The second round of the UCI World Cup series took place at Centennial Park in Fayetteville, AR. Centennial Park is a brand new purpose-built cyclocross, mountain bike, and running park built with grants from the Walton Family Foundation. The city has been working since 2019 to build the park in preparation for the World Championships in 2022. The infrastructure required a brand new road to the park, a road for the start/finish stretch and will include a parking lot once World Championships come around. If you’re interested to read more about the development of this new park you can find it here.
With impending storms on the horizon, the women took to their morning course recon with questions on what the conditions would be during their race. By the time it came around for their warm-up, the skies opened and everything was drenched. The question looming in the air was “how would the course hold up with this much water.” The course was primarily built with recently-laid sod over rocky clay. No one was sure if the sod would hold, would it become spongy, would it split apart?
From the start, Jolanda Neff snagged the holeshot and set a fast pace heading into the downhill, pulling Kata Blanka Vas, recent World Cup Waterloo winner Marianne Vos with her in a front group that also contained Denise Betsema, Maghalie Rochette, Puck Pieterse and the World Champion, Lucinda Brand.
By the time the group hit the hill, you could see who had her climbing legs on the long and steep backside climb. Fast starter Neff seemed to be struggling her first time up the climb and quickly fell back as Vos and Vas were riding flawlessly through the deteriorating course. The current World Champion was a bit off the blistering start pace, but that was short-lived.
By the start of Lap Two, it seemed we might see a repeat of the battle we watched in Waterloo with Brand, Vos, and Betsema. Midway through the race, Brand went down in a tight turn, briefly stalling Vos, with Betsema already trailing.
Vos got around her rival, and then surged, gapping the World Champ and putting her on the defensive. You don’t become World Champion by giving up, and Lucinda showed us why she’s got the rainbows stripes. A small mistake didn’t cost her too much, as she was clawed her way back up to Vos. Just three days after Waterloo, we were gifted another Brand and Vos battle, this time in the mud and pounding rain.
Brand and Vos started the final lap looking to have another final lap showdown as they entered the woods together.
However, off-camera, and away from us on-the-ground journalists, Brand gained a gap over Vos, and once back on camera Betsema caught up to Vos, who seemed to be struggling in the woods.
Was it a mechanical? A crash? “I made a mistake in the last lap, and from then on I lost the rate of momentum,” the seven-tie World Champ explained. “It was unfortunate, but ya, it’s just a race and everything can happen. The mistake was in the downhill, and I just lost the bike. We’ve seen it dry, we’ve seen it wet so that’s good before the World Championships this winter.” The good news for cyclocross fans is that the GOAT has her eyes on coming back to the States for Worlds in late January.
With Vos on the ground, Brand had all she needed to take home the win.
When asked what happened in the woods, Brand was just as stunned as us. “It was a big surprise for me too,” said Brand when she realized Vos had fallen off her wheel in the final lap. “I can’t watch behind me, but I heard that she wasn’t on my wheel anymore, so I just tried to hold it to the finish line. I expected, of course, a different battle going into the last lap. I knew it was going to be very hard, I can see how easy it is to make a little mistake.”
The battle for the final two podium spots was on. What the camera didn’t show you is the massive comeback from National Champion Clara Honsinger, who worked her way from the mid-20s in the first lap, to the front group by midway in the race.
Honsinger described her approach to Cyclocross Magazine. “At the start, nothing chaotic happened, except the start of a cyclocross race,” she explained. “I was just all about riding within myself. I could tell that people were going to blow up on that hill. When the ground is soft, when it's this slow, there isn't a lot of rest, it's just all about trudging through it, so that's what I did. Don't blow up, but make sure you go hard enough. I would say the hardest part of the race was getting mud in your eyes, and your vision goes down to 10-percent. You can't really see what's in front of you when you have this glaze of dirt and mud in your eyeballs.”
When Betsema caught Vos, she brought both Honsinger and Pieterse within sight of the podium. The final time up the long climb Betsema made her move on Vos and continued to extend her gap on the fading World Cup Waterloo winner as the lap pressed on. By the time Pieterse and Honsinger reached the stairs, they were nearly within reach of Vos, which was all Honsinger needed to close the gap and make the pass on Vos to complete the final step on the podium.
So just how soggy was the grass? How hard was that uphill? “It got super muddy, it was fun, the downhill was like a ski slope essentially, but then you just started sinking,” Eric Zaveta, who finished 33rd, explained. “The last laps, you were just sinking into the mud. It wasn’t really the mud, but the sod absorbed the water and you were sinking down into it. It took like a billion watts or something like that. Check my power meter, it ran out of space on the screen.”
With the storm that soaked the Fayetteville event headed to Iowa City, there will surely be some deep mud awaiting riders as the UCI World Cup caravan heads north to Jingle Cross this weekend.
Full results below the photo gallery.