LOUISVILLE, KENTUCKY – Marianne Vos (Netherlands) rode a technically perfect race to win her sixth – and fifth consecutive – Cyclocross World Championship. The course, stickier and muddier than for the Juniors, was her only adversary for much of the race, and one that she easily mastered. Katie Compton (USA) recovered from some early trouble and rode a smart race for Silver, and Lucy Chainel-Lefevre (France) held off a running Katerina Nash (Czech Republic) for Bronze.
As we know, when Vos decides to go, she goes. A stunning acceleration on the second lap broke the field open. “That was not the plan,” Vos said of her early lead. “The plan was to do a good race. Of course I didn’t expect to get such a big gap from the first lap on. Katie had a struggle and made it possible. I have to say the Americans were really cool, cheering for me.”
A large crash on the opening lap threw many riders for a loop as several – including Georgia Gould and Helen Wyman – got tangled, caught behind, or just slowed down by the pileup in the first 30 seconds of racing. “I didn’t get the best start,” Great Britain’s Annie Last told us. “I don’t know what happened to start with, I just know I was behind it and had to stop to get around. And starts are important on a course like this.”
“I was involved in that,” said American Georgia Gould. “I was intimately involved in that. We hit the first downhill and I had people on either side of me. There was one section where there’s a few frozen ruts and it was one person down on one side, one on the other and I was trying to think of where to go and then someone plowed me from behind.”
“I spent so much time training for this race, when I should have been doing Rubik’s Cubes,” she continued. “Because when I had to untwist someone’s bike out of mine, it was like a puzzle. By the time I got up, I saw one person. It’s super frustrating. I know I have good fitness and it’s hometown crowds, so it’s super disappointing to start a race that way. But the crowd was awesome.”
Though Compton avoided the crash, she did not avoid difficulty as her bike wouldn’t shift into the large chainring as Vos stormed across the wide flats. “I had a little struggle at the start, a little mechanical issue,” said Compton. “I went from third spot to top ten maybe. I got a little stuck in traffic. I just kept on making mistakes trying to get around when I shouldn’t have. I had to work on refocusing and riding my race and chasing people down.”
“I have plenty of practice chasing and recovering from poor starts this year,” Compton joked. “It wasn’t that big of a deal, it just was enough spots to lose. I can’t give Vos three seconds, let alone ten. I just put it in damage control. The thought of not winning a medal here was heartbreaking. There was no way in hell that was not going to happen. So I rode with a lot of heart.”
Compton clawed her way on to the chase group, which also included Chainel-Lefevre, Katerina Nash, Eva Lechner (Italy) and Sanne Van Passen (Netherlands). They all, at times, made their moves, but it became clear after several big efforts by Lechner and Van Passen that it would be the steadiest riders would who take the higher placings.
Mistakes were the biggest decider of standings, as evidenced by Compton’s overhauling of Lechner. Lechner lost her front wheel for all of a second with three laps to go, at which point Compton moved up to her, next to her, and past her in one motion. Compton translated Lechner’s momentary slip into almost ten seconds gap by the start-finish straight.
That move marked the high water point of Compton’s ride. Riding at her limit, she built a gap over a four-strong chase group but couldn’t take even a second out of Vos. Vos’s class showed through in the most technical sections of the course, such as the concrete steps. Vos kept a high leg speed, almost floating to the top of the climb.
Vos took her victory with grace – glasses off, a bow to the crowd, and a salute to the heavens. The experience of Compton’s 16 World Cup wins shone through as she tackled the last lap, and she took her Silver with a broad smile and abundant fist pumping.
“[This win] is different because it’s in America,” said Vos. “It’s my first time overseas. That made it special. But in the end it’s the same bike race with the same bike racers. The pressure gets higher every year, because everyone expects me to win. For me that’s not easy. I worked hard for this, and I really wanted that rainbow jersey again.”
Vos missed out on the first part of her cyclocross season because of her lengthy road efforts, which saw her win the World Road race and an Olympic gold, leaving some to wonder if she is getting tired of such a long calendar. “No. I’m not at that point, but I’ll let you know if I get to that point. I took a holiday, and asked myself, what do I want more [of]? Fun on the bike! And that’s what happened today.”
“It was amazing,” said Compton of taking silver on home soil. “The crowds and the cheers and the support. It was pretty emotional for me, just all day, even coming into the finish. And the organizers—all the bad things that could have possibly happened for a world championships in the US happened, and I think the way that they handled it, keeping all the balls in the air, and solving the problems—I think they pulled it off. They did a great job.”
