Santa Cross, fresh off his championship racing, brought cyclocross fans an early Crossmas present on Friday with the 2016 Hansgrohe Superprestige stop at Diegem. The race, referred to as “Suburbcross” by some, is held just outside the Belgian capital of Brussels and has a strong urban vibe, heading through the streets and around the soccer fields of Diegem. The rare Belgian night race featured a raucous crowd getting ready to celebrate the holiday weekend and gave American ’cross fans the opportunity to sleep in and still watch a midday cyclocross race before the holidays.
The suburban setting of the Diegem course makes for a very interesting cyclocross circuit. At first glance, the course appears very technical, with many tight corners and technical features such as a muddy off-camber and a man-made sand pit. However, many of the technical features were followed by long straights that placed a premium on power as the race progressed into its latter stages.
When Santa Cross was making his start list and checking it twice, the name of seven-time World Champion Marianne Vos (Rabobank Liv) appeared on his list of women to be rewarded in Diegem. After a nearly two-year break from the sport and making just the second stop of her comeback tour, Vos showed that racing cyclocross is just like riding a bike with an exciting win over Sanne Cant (IKO Enertherm-Beobank) and Namur winner Katerina Nash (Clif Bar Pro Team). Vos opened up a small gap on Cant at the sand pit during the penultimate lap and turned herself inside out through the power sections of the last lap to hold off Cant and win at Diegem for the third time in her career.
Real Estate Market Tight Early On
The start of the Diegem course was tight and slow, with two 180-degree turns followed by a slick off-camber that was the site of several snafus early in the race. The tight turns and challenging technical features put a premium on riding at the front and avoiding the pile-ups that inevitably occur on tight, technical features such as those at Diegem.
During the first lap, riders learned this the hard way when Christine Majerus (Boels-Domans) slipped off the high line on the off-camber and forced Sophie de Boer (Kalas-NNOF) into the course tape below.
Sanne Cant began the race asserting herself at the front and used the crash and resulting pile-up to open up a short-lived gap at the front. The race quickly came back to Cant and a massive group of 10 riders that included front-row starter Amanda Miller (Boulder Cycle Sport / Yogaglo) formed at the front of the race.
On the second lap, riders again learned the importance of riding at the front. Dutch rider Lucinda Brandt (Rabobank Liv) got out to a hot start, but slipped out on the off-camber while leading the race. Fortunately for her, her position at the front gave her time to recover and rejoin the lead group shortly after her mishap. Other riders were not as lucky when Vos slipped out on the feature and created a massive traffic jam worthy of an American freeway behind her.
By the end of lap two, a selection had finally started to emerge. Cant took the lead while Nash and Englishwoman Nikki Brammeier (Boels-Dolmans) sat a handful of seconds ahead of the large chase congregation.
An Elite Selection Emerges
On the third trip through the circuit, Vos rode the off-camber cleanly and slowly worked her way back to the front to join Cant and Nash in an elite selection of riders. Brammeier tried to keep up with the trio while Alice Maria Arzuffi (Lensworld-Zannata) dangled oh-so-close to the lead selection. Hanging off the back of a group containing Cant, Nash, and Vos, Arzuffi got tantalizingly close until the lead trio turned on the gas shortly before the sand pit and denied her the opportunity to close the gap.
Brammeier’s dismount at the sand pit would end her opportunity to remain in the lead selection, and as the race entered the penultimate lap, Brandt, Brammeier, and Arzuffi sat ten seconds behind the lead trio in the battle for fourth.
At this point in the race, Sanne Cant looked to be in control at the front. She aced the off-camber again and opened up small gap on Nash and Vos. The aforementioned long power sections that followed the technical features allowed riders the opportunity to light a match and close gaps created at technical features.
Vos was able to erase Cant’s gap, and the two went to the afterburners through the paved false flat in town to distance the Namur-winning Nash.
