For the past several years, Women’s cyclocross in North America and Belgium has been ascendant. Deep, talented fields of women cyclocross racers have made Elite Women’s races must-see television, with any number of riders capable of winning any given race.
We wrote about the impressive number of women capable of winning international cyclocross races in our 2018 Year in Review. That dynamic still holds, but both here in North American and internationally, the story of 2019 for women’s cyclocross is the new group of women leading the way in the sport.
Clara Honsinger described the state of women’s ’cross after her win at Lakewood Nationals: “It’s just a progression of cyclocross, it’s not quite a changing of the guard or anything.”
For our latest 2019 Year in Review entry, we look at some new faces have burst onto the scene while others are seeing the fruition of years of growth domestically and internationally.
Rochette, Honsinger Lead the Way in North America
At the close of last season, two long-time veterans in Katie Compton (KFC Racing p/b Trek Knight) and Kaitie Keough (Cannondale p/b CyclocrossWorld) helped lead the way for North America on the international stage.
Keough won the Jingle Cross World Cup and was the top-finishing North American in 7th at Bogense Worlds. Compton won her 15th-straight Elite National Championship in Louisville and then went on to finish second at the Hoogerheide World Cup the weekend before Worlds.
With Compton recovering from a broken elbow and Keough readying for a season of European racing, the start of the 2019 domestic season presented an opportunity for new riders to step up. Maghalie Rochette (Specialized x Feedback Sports) seized that opportunity in a big way, sweeping the Rochester Cyclocross weekend and then winning the Jingle Cross World Cup the following weekend.
Rochette first turned heads on the international stage when she finished 5th at Bieles Worlds in 2017, and now at 26, the talent she showed on that snowy, icy day is on full display. She capped her domestic season with a dominant win at the Pan-American Championships to make a strong case for being the top domestic Women’s racer in North American in 2019.
When Rochette had that memorable ride in Luxembourg, then-U23-rider Clara Honsinger (Team S&M CX) had done a grand total of six UCI races. When Honsinger and her team hit the road from Portland to travel to CrossVegas and Jingle Cross in 2017, few people, save her own team, knew it would be the start of a rise in the sport that has been nothing short of meteoric.
That season, Honsinger finished 2nd at U23 Pan-Ams and Nationals behind potential 2020 Olympian Emma White, and last year, she stepped into the role of favorite and won both U23 Pan-Ams and U23 Nationals.
Now in her first year as an Elite, Honsinger continued her progression to the top of Women’s cyclocross. After two seconds in Rochester, she finished third at the Jingle Cross World Cup and then narrowly missed out on the podium at World Cup Waterloo.
Honsinger’s September to Remember proved a prelude to a historical December when the changing face of U.S. Women’s cyclocross was front and center.
Honsinger survived a fast start by Compton and went on to win Lakewood Nationals and become the first new Elite Women’s U.S. Cyclocross National Champion since Compton won her first title in 2003. A sixth-place finish at last weekend’s World Cup Namur helped show Honsinger’s rise is no fluke and ready to continue on the sport’s biggest stage.
A third rider who led the way on the domestic scene in 2019 does not necessarily fit the newcomer narrative, but she is a rider who has progressed year after year via hard work
Last year, Rebecca Fahringer (Kona Maxxis Shimano) finished fourth at U.S. Cyclocross Nationals and had a good ride at Bogense Worlds, and coming into the season, she made it no secret that her goal was to win Nationals this season.
Every rider says that, but Fahringer had the results to back it up. Since jumping into the UCI deep end in 2013, Fahringer’s story has been one of constant improvement. A quick look at her Nationals results tells the story—50th in Boulder, 15th in Austin, 6th in Asheville, 8th in Hartford, 6th in Reno and 4th in Louisville.
In 2018, Fahringer was a constant podium threat and broke through at SuperCross with a win after many near-misses. That win was a foreshadowing of what was to come, as Fahringer won 10 UCI races and won both the Parkway CX Trophy and Vittoria Series overall titles.
Fahringer also finished third at Pan-Ams and then took second at U.S. Nationals to cap off her domestic season. An eighth-place finish at World Cup Namur and a podium in Bredene showed the 30-year-old former triathlete is planning on taking her continuing improvement through Worlds.
