ESSEN, Belgium—The fourth installment of the 2016 IJsboerke Ladies Trophy and 2016 DVV Verzekeringen Trofee was held on Saturday in Essen, Belgium at Noordvlees Van Goolen Cyclocross Essen. The men’s edition of Cyclocross Essen has a long history dating back to 1965, but the women’s race was just the sixth running of the event. Despite the short history of the women’s race, Sanne Cant (IKO Enertherm Beobank) has already put her name in the record books, winning three of the first five events, and on Saturday she was looking to win her second straight victory in Essen and fourth overall title at the event. Coming down the final straight, it looked as if her fourth win was a sure thing, but Sophie de Boer (Kalas-NNOF) had other plans.
The 2016 Cyclocross Essen track was a relatively flat course that placed a premium on technical cornering ability. The weather was foggy and damp, but the track appeared tacky and fast, with the women turning in laps of about 6:15 to 6:30 each of the seven times around the circuit. Most of the elevation gain on the course was in two sets of rollers and a 180 degree on-camber bowl that appeared fun to rip through. The difference-maker during the afternoon would be the unassuming barriers and two sets of stairs that forced riders to dismount and run.
The front of the women’s race featured a large congregation throughout the race. Five become six, and six eventually became ten heading into the last lap, and it became clear that positioning within the group was going to be key heading into the final corner and finishing sprint. During the last lap, Cant put on a master class in positioning within a group, picking up key spots on corners and using her quickness getting on and off the bike to open up a small gap on the last set of stairs. She held that gap over a hard-charging De Boer to win the thrilling photo finish sprint by literally inches to take her fourth Cyclocross Essen title.
Strong Early Group Riding from the American
Cyclocross Essen’s lack of hills and fast, tacky track made it difficult for any decisive breaks to form early on in the race. A group of five consisting of De Boer, Ellen Van Loy (Telenet Fidea Lions), Cant, Maud Kaptheijns (Team Steylaerts), and Laura Verdonschot (Marlux-Napoleon Games) formed at the front with a large chase that included World Champion Thalita de Jong (Rabobank Liv), Englishwoman Nikki Brammeier (Boels-Domans), and American teammtes Katie Antonneau and Emma White (Cannondale p/b CyclocrossWorld) established about 10 seconds down.
It is becoming a Sanne Cant trademark for the Belgian rider to move to the front during the second or third lap and push the pace to see what shakes out. At Essen she pulled through on the second lap and looked determined to break the lead group apart, but the technical corners and lack of elevation change snuffed out the effort, and it became clear that the group would stay together well into the race.
While Cant moved to the front, World Champion De Jong was chasing back after a first lap derailleur problem. De Jong would later say after chasing back after the first lap bike exchange, her strong motivation to win paired with many mistakes would prove to be her biggest barrier.
A Cyclocross Collective Action Issue
After Cant’s test attack did not break the race apart, the lead group faced a classic cyclocross collective action issue. With de Jong, Brammeier, and Antonneau a short distance back, someone needed to put in a strong effort to keep the lead group out front, but there was no real incentive for any one rider to do the work necessary to increase the gap.
As the front riders wrestled with this classic dilemma of cyclocross economics, Thalita de Jong started to break from the chase group and work her way back to the front during the third trip around the circuit. She eventually made contact with the lead group at the start of lap four, and the lead group of five became six.
— cyclephotos (@cyclephotos) December 10, 2016
Starting with three laps to go, the chase also began to close the gap to the lead congregation. 18 seconds became 10, and then 10 became just 5 seconds for Brammeier and Antonneau heading into the bell lap. Brammeier, Antonneau, and three more riders, including Emma White, closed the gap at the start of the bell lap and what was once a group of five was now a group of ten riders shortly after the barriers.
Cant Puts on a Master Class
Although Cant went into the bell lap on the front and surrendered the lead to de Boer at the first set of rollers, she would still put on a master class in positioning within a group during the last trip through the circuit. After dropping back a few spots early on, the Belgian picked off spots where she could and took advantage of the inside line several times to force other riders out wide.
