OOSTENDE, Belgium—Without Katerina Nash, Katie Compton, Sophie de Boer, Thalita de Jong and Marianne Vos at the line to contest the Belgian Cyclocross National Championships, fans could be forgiven for writing off the race and assuming it would be an anticlimactic story of Cant domination (Wout van Aert would later play that part).

Instead, the women’s race at the 2017 Belgian Cyclocross National Championships continued the trend of exciting, nail-biting racing.

While most of the U.S. (including CXM’s full team) had its attention on the 2017 Cyclocross National Championships in Hartford, CT, another legendary champion was out to defend an amazing Nationals winning streak.

Defending champ Sanne Cant (Enertherm-Beobank), unlike dominant defending champ Wout van Aert later in the day, had her hands full with 21-year-old Laura Verdonschot (Marlux – Napoleon Games) taking turns at the front in attempt to dethrone the seven-time National Champion. Could Cant make it eight?

First, Cant would have to escape a nasty starting straight crash and an always fast-starting Ellen van Loy (Telenet Fidea Lions). Van Loy led the field at the start of the climb up the world’s longest cyclocross flyover, but Cant, knowing the descent dumps the racers into a sand pit, wasted no time passing Van Loy on the climb to have clear lines of sight and riding in the sand pit, a feature that caused trouble and crashes for many.

The giant flyover bridge dumped racers into this sand pit at high speed, and for some, the results were unpleasant to say the least.

The giant flyover bridge dumped racers into this sand pit at high speed, and for some, the results were unpleasant to say the least.

Van Loy, Verdonschot and her teammate Alicia Franck were determined to not let Cant have her way. Van Loy and Verdonschot took turns with surges at the front, while a head-bobbing Jolien Verschueren (Telenet Fidea Lion) led the chase of the leading four.

Verdonschot’s sprints up the two-way flyover bridge soon would crack her teammate Franck, then shed Van Loy, and suddenly it was a two-woman race between the living legend Cant and a young U23 racer without a professional contract.

At stake was Cant’s unprecedented seven-straight National Championship titles (another Katie Compton streak in the making?) and a chance for Verdonschot to impress the team bosses and earn a contract.

On the second lap, Verdonschot rode like a woman on a mission, repeatedly hitting the front and gapping Cant while Van Loy dangled behind.

Four laps in, Cant looked to be in control, with five seconds over Verdonschot, who started to look behind. However, Cant started to catch lapped traffic and Verdonschot took advantage of the human obstacles to rejoin the defending champ and immediately hit the front.

From then, it was a two-woman race over the man-made obstacle course filled with no less than six times over bridges, flyovers, stairs and barriers per lap.

The final lap was a good one, with Cant attempting to control the action by leading most of the lap. Threading through turn by turn, dismount after dismount, Cant stitched together lines that added inches to her small gap and chances at sewing up another tricolore jersey.

Pushing a big gear, Cant powered through to the stairs on the final lap, and her three-bike-length lead suddenly looked to be five by the time Verdonschot got back on her bike. It was a race to the pavement.

Cant had time to zip up and celebrate her eight title in a row at the young age of 27. Could she pass Compton’s current mark of 13? We’ll have to wait and see, but both title winners hope to trade their national colors for a rainbow later this month.

Van Loy rolled in for third, well over a minute down, with teammate Verschueren behind in fourth.

The biggest winner on the day? It was probably Verdonschot, as the young racer landed a two-year professional contract with her team after an impressive duel with Cant.

See the race in the full Belgian National Championships women’s race video, and race results, below the slideshow, and stay tuned as we catch up on the other European National Championship races.

2017 Belgian Cyclocross National Championships Video – Elite Women

2017 Belgian Cyclocross National Championships: Elite Women - Ostend / Oostende

1Sanne CANTBEL2740:59:00100
2Laura VERDONSCHOTBEL2141:03:0080
3Ellen VAN LOYBEL3742:19:0060
4Jolien VERSCHUERENBEL2742:34:0040
5Loes SELSBEL3243:13:0030
6Alicia FRANCKBEL2343:13:0025
7Joyce VANDERBEKENBEL3343:47:0020
8Karen VERHESTRAETENBEL2643:54:0015
9Julie VAN DE VELDEBEL2445:14:0010
10Aurelie VERMEIRBEL2547:15:005
11Gertie WILLEMSBEL4048:24:003
12Kristien NELENBEL3948:35:00
13Kim VAN DE PUTTEBEL3348:46:00
15Katleen FRAEYEBEL53