by Christine Vardaros
This Saturday, Marianne Vos [Rabo Liv] will be gunning for her seventh cyclocross World Championship title – the sixth in a row, in her home country of The Netherlands. Last weekend, she dominated at Nommay World Cup and is ready to try and “kick ass and take names” at Worlds… or rather one name: Katie Compton [Trek Cyclocross Collective] in particular, according to the general consensus.
Vos explains, “When I was in Rucphen [Holland on January 18th where she won], close to Hoogerheide, everybody was talking about Worlds. People were saying, ‘We’re going to be there, it’s so exciting, are you going to beat…’ The only talk is Katie Compton, of course. Based on what I hear, it looks like nobody else is going to be there… Although it’s going to be all world class riders.”
But Katie Compton, Vos admits, will be the one name she’ll keep her eye on most. “Katie’s the favorite although I’m wearing the rainbow stripes now [glancing down at her jersey]. I’m going to have a hard time to beat her. But I’m not going to give the rainbow stripes away that easily. At the start of the World Championships everyone is again the same. No rainbow stripes – just trying to get the others at the line.”
As for the rivalry bit, Vos enjoys the media banter as well as having someone to push her to her limit. “What you see in the World Cups is Katie Compton and me… and then the rest. So, of course, that brings an extra dimension to the race because you feel that everybody sees the rivalry between us. For me, it’s also really exciting. It has been the same in other years too.”
Vos won her first World Cyclocross title back in 2006 when she was merely 18-years-old, outsprinting the outgoing World Champ Hanka Kupfernagel to the line. Since then she has accumulated five more in a row from 2009-2013.
In addition to her Dutch National Cyclocross title she’d earned a few weeks ago, she is also current World Champion and overall World Cup winner on the road.
After a full road season combined with some UCI Mountain biking events, Vos understandably needed a break before going into the ’cross season. Usually she’d take it just after road season, jumping into ’cross later on. But this year was different. She instead opted to continue to train through October so that she could compete in the first cyclocross World Cup to be held in Valkenburg located in her home country. After taking the victory, with Compton placing second, Vos took her well deserved rest period to recharge for ’cross. She also took this period to have elective surgery on her back – which was not as invasive as the media made it out to be.
“That’s an interesting story. I’ve had back problems during the road season so I had to rest two times and in the end it was quite okay because otherwise you don’t win World Championships [on the road] at the end. I then had a cyst removed but it actually had nothing to do with the back other than that it was located on the back. But [the rest or cyst removal] helped because I have no back problems anymore. Either the cyst did something with my back or the rest helped,” explains Vos. Adding, “It was nothing big but when the media got a hold of it, it blew up into this huge story. Normally, I would have had the rest period in November anyway, so it was good timing to do surgery then since I wouldn’t be training for that period of three or four weeks.”
Her first race after her break was Namur World Cup. “I knew that was going to be hard. [Chuckles] But it was not too bad – I felt quite good.” She placed second to Compton.
In the following months through to now, Vos went on to win many more races for a total of nine this season so far. She’s also placed second four times in total, all to Compton. On the flipside, she’s beaten Compton three times in total to include Nommay last weekend.
This year’s World Championships will be held at a location where they’ve previously battled each other for the rainbow stripes back in 2009. “I have really good memories from that race. The course is different as it has changed a lot over the years. It used to be much asphalt and now it’s more cyclocross-style. For me, then, it was good. It was really fast. We were in the lead with three – with Hanka Kupfernagel and Katie Compton. I was fastest on the line but not the best in the race. I was happy I could follow during the race. Of course when you can win you have to make the choices to win. For me it was to follow and to sprint to the line. It’s not the title I’m most proud of but I was really happy to win in Hoogerheide.”
Most folks have seen Vos more often in the rainbow stripes than without, making it appear as if she has become comfortable in the jersey. Vos, though, doesn’t see it that way at all. “Some people think – okay, you’ve been World Champion so many times easily but it doesn’t work like that. Even last year, of course Katie was good before Worlds and the race was to be held in America so I knew I had to be exceptional to beat her. But okay, now it’s different. She beat me three times in the World Cups this season and she’s really good at the moment.” Although Compton pulled out of Nommay last weekend due to an asthma attack, Vos is very aware that Compton is in fine form and ready to fight.
