by Christine Vardaros
While this list of podium potentials could have easily been fifteen names to include powerhouse gals like Sabrina Stultiens, Pauline Prevot Ferrand, Lucie Chainel-Lefevre, Sophie de Boer, and Pavla Havlikova, I forced myself to cut it way back. So here you have eight of the top fifteen to read up about!
Katie Compton, USA, Trek Cyclocross Collective
Compton is on fire this year! She has again taken home the World Cup Overall title by such a dominating landslide that she didn’t even need to participate in the last round. (In fact it is due to her efforts that the USA is allowed to take 6 in place of the usual 5 female riders to Worlds.) She is #1 on the UCI international rankings and has won 14 events this season. In addition, she just won her tenth US National title in a row a few weeks ago. Based on the two-woman race at the front we’ve seen every time when outgoing World Champion Marianne Vos is present, Vos will most likely be her only challenger for the gold. Of the seven times they’ve gone to battle, Compton came out ahead in four of them. Over the last few years, Compton has accumulated two silvers and one bronze at Worlds – all to Vos as victor. This also includes the last time they’ve faced off in the Hoogerheide World Championships back in 2009 when it was more of a course that suited Vos’ road racing strengths. Compton says, “I think my chance to win is better this year than in years past. I have the fitness, ability and support so all I have to do is have the legs on the day.”
Marianne Vos, NL, Rabo-Liv
Number two on the UCI International rankings, Vos is the co-favorite for gold. She is gunning for her seventh world title in cyclocross. For the past five years in a row, Vos has taken the glory. 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.
Due to a full road season combined with a few mountain bike races in the “off-season”, Vos took a three-week break from training in November to rest and recharge before joining back in with action starting with Namen World Cup December 22nd. In her abbreviated season consisting of 13 races, she’s won nine of them, and placing second to Compton in the other four. Her last win was almost a week ago at Nommay World Cup where she blew away the field, proving that she is on form to defend her rainbow stripes. “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.”
Helen Wyman, UK, Kona Factory Racing
With a solid second place ride at Nommay last weekend, Wyman looks to have timed her form just right. She is currently British National Champion as well as European Champion. She is also ranked fourth overall in the UCI Standings, fifth in the World Cup Overall, and won in the BPost Bank Trofee Series –the second largest series of races in the world offered to women. Oh, and add 10 UCI victories to her palmares including the infamous Koppenbergcross that she’s won two years in a row.
The Hoogerheide course is certainly a good one for Wyman as she’s finished twice on the podium there in the years that it is a World Cup. And if the track is very muddy, she will grow wings. “This year at European Championships I had what I can only describe as a float-day. That day I was so good! If I can recreate that at Worlds, then I am going to be one happy bunny”, quips Wyman. Adding, “Whatever happens…as long as I get out the best performance I can, then I know I will be happy. If that includes a result then I’ll probably get drunk on Saturday night. You want in? [Grins widely]”
Nikki Harris, UK, Telenet-Fidea
Harris has really had an incredible year. In 25 UCI races, she’s been off the podium a mere seven times, and six of those were in the top five! She’s ranked fifth in UCI, second in the World Cup standings, and has been on four World Cup podiums this season. In addition, she is silver medalist at British National Championships. In her last test before Worlds, she placed fifth at Nommay World Cup. And this was while feeling sub-par. “I’m a little gutted as I’ve been sick the last few days since Saturday and Nommay the next day left me with a full-on virus. I’m hoping I can be better on the start line for Worlds. Rest is best I heard [grins].
Last year she missed Worlds due to an injury so this time around she’ll be picking up her game that extra notch in search of some revenge – already armed with plan in hand. “It will take 40 minutes – give or take – of turning myself inside out, getting a good start and racing clever. A little luck always helps too. But to be honest, you know there are two people I see fighting for the jersey (Katie and Marianne) then a group of us who are all wanting that podium and who are all good enough to be on the podium. I hope I can be there fighting too at the end. As long as I can say I did my best when then race is finished, then the result is what it is,” explains Harris. Adding, “Worlds is special but at the end of the day it is just another race. It just so happens, though, to be the race everyone wants to be flying for and the race where the atmosphere is by far the best!” Harris is a mentally tough one, so expect her to prevail over her illness to give us a performance of a lifetime.
Sanne Cant, BE, ENERTHERM – BKCP
As the strongest Belgian female, having won her National Championships five times in a row, Cant is very popular in her homeland of Belgium. But as of a couple of years ago, she’s really lifted her game to become one of the very top riders in the world…and not just in the sandy, muddy courses as she’s proven in Zolder World Cup a month ago when she placed 3rd on a fast, dry course.
She is currently third on the UCI ranking, fourth in the World Cup overall and second in the BPost Bank Trofee Series. With ten wins under her belt this season, an additional 11 podiums, and a fourth at Nommay World Cup last weekend, she is one to keep an eye on. What makes her performances that much more impressive is that she is a mere 23 years old.
