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This season has shown that women’s professional cyclocross is more competitive than ever before. The women’s elite field frequently drew more starters than the men’s, and it was a hard-fought battle for the win every race. The number of race favourites continues to grow and the season had a series of interesting story lines to boot.
Sophie de Boer’s career-best season, Katie Compton’s fewer European appearances, the crash and return of top British riders Helen Wyman and Nikki Brammeier, the premature ending of a Thalita de Jong’s season in the rainbow jersey, and, of course, the comeback of Marianne Vos –a crescendo of a season building up to this weekend’s pinnacle event.
Here’s what to know about the women’s elite race at the 2017 UCI Cyclocross World Championships.
The 2017 UCI World Cyclocross Championships are held in Luxembourg, which last hosted the UCI cyclocross world championships in 1968.
The three-day event is taking place in Bieles (a.k.a Belvaux), a small town in the south-western part of Luxumbourg that was once home to the country’s largest ironworks.
With a populations of just around 6,000 people, the town has been readying itself to quadruple in size as organisers anticipate 25,000 event visitors.
“This is probably going to be one of the major sport events Luxemburg has hosted since decades so being part of it and helping to make our country known outside of our borders is really a big thing for me,” says Boels-Dolman rider and Luxembourgian champion Christine Majerus. “It will also be a great opportunity to make Cyclo-cross even more popular in Luxembourg. It really deserves to get out of the shadow of road cycling.”
Take a spin with Christine Majerus, here:
“Let’s just say it’s not a road race,” Katerina Nash (Clif Pro Team / Czech Republic) told Ella CyclingTips over the phone. “That makes us mountain bikers happy!”
“It’s kind of a unique course. It’s looking a little bit more like a modern mountain bike event. It’s really man-made. They put in a lot of work to build it so it’s different than what we are used to coming to in places like Belgium. It should be good!”
Built half on a former industrial area and half in a high school park, the course features rolling natural terrain as well as several man-made sections that are highly technical with steep drops, lots of off-camber and short power climbs.
Freezing temperatures and icy conditions rendered parts of the course unrideable and saw many of the pro riders crash during official training times, including Marianne Vos.
In response organisers have decided to make a few modifications like widening the icy off-camber section. But if the weather continues as is, conditions will be slippery and require perhaps more finesse than pure power.
Defending world champ out with injury
For defending champion Thalita de Jong, there was rainbow heartbreak before the championships even started. De Jong sustained a knee injury during her crash in Hoogerheide last weekend, which saw her abandon the race early.
Medical tests showed that she has a small tear in the quadriceps muscle, which will require a four-week recovery period. As such, she will not have the opportunity to defend her rainbow stripes. At least she’ll still have the European Champion kit to wear next season.
Vos is back
Seven-time cyclocross world champion Marianne Vos (The Netherlands) will once again be lining up as a race favourite in Bieles, despite the fact that she’d been missing from cx startlists for almost two years.
Sidelined with injuries since January 2015, Vos made a successful comeback on the road in 2016, and her return to cyclocross was highly anticipated.
That return came on December 17, 2016, at Scheldecross in Antwerpen. She finished fourth, but just a week later, at Superprestige Diegem, she was right back on top of the podium.
And as though she’s making up for lost time, Vos has just kept on winning. Following that first victory at the Superprestige in Diegem, Vos has won six out of the seven races entered, including the Dutch national championships and three straight world cup events.
She’s in great form and will definitely be one to watch come Saturday.
“The level and depth of women’s cyclocross has grown,” Vos told Ella CyclingTips. “And for me coming back, the concern was just how much the level had risen and where I’d fit in. It’s reassuring that I can still race for the win.”
The Telenet UCI World Cup winner
But Marianne Vos won’t be the only Dutchwoman to watch out for. Twenty-six-year-old Sophie de Boer has had a career-best season, which started off with a win in Vegas and saw her contest the podium weekend after weekend. So much so that she secured the overall Telenet UCI World Cup title while there was still one race left.
She’s also the UCI ranked number two rider in the world, and will have a big orange squad with her.
The Belgian Champ
Coming off one career-best season after another, Sanne Cant was going to be hard pressed to beat or even match her previous seasons.
In 2015-16, she won the European Championships, the Belgian National Championships, the Superprestige series, the BPost Bank Trophy and the UCI World Cup. And while the world championships ended in a disappointing bronze medal, she was, and still is, the best ranked cyclocross rider in the world.
This season, she defended only her Belgian national title –for the eighth time, we might add –but still racked up an impressive 15 wins. After the heartbreak of two bronze and one silver world championship medal, she’ll be feverishly eying that gold one that still eludes her.
The experienced mountain biker
Pumped about the prospect of a mountain bike-y course and having shown great form at recent world cup events, Czech rider Katerina Nash will be lining up for her sixth world championships and hoping for another Top 5 finish.
Four out of her five previous appearances have resulted in top 5 finishes including a bronze medal in Germany in 2011, and a fourth place in Kentucky in 2013 following a mechanical in the last few metres of the race.
