Compton ultimately finished fifth. “I never gave up, it’s hard to ride in the fourth spot, I got pinched a couple of times and I couldn’t get it back.” she said quietly after the race.
As for Vos, she has two more cross races this season and then it’s all about road. “Obviously the 2012 Olympics is a target and then the World Championship is a target.”