The fifth stop of the 2016-2017 Women’s World Cup was at the Citadel of Namur in the southern Belgian province of Wallonia. The cyclocross race at Namur is relatively new, with the first race held in 2009, but the Citadel that towers above the Meuse River dates back to 937. The castle was improved in the 17th century, and on Sunday, it prepared to be stormed by the best cyclocross riders in the world.
Despite being a new addition to the World Cup circuit, the course at Namur has already achieved legendary status due to its tough climbs up and epic descents down the Citadel hill. The epic-ness quotient has been upped in previous years by the December rains of Belgium, with riders having to navigate the descents in the sloppy mud. Unfortunately for fans, there was no rain to be found at Namur this year and the track was tacky and fast. However, the women’s riders made up for the lack of mud by competing in the latest race for the ages that seemed to be the norm this year on the women’s tour.
Sophie de Boer (Kalas-NNOF) came into Saturday’s race looking to defend her castle atop the World Cup standings, but Eva Lechner and Katerina Nash (Luna Chix Pro Team) would have other plans. Nash and Lechner staked out an early lead before Lechner was befallen by the first of several flats that would play a key role in the afternoon’s affair. Nash’s mid-race advantage was erased by mud stuck in her shoe plates, and de Boer closed the gap to head into the last lap, wheel to wheel with the California-based Czech cyclocross legend. On the last lap, Nash suffered her own flat, but was fortunate enough to have it occur right before the pit. De Boer would not be so lucky when she suffered a flat shortly before the last uphill, allowing Nash to climb away for her second World Cup victory in Namur in three years, a race she had circled on her calendar as a must-attend.
Lechner and Nash Start Fast
Sophie de Boer was the first rider off the cobbled start to claim the holeshot, but Eva Lechner quickly charged to the front to take the hill shot up the steep climb at the start of the Namur circuit. After the series of mountain bike-like downhills, a lead group of Lechner, de Boer, Nash, and Ellen Van Loy (Telenet Fidea Lions) had established with British U23 World Champ Evie Richards and others formed a group slightly behind them.
As the race settled in to the second lap, Lechner did not settle in and continued to drive hard at front. Nash looked very comfortable deploying her mountain biking skills to navigate the technical downhills from the start of the race. She was able to keep with Lechner through the downhill section to join her Italian teammate with a small two second gap at the front.
The first moment with implications for the front of the race happened on the second trip through the rutted off-camber section. Evie Richards was sitting around fourth wheel and crashed to the ground when she lost control in a rut. The spill held up the other chasers for few seconds and allowed Nash and Lechner to extend their lead, with only Sophie de Boer emerging unscathed from the incident.
Mechanical Issues Mar Mid-Race
Katerina Nash won at Namur in 2014, so there was little question that she would be racing confidently on the hilly, technical course. As Nash continued to bomb the downhill sections, Lechner showed off the same mountain bike skills as well. The Italian, who finished third in last year’s race, stuck with Nash’s wheel as the women flew down the hill into the middle stanza of the race.
Halfway through the third lap, disaster struck for Lechner. As is typical of courses that run through forests such as the one found on the side of the Citadel hill, the World Cup course had its share of rocks and roots, both of which are bad news for cyclocross riders running sub-20 psi tire pressures. Lechner caught one of these tire-piercing elements, flatting a ways from the pit.
Sophie de Boer seized her opportunity to break up the Luna team time trial and moved past Lechner into second as the Italian navigated the last steep climb to the pit on a flat tire. When the third lap ended, Nash was solo at the front with a ten second gap and Lechner dropped 40 seconds behind the leader into a chase group for fourth.
Nash’s solo time at the front would be short lived due to issues with mud in her shoe plates. Even though there was no rain to turn the course into a muddy mess, there was enough moisture in the air that some of the run-ups were soft enough that mud on the pedals could become an issue. Nash could be seen furiously slamming her cleat against her pedal as de Boer slowly but surely closed the gap to the lead rider. Nash’s pedal issues were clearly bothering her as she uncharacteristically struggled through the rutted off-camber sections. While Nash banged her pedals, De Boer stomped on hers, and made the catch as the riders exited the section.
De Boer took the lead when Nash had to stop and literally dismount her bike to clear the mud off of her pedal, but after the manual mud clearing, Nash caught back on to the World Cup series leader heading through the start/finish straight.
Lechner Never Lets Up
The ride of the afternoon certainly goes to Eva Lechner. After suffering an unfortunate flat at the bottom of the hill during the third lap, it would have been understandable if the adrenaline from riding at the front wore off and the Italian rider settled for riding out a top ten finish. However, that would not be the case at Namur. Lechner rode an insane fourth lap, cutting her deficit from 39 second to just 13. When the riders hit the start/finish straight for the last lap, Lechner’s deficit sat at just nine seconds and she sat within just one bobble or mechanical from moving up on the podium pecking order.
