HEUSDEN-ZOLDER, Belgium—At the start of the second race of the day, rain continued to pour down on the course as the field for first-ever U23 Women’s World Championship race took to the grid. Whoever won today would rightfully be called the first U23 Women’s Cyclocross World Champion.

The U23 Women’s field, nearly 50 riders deep, was actually larger than the Elite Women’s race, which took place later in the day. The addition of the U23 Women’s race to the schedule drew out more women racers and proved to be quite popular with competitors and racers alike.

The race was a pretty open affair. Before hand, it was hard to predict the U23 Women’s race as for much of the season these younger racers battled the Elite Women. And racers like British phenom Evie Richards hadn’t even raced abroad during the season after winning a silver medal at the 2015 Mountain Bike World Championships this past September.

For the United States, it was Ellen Noble on the front line, aboard her Focus Mares CX , in the pouring rain waiting for the start light to turn green.

When it finally did, Noble had a rocket-fast start slotting in to second place behind the wheel of Italian Chiara Teocchi. Behind them, riders were bunched tightly. Heading into the first U-turn near the pits, many had to come off their bikes, including Noble’s teammate Laurel Rathbun.

Ellen Noble had a fast start and sat in second before fading to sixth. © Pieter Van Hoorebeke / Cyclocross Magazine

Ellen Noble had a fast start and sat in second before fading to sixth. © Pieter Van Hoorebeke / Cyclocross Magazine

Teocchi was off the front on the second pass of the pits on the opening lap with a large group containing Noble, Richards, pre-race favorite and European Champion Belgian Femke van den Driessche, Nickola Noskova of the Czech Republic and Maud Kaptheuns of The Netherlands. Noble, tossing her glasses and seen talking to her mechanic as they passed, slid towards the back of the group riding for second.

Not content with the state of affairs and putting her formidable mountain bike skills to use, it was Richards who left the group, gave chase, made the catch and passed Teocchi before the end of the first lap. It was on the difficult climb after the sandy run-up where Richards made the move. She rode the feature while the chasers ran.

Richards was off to the races from there.

Swiss rider Sina Frei, Teocchi and others, including Noble, who had slid to ninth, chased through the finish line at the end of lap one and it looked like it would be a repeat of the Junior Men’s race for the leader.

On the second of the four lap contest, Richards was forced to run the climb where she had made her earlier move, but it was of little concern as the chasers, led by Noskova, all ran as well.

The race stayed even for the chase group aside from Teocchi’s backward progress. Richards was chased by Noskova and Kaptheuns with Frei fighting to try to get to the podium in fourth and Nadja Heigl of Austria in fifth. Noble for her part was siting in ninth.

Brit Evie Richards took the first-ever Women's Youth Cyclocross World Championship.

Brit Evie Richards took the first-ever Women’s Youth Cyclocross World Championship.

And while Noskova gave chase, sitting 39 seconds behind with 1 to go, it was never really close. And Kaptheuns, 50 seconds behind the leader in 3rd, was not closing in any further either.

The race behind the leading trio was tight though as Frei, who was just 9 seconds adrift of the bronze medal, was really pushing the limits in her chase, sliding in turns trying to get to the podium.

One naming missing was European Champion van den Driessche. She pulled out of the race with an apparent mechanical as she was spotted running down the finishing straight before jumping off course and riding off into the crowd. It was later determined that a bike she had in the pits was in violation of the UCI’s rules regarding “mechanical doping.”

In the end, Frei couldn’t make the catch and had to settle for fourth behind Richards, Noskova and Kaptheuns. Noble surged on the last lap was able to move up to sixth behind Heigl, who was fifth.

Nobel was pleased with her result when we spoke with her after. (See our post-race interview with Noble, here)

I didn’t know what to expect…I’m very, very pleased with sixth place today. -Ellen Noble

Laurel Rathbun fights her way through the mud puddles in Zolder. © Pieter Van Hoorebeke / Cyclocross Magazine

Laurel Rathbun fights her way through the mud puddles in Zolder on her way to 35th. © Pieter Van Hoorebeke / Cyclocross Magazine

Like Dekker earlier in the day, once Richards took to the front on lap one she never looked back and grew her lead in route to the World Championship title. “I started far back,” she said after the race. “I didn’t really realize where I was. I didn’t know I was in first” she said with a wide grin.

Richards rode a remarkably consistent race putting in lap times of 10:10, 10:14 and 10:16. Notable too was that she was aboard an older frame belonging to one Katie Compton.

