It was impossible to watch the Elite Women’s race at the 2022 Cyclocross World Championships in Fayetteville and not feel your heart racing, almost as if you were racing yourself, on the final laps.
Dutch star Marianne Vos, the GOAT herself, lined up with history on the line. Sixteen years after her first Cyclocross Worlds title, and eight years after her last, Vos could ride to her eighth title and surpass Erik De Vlaeminck to be the first to eight World Championships.
While Vos was coming off an impressive Hoogerheide World Cup last weekend, Lucinda Brand came into Worlds as the defending champ and most consistent racer of the season. Brand took the overall World Cup title and won 17 races this season.
Dutch Domination Early
2020 Cyclocross World Champ Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado took the holeshot, and with Marianne Vos and Lucinda Brand following, it was apparent from the start the Dutch were out to leave their rivals behind early in the race.
Yet just a few seconds into the race, pre-race favorite Vos’ chances took a tumble. In an early turn, Alvarado swung wide, hitting Vos’ front wheel and sending her into the fencing.
It was a brief scare for the favorite, but she quickly clipped back in and by the top of the first climb, it was three Dutch favorites, all former World Champs, riding away. Alvarado, Brand and Vos were off to sweep the medals.
On Lap Two, with others closing in, Brand surged and drew out Vos, and suddenly the 2021 World Champ found herself in a familiar position with Vos on her wheel. Before the race, Brand called the common race situation “annoying,” but could not have been surprised to see Vos riding to her strengths, and to win.
Persico Looks to Upset the Dutch
Behind Vos and Brand, Italian Silvia Persico looked to break the Dutch Domination.
Persico surged on lap two to near the three leading Dutch stars, but Brand wanted to avoid a group of four, and hit the gas. Vos joined Brand, but Alvarado would never see the front again.
Alvarado and Persico took turns leading the chase of the front two, and stayed locked in the battle for bronze for most of the race.
On the final climb, Alvarado put in an attack, hoping to drop the Italian, but it was futile.
Heading into the stairs, on a tight left-hand turn, Alvarado slipped out, seeing her chance at bronze come crashing down.
“In the last slippery descent before the stairs, my rear wheel slipped and then I crashed, I thought it would be dry, but there were slippery parts and a little wet,” Alvarado said after the finish. “I’m not really satisfied because of the mistake and I crashed.”
Alvarado would get caught by her teammates Yara Kastelejin and Manon Bakker, but outsprinted them to secure fourth.
Down to the Wire
Up front, Brand pulled for the first three laps, until Vos was forced to the front with a wide turn by Brand. The two, after riding to a secure lead, started to look at each other, trading blows and attempts to get the other to pull.
On the penultimate time up the climb, Vos unleashed a vicious attack, hoping to repeat her Hoogerheide climb that dropped Brand.
It didn’t work.
Vos looked back to find Brand on her wheel, and then sat up. Two more times on the lap, she sprinted out of corners in an attempt to get away, but each time, Brand was right there.
“It was such a difficult race, I knew Lucinda would be very very hard to beat,” Vos recalled. “She put some pressure, I tried some pressure but it’s so difficult to get away.”
Coming into the final lap, Brand sensed her chances to avoid a sprint with the renowned fast finisher were diminishing. The two slowed to a crawl, nearly trackstanding, as they neared the final stretch.
“It was difficult, it was hard, it was difficult to get rid of Marianne,” Brand explained. “We both knew that the second position for the sprint was the best position. Even for me, maybe more, because I have a [worse] sprint than Marianne. I tried to get her on the front, but of course she’s smart enough to stay in the second position. At a certain point, I also thought, if she now chooses to take the lead, she has 3-4 meters on me because she’s so explosive. So then I better try to make speed now and go into the sprint with a lot of speed.”
Vos took advantage of Brand’s indecision and remained glued to her rival’s wheel. She looked confident, but echoed her rival’s feelings of exhaustion.
“I knew I had to stay calm and try to do the right things on the last lap and focus on the sprint,” Vos explained.
The two entered the final straight, with Brand accelerating.
Vos waited a few seconds in her slipstream, swung wide to kick past Brand, and just needed a few pedal strokes to make history.
The Dutch star threw her arms up in the air to grab her record eighth Cyclocross World Championship.
While the crowd screamed with excitement, you could still hear Vos’ joy. It was as if she won her first race.
Who knew GOATs could roar?
The Rivals Reflect
“It’s incredible,” Vos said of her eighth title. “Of course, leading up to this race you don’t look back too much you just try to focus on the race itself. Now I just can’t believe it. I’m thankful and grateful to be here on the top step.”
Brand was satisfied with her effort despite failing to defend her title. “I can be happy with it because I did everything I could to race for the victory,” she said after the podium. “I didn’t dare to lose, so I think I need to be proud of it. I had an amazing season, I should not forget that. It’s not all about the race today. All the other victories I should not forget because those are impressive as well.”
North Americans: Rochette’s Rocky Road to a Top Ten
Maghalie Rochette led the North Americans to finish in seventh.
Rochette was delighted with the race environment if not her results. “I have to say, what an experience to be surrounded by all these fans,” she said after the finish. “The sound was crazy. I could hear my name the whole time. It’s a day I’ll never forget. It’s not the result I wanted, but it still was an amazing experience.”
The Canadian wasn’t pleased with her start but stayed determined. “I didn’t have a good start, I stayed calm, but I was really far back,” she recalled. “I did a lap full gas. I was bridging up to fourth place. On the second lap, I again went full gas. On the third lap, I thought maybe I went too hard, but it’s a long race. I said to myself, keep fighting. Not great, but a really good effort. Seventh is not bad.”
“You have to be proud of the work we did to get there,” Rochette said, reflecting on her ride. “Best season ever. If I have to think about where I was last March, I almost quit the sport, I was struggling with some health issues, family issues, and I didn’t even think I would be able to race and it ended up being my best season. It’s not the last race, it’s the last one of the season, but it’s fuel for the fire. I love the World Championships.”
2021 USA Cycling National Champ Clara Honsinger finished 11th, with Raylyn Nuss in 15th. See the full results below.
2022 Fayetteville UCI Cyclocross World Championships Results: Elite Women
|4.||6||ALVARADO Ceylin del Carmen||Netherlands||1998||56:04||+1:04|
|9.||5||VAN DER HEIJDEN Inge||Netherlands||1999||56:59||+1:59|
|11.||17||HONSINGER Clara||United States||1997||57:27||+2:27|
|13.||38||NASH Katerina||Czech Republic||1977||57:41||+2:41|
|15.||16||NUSS Raylyn||United States||1991||57:51||+2:51|
|17.||37||VAS Kata Blanka||Hungary||2001||58:07||+3:07|
|20.||30||GONZALEZ BLANCO Lucia||Spain||1990||59:01||+4:01|
|21.||22||ARENSMAN Hannah||United States||1998||59:19||+4:19|
|25.||20||MEGALE Anna||United States||1991||1:00:41||+5:41|
|26.||18||BERNSTEIN Caitlin||United States||1989||1:00:41||+5:41|
|27.||19||ZAVETA Erica||United States||1989||1:01:45||+6:45|
|28.||21||FAHRINGER Rebecca||United States||1989||-1 LAP|
|29.||36||KELLY Siobhan||Canada||1996||-3 LAP|
|30.||39||LARKIN Maria||Ireland, Republic of||1987||-3 LAP|
See our full coverage of the 2022 Cyclocross World Championships in Fayetteville, Arkansas here.