She made it to her first Worlds podium two years ago when it was held in Koksijde. Last year, she placed 6th at the Hoogerheide World Cup; three of the riders finishing in front of her have since retired or are out with injury.
Just after Cant checked out the Worlds course today [Thursday], she reports in, “Currently the course is still fast, there are only a few wet sections. But it is very difficult because the height difference, etc. I believe the best will win. I’ll do my best to get on the podium.” Cant is known for her climbing prowess, demonstrating it with her wins this season at Superprestige Gavere and Superprestige Diegem and also her 2nd place at Koppenbergcross. As for the speed aspect of the course, her podium at Zolder and her win at Kalmthout backs her up there. If the course becomes more muddy from the expected rain Friday night through Saturday morning, the odds will tip in her favor. As for her personal aspirations, Cant tells Belgian site Start-Box.be, “I never focus especially on a certain race as they are all important to me. But for the third place in this race, there are a few candidates. I think I can count myself in as one of them. I’ll do my best to make that happen.”
Ellen van Loy, BE, Telenet-Fidea
Van Loy is a dark horse for the podium but has really proven to come good out of the Christmas overload period of racing with some real speed in the legs. She placed sixth in the Nommay World Cup and is feeling optimistic for doing something special this Saturday.
“My good form now is certainly not planned as such because my husband Tom had to significantly lighten my training schedule a lot because off my lack of time due to work and the accumulated mental fatigue. And then there were the neck problems after my endo in Leuven. Hmm…maybe my decent result in Nommay is due to my new Challenge tires [chuckles].”
Well, taking time off seemed to be what she was needing after a season riddled with unfortunate circumstances such as injuries, the death of her dad, and the burglary of her garage where they made off with all of her expensive bikes and parts. Working irregular full time hours as an educator for people with mental disabilities aged 45 to 55 surely doesn’t help, especially considering she was not able to take time off. Instead she pushed through it all, while her racing took a hit.
Van Loy first stamped her name in the books last year at Worlds in Louisville when she placed 9th. Since then, despite of her heavy load of bad luck, she’s managed to lift her game a bit. She is currently 6th in the UCI ranking and sixth in the World Cup overall.
Last year, Van Loy placed ninth at Hoogerheide World Cup so with that higher level of fitness she now has, she has the capability of jumping up a few spots this weekend. Keeping her ambitions in check, Van Loy says, “I don’t think a podium is big enough for more than three riders… but we can always hope. Maybe a top five or eight is more realistic . I think at the moment the track could suit me, but if there will be a lot of rain and a lot off running it will be harder for me due to the running. It’s never been my strong point and due to my neck injury, I haven’t been able to run for two weeks now.”
When asked what she looks forward to most at Worlds, Van Loy responds, “The two days in the hotel! Finally a little relaxation. I’ll definitely enjoy it [smiles]. Hopefully from those two days I can become a bit more fresh going into the race. Oh, and I also look forward to burying myself to have the race of a lifetime.”
Eva Lechner, IT, Centro Sportivo Esercito
While most folks think mountain biking when they hear the name Eva Lechner, she has actually started to develop a name for herself in the cross world too. This is no surprise considering anyone who is consistently top five in Elite MTB Cross Country World Cups and has a top ten finish in last year’s Elite MTB Cross Country World Championships would be able to rock it in the cross races as well. Her other specialty has become the short track events at the MTB World Cups where she is almost always one of the strongest in the race.
As for her cyclocross palmares, she is currently 10th on the UCI standings, and ranked seventh in the World Cup Overall. This Italian National cyclocross Champ has been on the podium of Rome and Nommay World Cups, both held over the last few weeks. This alone makes her a threat for the podium. In addition, out of the eight races she’s competed in this season, five were podium finishes. At age 28, she is already four-time Italian National cyclocross champion, has been elite national mountain bike champion and elite national road champion.
Hoogerheide is a good course for her as she placed fourth last year.
Hanka Kupfernagel, GER
Although Kupfernagel has only competed in seven races this season, she has won three of them, to include the German National Championships. Kupfernagel is also famous for knowing how to peak for the big event, based on her four World Cyclocross Championship titles, her countless German titles and her other impressive results such as World Time Trial Champion. If it were her choice, though, she’d have been present at more start lines the last months. “I got a virus infection just few days before the World Cup at Koksijde and it stopped me for nearly three weeks. then starting again from zero wasn’t easy. As for Hoogerheide, I did this race many times and have good memories. The circuit changed a bit but it’s still a hard race or even a bit harder, you will need good condition and power. If I can finish top ten, then I’m more than happy about the season.”
In the three World Cups she’s done this season, she’s been steadily improving. From a 16th in Zolder, to an 11th in Rome and last week an eighth in Nommay. She’ll be coming into Worlds with some of the freshest legs as well as possibly the most experience in the event considering her first ’cross Worlds title was back in 2000 at the inaugural event for women.
As for her summer plans, she is teaming up with Team Maxx Solar, a Thüringen Team. “No pressure – I only want to enjoy some races and maybe try and win some time trials [grins].