“I’ve got a good collection [of previous appearances],” Nash told Ella CyclingTips. “Some tears, one medal and a lot of fun memories with teammates.”
Now 39, cyclocross is Nash’ third career as a professional athlete, having a successful career as an Olympic ski racer as well as an ongoing professional mountain bike career to draw from.
Her season this year showed no signs of her slowing down, and she’s riding very strong at the moment having already netted 12 wins and at least three world cup podiums this season.
Yet a rainbow jersey is still missing from her trophy chest.
“ I’ve definitely put myself out there so many times and tried and tried and tried. It just hasn’t happened and you know life goes on just fine,” commented Nash. “And to be honest, [the rainbow stripes] hasn’t been a gigantic goal of mine. I don’t wake up every morning with that feeling of ‘I got to get this’. But in training and prep I do give it everything to arrive ready and to give it 100 percent.”
Still, Nash is excited about the season she’s had and about her chances this year.
“The field of women’s cross is incredibly strong right now, but I know I am part of that front group and I will definitely ride with that in mind,” Nash said. “I like the course and everything has gone really well for me this season. I have had a good, consistent season so we’ll see where that and my extended experience can take me.”
America’s best cyclocrosser of all time
Katie Compton, the best US cyclocrosser of all time, is going into Saturday’s race having spent less time Europe than usual this season. Hoping that less travel and racing would lead to fewer injuries and other health issues that have plagued her throughout her career, she choose for a more US-based season.
She did so to great effect, netting over a dozen UCI wins including JingleCross, the Pan-American Continental Championships and her 13th straight US national title.
With back to back top 10 results at the world championships these past two years, Christine Majerus has stated to again be shooting for a top 10 finish, but you can never discount a hometown advantage.
A 25-time elite national champion of Luxembourg, Majerus is the official ambassador for the 2017 UCI Cyclocross World Championships and will definitely have the hometown crowd behind her.
She’s also had a good season thus far, recording her career-best finish just last month when she finished fifth at the Namur World Cup. So you never know, another career-best could be waiting.
In addition to a her ambassador duties, Majerus is trying to raise money and awareness for Foundation Kim Kirchen, a non-profit founded former Luxembourish professional cyclist, Kim Kirchen, to help children suffering from serious diseases, children placed in homes and children with disabilities. To do this, Majerus has partnered with Boulder, Colorado-based Endurance Conspiracy on a Bieles 2017 “Cross Your Heart Out” limited edition tee-shirt available at the venue is Bieles as well as online here.
A longer than usual list of favourites:
The depth in the women’s field has significantly increased in recent years, which makes the world championships even more exciting as there are always some surprises. This is cross, afetrall, and anything can happen. With that said, some favourites in addition to the ones mentioned above include: 2016 silver-medalist Caroline Mani (France), Italian champ and mountain biker Eva Lechner, British champ Nikki Brammeier, and Dutch powerhouse Lucinda Brand.
What the Pros think:
Who are the race favourites (aside from yourself, of course)?
Katerina Nash: “Marianne Vos for sure. It’s been quite impressive to watch her just come back and take three world cups in a row. Sanne Cant is always up there. Sophie the Boer is another one who had an amazing season, is always consistent and around the podium. There’s Katie [Compton]. You can never count Katie out. Maybe she didn’t have the best ride last weekend. But that’s pretty easy to do. Coming over [to Europe] and not being quite super sharp on your first few days in Europe. So she’ll be good by this weekend.”
Marianne Vos: “Katerina Nash is in great form at the moment. Katie Compton has had a different lead-up than in other years but will surely be competitive. Of course there’s reigning world champion Thalita de Jong, who may have had a few lesser weeks but I expect that if the course is hard in Luxembourg she’ll be resurfacing at the top. Then there’s Sanne Cant, of course, who will be going after the rainbow jersey, and Sophie de Boer –the World Cup series leader –is a rider who this season has been contesting the podium weekend after weekend.”
Katie Compton: “Marianne is riding great. You can see it in her riding style, in her accelerations, in her technical riding. It’s amazing how smooth she was riding [at Fiuggi], she made it look super easy.”
Saturday, January 28
Junior Men: 11 a.m. local time (5 a.m. EST, 9 p.m. AEDT)
U23 Women: 1 p.m. local time (7 a.m. EST, 11 p.m. AEDT)
Elite Women: 3 p.m. local time (9 a.m. EST, 1 a.m. AEDT Sunday)
Sunday, January 29
U23 men: 11 a.m. local time (7 a.m. EST, 11 p.m. AEDT)
Elite Men: 3 p.m. local time (9 a.m. EST, 1 a.m. AEDT Monday)
All of the races will be live streamed on the UCI Channel but they are geo-restricted. Be sure to check your local broadcast listings, and for those of you with VPNs installed, check out steephill.tv for links.
If you’re unable to watch the livestream, check out the official Twitter account @uci_cx and @bieles2017 or use the hashtag #CXWorlds and #Bieles2017.