“I’m not disappointed at all,” Compton continued. “Getting second to Marianne—I’m getting used to that! She’s so fast, and so good at this, if I’m going to get second to anybody, she’s who I’d like to do that to. I’ve had my best season yet, and to finish that off with silver—I’m happy.”
“I don’t get emotional bike racing, but coming through the finish line, just being on the podium and all the cheering. I got emotional! I told myself, there’s no crying in bike racing, but Katie, come on! I didn’t understand what it would feel like today until going through the process. I’m really glad I got to be a part of it.”
The real drama of the race was saved for the fight for Bronze on the finishing straight. Chainel-Lefevre had been leading for the last section of the lap, but somehow the lighter blue of Nash’s Czech kit appeared at the head of the straight with a small advantage. Nash was set to take her second bronze in a World championship when disaster struck, as she lost her chain winding up for the sprint. Nash did her best to hold off Chainel-Lefevre, running to the finish line, but the Frenchwoman wasn’t about to look that gift in the mouth and snuck past for third.
“I was feeling the effort the whole race,” said Chainel-Lefevre. “I was pretty much always fifth or sixth. The final lap was a comedy sketch. I fell, Katarina fell, I fell, Katarina fell. The finish, Katarina dropped her chain. It’s my first podium at a World Championships. I’m really happy, I worked the whole year to bring back a medal. It’s an honor to be on the podium.”
“I don’t really have much to say right now. It didn’t quite work out for me today,” Nash said. “Fourth place is pretty tough. That’s how it works out sometimes. But the spectators were awesome; it was a unique experience.”
She continued, “In conditions like that, it’s like ‘go, slow down, go, slow down,’ and one little mistake takes you further back. The conditions change the field a little bit.”
And while fourth may not have been her goal, she said, “It’s a good place. I was a player, it just didn’t work out, but there’s nothing I can do about it now.”
Sanna van Paassen was equally frustrated with her result, fifth place. When asked what happened, she laughed, “First I fell, then I had some problems with my chain, I fell again, more problems with my chain … it was not my race today.”
And like Nash, while disappointed, she was grudgingly pleased with her result. “It was not the result I hoped for, but I am satisfied with my position.”
Kaitlin Antonneau and Amy Dombroski took tenth and eleventh positions for the USA, with the two battling for much of the race. “I’m really happy!” said an upbeat Antonneau. “I had an awesome race, and I’m having fun now, just taking it all in and enjoying this day. I had a really good start, in the top ten. I tried to hang on with the lead group for the first half of the lap, and then I hit a wall there at the end of the lap and just had to settle into my own pace. I ended up finishing tenth! I felt good, and I was going well. It was tough conditions, but I liked it; I felt confident.” Antonneau will take a small break from bike racing now, but not from life, “mid-terms come up in a couple of weeks.”
Dombroski told Cyclocross Magazine, “I’m a bit gutted right now. I took a chance on that final corner, and crashed, and lost that top ten finish, but I rode a really solid race. This was the season of eleventh places. And for spectators, it must have been a really fun race to watch. I went for it, I took a chance, and sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t.”
She added, “I think America really came out. I’m kind of choking up right now! It was deafening. My ears are actually hurting. I couldn’t believe it.”
Canada’s Singlespeed Cyclocross World Champion (with the tattoo to prove it) Mical Dyck was also excited with the crowds. “It was pretty cool. It’s my first Worlds for cyclocross … I hope this does wonders for the sport in America.”
For Dyck, a mountain biker first and foremost, the technical aspects of the course worked to her advantage. “My fitness isn’t where it should be, so I was like, ‘Bring on the nasty weather!’”
Dombroski and Antonneau’s American teammate Jade Wilcoxson also had an impressive ride, taking 15th place in her first-ever cyclocross World Championships. “I was really happy with the way I rode,” she said. “I had several bobbles and went down a couple of times, but not hard, and I paid the price when I went down with people passing me, but that’s part of the learning process … I’m a pretty conservative rider. I take calculated risks. And as a result, maybe I missed that opportunity to jump up and go for a few more spots, but at the same time, I got a good result. There was three or four of us that were jockeying for position. They’d crash, I’d pass them. I’d crash, they’d pass me. I was trying to stay on those girls and have a sprint, but not the case. It makes me want to come back for more—I’ve got the fever now!”
She laughed, “I was hoping to not get last … Everything went better than expected. I was between 13th and 15th pretty much the whole race.”
“The crowd was amazing, the people of Louisville were amazing.”