Evie Richards wins the first-ever women's U23 race at the UCI Cyclocross World Championships. © Pieter Van Hoorebeke / Cyclocross Magazine

Evie Richards wins the first-ever women’s U23 race at the UCI Cyclocross World Championships. © Pieter Van Hoorebeke / Cyclocross Magazine

“It feels amazing. This is my first cyclocross race abroad,” she added. “To get the jersey is incredible. I wouldn’t want it any other way.”

When asked about the value of the U23 Women’s field the new minted World Champion didn’t hesitate, “If the category wasn’t here, I wouldn’t have been racing. It’s amazing for female riders coming up.”

© Pieter Van Hoorebeke / Cyclocross Magazine

Richards, Noskova and Kaptheuns – Elite women – 2016 Cyclocross World Championships. © Pieter Van Hoorebeke / Cyclocross Magazine

We caught up with some of the American contingent after the race. Allison Arensman, who finished 29th, explained about the course that, “[i]t’s pretty sandy, so it doesn’t stick everywhere. It’s not peanut butter.” For her part, Allison’s sister Hannah, who came in just ahead of her sister in 27th, was taken aback a bit by the experience saying she felt “[a]mazing, numb. Excited to be in the first U23 Women’s Worlds. I was just blown away.” Their teammates Emma Swartz and Laural Rathbun finished in 32nd and 35th, respectively while adopted American, but racing for Argentina, Sofia Gomez Villafane made it into the top 20 and finished 19th.

Other English speakers included Canada’s Ruby West and Maggie Coles-Lysrer who were 33rd and 41st as well as Australian Stacey Riedel in 42nd. And aside from Richards with the gold medal, Great Britain’s Alice Barnes was in the top 10 in 9th, Hannah Payton finished 12th, Ffion James took 15th and Bethany Crumpton was 25th.

You can watch highlights of this historic race or see all the action in a full replay, here, And you can also see some amazing images of the U23 Women’s race from photographer Danny Zelck here.

If you missed the Junior Men’s race report, read how it played out here. Also see our Elite Women’s race report, which was the tightest battle of the dayread about the U23 Men’s race as well as the battle for gold in the Elite Men’s competition.

Full results of the Women’s U23 race, below.

Video Interview: Emma Swartz and Laurel Rathbun

2016 Zolder Cyclocross World Championship - U23 / Women's Youth Results

223CZE19970701NOSKOVA NikolaCZECH REPUBLIC+00:35
448SUI19970718FREI SinaSWITZERLAND+00:53
543AUT19960215HEIGL NadjaAUSTRIA+01:30
731ITA19941119ARZUFFI Alice MariaITALY+01:47
82FRA19981104LABOUS JulietteFRANCE+01:50
921GBR19950717BARNES AliceGREAT BRITAIN+02:01
1035GER19950701LAMBRACHT JessicaGERMANY+02:22
116BEL19961204VERDONSCHOT LauraBELGIUM+02:43
1217GBR19940323PAYTON HannahGREAT BRITAIN+02:46
1332ITA19961208TEOCCHI ChiaraITALY+02:53
1412NED19950211WITLOX LizzyNETHERLANDS+03:13
1520GBR19971221JAMES FfionGREAT BRITAIN+03:18
1636ESP19950527GONZALEZ BLANCO AliciaSPAIN+03:38
1833ITA19991129CASASOLA SaraITALY+04:06
204FRA19990526MUZIC EvitaFRANCE+04:27
2145JPN19960205SAKAGUCHI KiyokaJAPAN+04:27
2237ESP19960817TERUEL RIBES AlbaSPAIN+04:28
233FRA19980410GROSSETETE MaelleFRANCE+04:28
2518GBR19940610CRUMPTON BethanyGREAT BRITAIN+04:49
2624CZE19981111LUKESOVA DenisaCZECH REPUBLIC+05:20
307BEL19950202MAES ShanaBELGIUM+06:36
3147DEN19990723BOHE CarolineDENMARK+06:48
3341CAN19990707WEST RubyCANADA+07:05
3434ITA19991104BARONI FrancescaITALY+07:08
368BEL19981217HEYNS JoyceBELGIUM+07:27
3749NOR19940611MOHR TirilNORWAY+07:38
3840LUX19981009REES Edie AntoniaLUXEMBOURG+07:43
3938POL19950328MALINKIEWICZ RitaPOLAND+08:22
4142CAN19990212COLES-LYSTER MaggieCANADA+09:41
4246AUS19950523RIEDEL StaceyAUSTRALIA+11:11