Flats Make the Difference on the Hilly Course
The penultimate lap saw a total of five lead changes between Nash and de Boer. Each rider was able to take advantage of her respective strengths, but when the riders entered the bell lap, the only change was that it was De Boer sitting first wheel instead of Nash. Not surprisingly, Nash made a strong move into De Boer’s preferred line on a steep uphill to take the first position into the technical downhill section. The move would allow her to open up a five second gap, but she curiously decided to enter the pits and allowed de Boer to close the gap and move back to the front.
After the race, Nash said that the early-bell lap attack was cut short by a flat of her own, “I actually got a flat on the last lap. So I came in for a clean bike and I think that really helped me because it gave me a clean bike and clean pedals.”
De Boer’s latest lead would be short lived. Nash accelerated back to the front and entered the off-camber in first position. Despite having a little difficulty riding the tricky section, Nash still emerged in first, while Lechner loomed only a handful of seconds behind the two front runners.
At a seemingly innocuous corner after the off-camber that gave women trouble throughout the race, the race turned. The right-hand turn with a slight uphill at the apex of the turn caused De Boer to bobble, and as she put a foot down on the small rise, Nash pounced, opening up a small three-second lead. As De Boer pedaled away from the troubling corner, it was apparent that she was not immune to the flat tire attacks at the Citadel.
De Boer’s untimely mechanical left Nash alone at the front heading into the last climb up to the finish line. Nash crested the hill alone and cruised the last several hundred meters past the pits to the cobbles to take home her second victory at Namur.
The race at Namur was one that Nash was looking forward to, and she certainly made the trip from her California home well worth the time on the airplane. “I was just looking forward to coming back to Namur. It was another reason why I wanted to come back and race in Europe. Today was pretty epic. Sophie and Eva were really strong. It was a good, exciting race.”
With the victory, Nash joins American Katie Compton as a two-time winner at Namur. She had these thoughts about what winning at Namur means to her, “This place is really special. I have raced for a really long time and I don’t have a ton of World Cup victories. So every one of them is super special. I am really excited.”
Earlier we mentioned how Lechner showed a do-not-quit attitude after her early mechanical. The yeoman’s work she did to rejoin the race paid off when she was able to pass de Boer after the flat and accelerate up the last climb to take second. If Lechner had not put in the work on the fourth and fifth lap, she would not have been in a position to capitalize on a mechanical that can strike at any point during a cyclocross race, as De Boer’s misfortune proved. Her effort provides an important lesson illustrated a common lesson—that even if things do not go a rider’s way early on in a race, giving in is always the wrong decision.
The afternoon at Namur proved successful for a number of American and English riders. Amanda Miller added to her strong World Cup finishes in Las Vegas and Iowa City with a seventh place finish, just one minute behind the winner. Nikki Brammeier, last year’s winner, finished eighth, Evie Richards 11th and Kaitlin Antonneau (Cannondale p/b CyclocrossWorld) 12th. Ellen Noble (Aspire Racing) finished 16th and retained the overall U23 leader’s jersey.
Six Americans contested the race. Emma White (Cannondale p/b CyclocrossWorld) finished in 22nd, Elle Anderson (Elle Anderson racing) in 33rd, and Christine Vardaros (Stevens Bikes) in 47th.
De Boer Fortifies World Cup Lead
Although Sophie de Boer was unable to raise her flag atop the Citadel on Saturday, she did fortify her lead atop the overall World Cup standings. She currently holds a 58-point lead over Sanne Cant at 323 to 265. Cant, after winning yesterday’s Scheldecross, had a rare, rough outing at Namur, finishing in 13th place, nearly two minutes behind Nash.
The next World Cup race is a post-Christmas treat at Heusden-Zolder on Monday, December 26.
Check back soon for the men’s race report and more photos and videos from Namur.
2016 Namur UCI Cyclocross World Cup Results - Elite Women
|3||Sophie DE BOER||NED||27||47:35:00|
|4||Alice Maria ARZUFFI||ITA||23||47:42:00|
|6||Ellen VAN LOY||BEL||37||48:06:00|
|24||Aida NUNO PALACIO||ESP||34||51:40:00|
|26||Inge VAN DER HEIJDEN||NED||18||51:48:00|
|34||Kim VAN DE STEENE||BEL||31||52:51:00|
|42||Olatz ODRIOZOLA MUJIKA||ESP||34||54:37:00|
|44||Lindy VAN ANROOIJ||NED||21|
|45||Luisa IBARROLA ALBIZUA||ESP||17|