Vos Makes Her Move
The winning move of the Women’s Elite race at Diegem was a seemingly innocuous charge to the front by Vos shortly before the sand pit. The sand pit was not as deep as many found on European courses, but it was not surprisingly, a race-defining feature.
Vos’s move to the front proved to be prescient. She rode the feature strong and clean, while Cant got hung up shortly before the end of the pit and hesitated when her wheel went slightly askew. The moment of hesitation allowed Vos to open up a small two-second gap that she extended to three by the end of the lap.
One opportunity for Cant to reel Vos back in was on the off-camber at the start of the lap, but both riders struggled through the section and had to put a foot down. The opportunities for Cant to close in on the powerful Vos were waning.
Once the two cleared the off-camber, Vos made sure the Cant would not close the three-second gap by turning herself inside out through the power sections past the soccer field and up the false flat in town. The Dutch rider had her head down in a Froome-like fashion, turning the cranks and applying the maximum amount of pressure to the Superprestige series leader.
Vos’s lead extended to five seconds at the sand pit, but Cant reduced it on the subsequent barriers and handful of corners. With Cant doing everything she could to get back to the front, Vos had only two more muddy corners to ride cleanly to take victory and start her comeback tour early.
The second of these two muddy corners was a left-hand turn into a depression where a thick, deep pool of mud had formed. A rut had emerged as the best, and likely only, clean line through the section. Riders had been riding the feature through the middle portion of the race, but on the last lap, Vos chose to dismount and run around the corner instead of risking an endo or some other kind of disaster in the mud. She ran the section cleanly and sprinted toward the stairs about 25 meters after the corner.
Cant would not be as lucky as Vos. She also chose to run the section and crashed to the ground when her bike slipped during the attempted dismount. After attempting to ride the corner during the race, the last-lap run was a calculated risk that clearly didn’t pay off.
Vos crossed the line with an expression of exuberance to celebrate her Crossmas present to herself. The win was her third at Diegem and her first win on a cyclocross comeback tour that was making just its second stop.
Cant ended up finishing second (18″) and Nash held onto third (34″). Brandt overcame her lap two spill to finish her surprising ride in fourth (47″), and Nikki Brammeier rounded out the top five (55″).
— Katerina Nash (@katkanash) December 23, 2016
American Amanda Miller out-dueled teacher-racer Jolien Verschueren (Telenet Fidea Lions) during the last lap to finish ninth. Elle Anderson (Elle Anderson Racing) took 15th and Emma White (Cannondale p/b Cyclocrossworld.com) finished 16th.
Ellen van Loy (Telenet Fidea Lions) did not take the start, citing lack of fitness.
Overall Standings and Next Up
With Van Loy’s absence, Cant cemented her grasp on first in the overall Hansgrohe Superprestige series. She currently holds an 30 point lead (87 to 57) over Van Loy (First-place gets 15 points).
The next Superprestige race is February 5th at Hoogstraten. The next European race is the World Cup at Heusden-Zolder on Monday. Stay tuned for Cyclocross Magazine’s full coverage of the famed World Cup event.
2016 Superprestige Diegem Results - Elite Women
|6||Alice Maria ARZUFFI||ITA||23||44:10:00||20|
|12||Sophie DE BOER||NED||27||45:02:00||6|
|18||Inge VAN DER HEIJDEN||NED||18||45:30:00|
|22||Ceylin DEL CARMEN ALVARADO||NED||19||46:20:00|
|24||Lindy VAN ANROOIJ||NED||21||46:52:00|
|27||Monique VAN DE REE||NED||29||47:28:00|
|29||Alicia GONZALEZ BLANCO||ESP||22||47:33:00|
|32||Lucia GONZALEZ BLANCO||ESP||27||48:17:00|
|46||Irene TRABAZO BRAGADO||ESP||19||50:52:00|
|47||Eva Maria PALM||BEL||20||50:58:00|
|54||Meg DE BRUYNE||BEL||21|
|59||Anke VAN ROMPAY||BEL||18|