Thalita de Jong took the lead from de Boer shortly before the 180 degree on-camber bowl while Maud Kaptheijns made a move to the outside of the bowl to try to grab second wheel. Cant dove into the inside line around the bowl and was able to force Kaptheijns out wide to take over the second spot with only a small distance of course left to travel.
One cyclocross adage yours truly likes to repeat is that barriers do not matter until they do. In most races, gaps will be large enough that one second gained or lost at the barriers does not make a difference in the overall outcome of the race. However, every once in a while, especially in close two-up or three-up battles, one second gained or lost at the barriers can be the difference between winning and losing.
At Cyclocross Essen, the barriers mattered—a lot. Cant has shown quickness and skill getting on and off the bike all season, so her attack should have been something the other riders were expecting. Cant moved ahead of de Jong shortly ahead of the last stairs section, and then opened up a small one-second gap using her speed and skill.
After the race, Cant talked about her technical mastery, saying, “It was maneuvering to be in the best position, but we were all so good. Everyone had her hands on the wheel. Maybe my experience in that situation made the difference.” (translated)
Cant Edges de Boer in Thrilling Finish
Cant was the first rider onto the pavement of the finishing stretch ahead of De Jong and De Boer. Cant appeared to have the sprint locked up and sat up shortly before the finish while de Boer continued to keep her head down and finish the sprint through the finish line.
At race speed, it appeared that Cant had sat up prematurely and de Boer had pulled off the shocking victory. The folks running the Dutch feed (provided by Trek Bicycle) also thought that de Boer had pulled off the victory, briefly displaying her as the victor. However, a view of the rare cyclocross photo finish showed that Cant had pulled off the win by the narrowest of margins.
— Ilaria Pranzini (@IlariaMe) December 10, 2016
Cant was admittedly a bit suprised by de Boer’s strong finish saying, “I was shocked when Sophie [de Boer] appeared next to me. Had I known she was so close, I would have still made a jump. I had half a wheel over? Well, a millimeter is enough, huh?” (translated)
The finish of the women’s race at Cyclocross Essen provided an important lesson for young and developing riders: Always finish your sprint through the finish line. Cant was lucky enough to eke out the victory at Essen, but ‘cross fans can all think of at least one time someone was nipped at the line because they did not pedal hard all the way through the line.
De Jong finished the race in third and Maud Kaptheijns and Ellen Van Loy rounded out the top five.
The hard work the English-speaking trip of Antonneau, White, and Brammeier did to reel in the lead group during the middle part of the race paid off at the finish. Antonneau finished 7th, White 8th – both within 10 seconds of the winner – and Brammeier finished 9th.
De Jong Maintains Overall Series Lead
Closing the gap to the lead group also paid off for de Jong, who still holds a massive Koppenbergcross-propelled lead of 2’06” over Sanne Cant in the overall Ijsboerke Ladies Trophy standings. Jolien Verschueren sits in third 2’38” back.
The next race in the Ijsboerke Ladies Trophy series is next Saturday, December 17 at the Soudal Scheldecross Antwerp.
2016 Cyclocross Essen Results: Elite Women - IJsboerke Ladies Trophy
|1||Sanne Cant||IKO Enertherm-Beobank||00:44:56|
|2||Sophie De Boer||Kalas-NNOF||00:00:00|
|3||Thalita De Jong||Rabobank-Liv||00:00:01|
|4||Maud Kaptheijns||Team Steylaerts||00:00:04|
|5||Ellen Van Loy||Telenet Fidea Lions||00:00:06|
|6||Laura Verdonschot||Marlux-Napoleon Games||00:00:07|
|10||Loes Sels||Telenet Fidea Lions||00:00:17|
|11||Jolien Verschueren||Telenet Fidea Lions||00:00:32|
|13||Lindy Van Anrooij||00:01:13|
|15||Fleur Nagengast||Telenet Fidea Lions||00:01:47|
|17||Ceylin Alvarado Del Carmen||00:01:48|
|18||Bianca Van Den Hoek||00:01:55|
|19||Shana Maes||AA Drink-Kalas||00:02:28|
|27||Meg De Bruyne||00:05:00|