Nothing in sport is certain from one year to the next, but with the Ka(i)ties still doing their thing, the new group of North American stars and young stars Katie Clouse (Cannondale p/b CyclocrossWorld), Madigan Munro (Boulder Junior Cycling) and Ruby West (Pivot / Maxxis p/b Stan’s NoTubes) waiting in the wings, chances are good the progression of North American cyclocross will continue.
Dutch Dominate in Europe
Since leaving the Midwest of the U.S. and heading back to Europe, the 2019/20 international cyclocross scene has been a story of Dutch dominance.
Of the 16 World Cups, Superprestiges and DVV Trofee races held in Europe, 15 have been won by 4 Dutch women. Of the 48 podium spots, 37 have been taken by Dutch women.
Similar to the women dominating North American cyclocross, those four Dutch women each have their own journey to the top.
The veteran of the group is Lucinda Brand (Telenet Baloise Lions). Brand has long been known for her power on the road, but as she has added technical skills to her repertoire, she has quickly become one of the top cyclocross racers in the world.
From the start of December through Bogense Worlds last season, Brand finished first or second in every race she entered. Her win at the 2018 World Cup Namur, a track known to be friendly to mountain bikers, was a scary sign to her peers she was becoming a complete cyclocross rider.
Brand capped her season with a silver at Worlds that maybe could have been a gold save one trip through the bike pit.
Brand kicked off her 2019/20 cyclocross season in early November and has already taken silver at World Cup Koksijde despite a not-first-row call-up and won at both Namur and Zolder. An injury at Azencross on Saturday forced her into a DNF, but Brand says she should be back sooner than later.
Although she is just 24 years old, saying Annemarie Worst (777) is a new face is a pretty big stretch. U.S. cyclocross fans likely know her all too well after she beat Ellen Noble (Trek Factory Racing CX) in the legendary 2017 U23 World Championship race in Bieles.
Last year, Worst was a constant podium threat and broke through with wins at the European Championships, Superprestige Gieten and Flandriencross, and this year, the Dutch rider has taken the next step to being a podium mainstay and consistent threat to win.
After skipping the U.S. World Cups, Worst has won 8 races so far this season, including World Cups Bern and Tabor. Moreover, in 21 Euro races, she has finished on the podium in a head-turning 16 of those races.
The youngest of the Dutch dominators is another face that is not necessarily new. Many of us first met Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado (Corendon – Circus) in 2016 when she won one of the Qiansen Trophy races in China.
The Dutch rider born in the Dominican Republic then finished second at the U23 World Championships in Valkenburg in early 2018 and took the U23 European Championship last November. Shey broke through at the Elite level with a win at Brussels Universities Cyclocross last January.
Even when she does not win, Alvarado has made her mark on the Elite Women’s races this season with her blistering fast starts. She translated those fast starts into wins at Superprestige Gieten and Ruddervoorde, and she won her first Elite World Cup at the famed sands of Koksijde. All told, Alvarado has won 8 Elite races—she also won U23 Euros—and finished on 17 Elite podiums.
The final entry from Team Netherlands is the freshest face among the group in Yara Kastelijn (777). A first-year Elite, Kastelijn has quickly asserted herself this season.
In a way coming out of nowhere after finishing 6th at Dutch U23 Nationals and 11th at Bogense Worlds last season, Kastelijn had a magical stretch in October and November where she won Superprestige Gavere, the iconic Koppenbergcross and the European Championships.
Kastelijn also added podiums at Tabor and Koksijde, but she has slowed a bit, results-wise, recently before finishing third in the night race at Diegem.
Knocking at the door of joining that elite group of Dutch women are other young riders such as Great Britain’s Anna Kay (Experza Pro CX) and U23 World Champion Inge van der Heijden (CCC – Liv).
Also coming up through the ranks are a talented group of Junior Women that includes Puck Pieterse (Netherlands), Shirin van Anrooij (Netherlands), Kata Blanka Vas (Hungary), Madigan Munro (United States) and Saturday’s Helen100 Trophy race winner Lizzy Gunsalus (United States).
Last February, the Dutch women entered the World Championships in Bogense as a favorite to win a rainbow jersey, but Sanne Cant (IKO – Crelan) stared down the orange-clad group and held off their challenge to win her third-straight World Championship. The group will again head to Worlds in Switzerland as a favorite to win and finish the season’s narrative in storybook fashion.