Winning many World Champion jerseys, though, does help Vos to build confidence going into this weekend – especially as a few of them have been won in her home country. “[Winning so many Worlds events] helps me because I’ve gone through this so many times that it’s not new and I know how it feels but still a World Championship is really special to me. I want to do well and I know how great it is to wear the rainbow stripes and that makes me want to go for it even more. And in Holland it’s even better! I’ve also gone through [winning in my own country] in different races; in Zeddam in 2006, Hoogerheide in 2009, on the track in Apeldoorn in 2011, and on the road in Valkenburg in 2012. Yeah, that’s so amazing that everybody is cheering for you dressed up in orange [the national color]. It gives some extra pressure but that’s also what you do it for. You train for these big moments. You don’t want to win only for yourself but also for them.”
To ensure the pressure doesn’t overwhelm her, Vos simplifies it in her mind. “The only thing that I can do is try my best, do the best preparation I can do, and give 100% in the race. If it’s enough, then it’s really cool for me and them. But if it’s not enough, then it’s what it is. I try to see it in that way and just be fully prepared for the race and do the best I can.”
As for her preparation in the last moments before the big day, Vos has a plan. “I’ll basically be focusing on being fresh for Worlds as I did a lot of trainings in December. We’ve been to South Africa with the road team where we spent many hours on the bike which can make you tired. I know it was a good training and felt good to do it but now I need to focus on rejuvenation – to be fresh for World Championships. During the days leading up to the race, it won’t actually be too much training because I know I’ve done enough. Freshness will make the biggest difference. I’m going to do some road trainings, pre-ride the course, some speed training – that’s what I like. Then I hope to be ready.”
Her last test was in Nommay where she gave 100% and came out on top by over a minute on second place rider Helen Wyman [Team Kona]. Although Compton didn’t finish the race, Vos does not count her out by any means. “Of course it’s not nice to see [Compton] having problems in this race but of course she will be good next week,” says Vos.
While she has her preparation under control based on her performance in Nommay, the weather and luck of course are two factors she cannot will one way or another. “Usually a faster course is better for me but I’ve trained enough on the other types of courses so no problem. But with this course now, it will remain a typical cyclocross race – no fast criterium. We’ll have to wait to see what the weather does because that’s going to make the race. And naturally you have to be careful and have a little luck because something can happen where you can break something or worse.”
Regardless of outcome, her post-Worlds schedule remain intact. She will do one more ’cross race at BPost Trofee Lille the week after, then redirect her focus to the road. “ I was just with my team Rabo-Liv in Calpe [Spain] last week. They’re still there preparing for the road. After Lille, I’ll re-join them at training camp. Cyclocross is really intense for the body, with a high heartrate, etc. I’ve done enough races to know I need to calm down a little bit to build up for road season. My first road race is probably the World Cup in Drenthe [March 15th].
As for her future with the mountain bike, Vos exclaims, “It’s still on! I really liked it a lot last year but I noticed that it’s difficult to combine mountain bike with the road throughout the year – one week this, one week that – so I have to make more blocks of racing. I noticed that the technique is still the point that I have to work on to get to the highest international level. Road Olympics – as [current] Olympic champion – is still the most important. But yeah, it would be great to do mountain biking. After the London Olympics in 2012 [where she won gold in the road race], I thought that it would be cool to do 2008 track, 2012 road and then to have a third discipline [of MTB]. [Pause] Now I think, okay, maybe I should just focus on what I know I can do and what I’m good at. But it’s still nice to have some extra thrill and adventure in mountain biking. There’s still the question if I’m good enough.”
In what little free time she has between all her juggling, Vos continues to work on the UCI Athletes’ Commission. “I’m happy with what the UCI is doing with Brian Cookson coming up with some good points, listening to the riders. He sees the importance of women on bikes.”
Speaking of women on bikes, for the first time in Cyclocross Worlds, the women will have their own day to be the highlight of events. The Hoogerheide organization had personally requested this, out respect for women’s racing and for Vos. Of course they won’t mind the extra income that will be brought in from having two spectator-packed days of racing thanks to Vos’ popularity in The Netherlands.
But no matter the circumstances, the race, or even the discipline, expect Vos to give it her all – just as she plans to do this Saturday.