After a long wait, the first 100% real mudder of the season arrived at the Telenet Superprestige Gavere. The narrow course was filled with muddy ruts from tape to tape and slogging through the mire on foot was the order of the day. It would be a test to determine the toughest mudders of the Elite Women’s cyclocross field.
Looking to put her name in that conversation was Nikki Brammeier (Boels-Dolmans). Last week, Brammeier (Boels-Dolmans) announced she will be leaving her team in 2018 to focus specifically on cyclocross. With muddy conditions on Saturday at Jaamarktcross in Niel and again on Sunday in Gavere, she was looking to prove the choice was a good one.
Brammeier won on Saturday in Niel and got out to a fast start again on Sunday. She was feeling at home in the mud and demonstrating cyclocross may be her destiny.
The English star was joined at the front of Sunday’s race by a rider who needed no introduction to the mud of Belgium. Ellen Van Loy (Telenet Fidea Lions) got off to her customary fast start and soon joined Brammeier off the front of an impressive Superprestige field.
As the two battled deep into the last lap, Brammeier had a leg up on the Belgian stalwart, but she still needed to close the deal and put an emphatic cap on her big weekend. Van Loy, of course, would not go easy. The result was a thrilling muddy treat for cyclocross fans.
Mud, Running, More Mud, More Running
The course at Gavere was taped narrow throughout, making it a technical circuit on a good day. On a muddy day, bike steering was in, running skill was a must and navigating the hazards littered on the descents was a premium challenge.
Van Loy got out to her usual fast start, although in this case, it was the result of leading a large pack on foot. The first good 500 meters of the course featured a series of up and downs that forced riders off the bike and into the muck. They dutifully got in line and marched through the mud one-by-one, hurrah hurrah.
The second half of the lap at Gavere allowed for more riding, but it was still anything but easy. There was a long, muddy uphill slog and then a long, thick power straight before the finish. One can only imagine the lactic acid and burning legs riders were experiencing after just one trip around the course.
When they hit the power straight, Van Loy and Brammeier were still feeling good. The two dug deep and forced the rest of the large pack to chase them. When they cleared the section they had seven seconds on a chase of Sanne Cant (Beobank-Corendon), Sophie de Boer (Parkhotel Valkenburg – Destil Cycling) and Annemarie Worst (ERA-Circus).
The race at the front was afoot. Quite literally. There was still a lot of running to be done!
Brammeier Controls, Van de Steene Shines
Early in the second lap, Brammeier moved in front of Van Loy to control the pace. Lap times were long, in excess of ten minutes, so there was not much of a sample size to judge who was stronger where, but in the middle two laps of the four-lap race, Brammeier excelled at driving in the mud while Van Loy was able to regain lost time on the few power sections on the course.
During the third lap, Brammeier opened up a not-insignificant eight-second lead on Van Loy midway through, but Van Loy erased it using the power sections at the tail end of the circuit.
Foreshadowing of the laatse ronde? You bet it was.
Behind the two leaders, the chase broke apart quickly thanks to a mishap by Cant. One of the tricky muddy descents featured a depression and small hump before the exit.
Kim van de Steene (Tarteletto Isorex) came alive early in lap two and moved to the front of the chase group. She cleared the tricky downhill first and then Cant lost her wheel and careened into the course tape and banner. De Boer and Worst were also held up and Van de Steene was off in a solo third.
Battle to be the Toughest Mudder
Brammeier and Van Loy entered the last lap together, but as the previous two laps showed, the two competitors had different strengths to offer on the Gavere course. Brammeier again used her bike-driving skills to open up a gap on Van Loy. The gap was large enough that a final catch appeared difficult for Van Loy.
Early on in the last lap, Van Loy’s hold on even second appeared it may be imperiled. The hard-charging Van de Steene closed on Van Loy and looked ready to move into second. However, she too fell victim to one of the muddy descents and her nascent challenge to Van Loy was over before it got to really blossom.
On a muddy afternoon like the one at Gavere, even a comfortable lead was only a crash or mechanical away from evaporating. Brammeier went down on the humped descent that claimed Cant earlier in the race, but she was able to recover and retain her lead. Disaster averted, for the moment.
Van Loy regained some of her lost time, but as the two hit the two climbs, Brammeier still had a noticeable lead that Van Loy could not erase. The Telenet Fidea Lion dug deep and looked for every ounce of energy she could find, but with the end of the race approaching, that last closing effort was proving hard to unleash.
During laps two and three, Van Loy’s ace was her power on the long, thick power section before the finishing straight. She had one last chance to put her cards on the table and when it counted, she did in a big way.
Brammeier went right, Van Loy went left, and as the two rolled through the section, it was clear Van Loy was closing the gap. They came together off their separate paths and Van Loy was on Brammeier’s wheel. The gap was erased, but with the finishing straight drawing near, she would need one last kick to take the lead position.
The kick was there. Van Loy pulled to the right, passed Brammeier and took the lead position into the right-hander onto the tarmac. The Lion roared one last time and finished the sprint to take the win.
On the muddy afternoon, power won the day. Brammeier’s consolation could have been a lot worse. She took home a second to close out a successful weekend of racing.
Van de Steene was the only other rider within a minute of the winner. The third-place finish was the first career cyclocross podium for the Belgian representative of #TeamGinger.
Alice Arzuffi (Steylaerts-Betfirst) had another strong ride, finishing fourth and Cant took fifth.
Katie Compton (KFC Racing p/b Trek/Knight Composites) and Elle Anderson (Cycling.be – Alphamotorhomes Ladies) made the start in Gavere as well. Compton got some camera time after crashing on the first muddy descent, but she recovered to finish tenth. Anderson came across behind her in 11th.
Wow…that was a shit show for me. Good reminder to be at the front early in a real mud race! Still had fun and looking forward to Denmark 👍
— Katie Compton (@KatieFnCompton) November 12, 2017
Superprestige series leader Maud Kaptheijns (Crelan-Charles) had another tough afternoon with a 12th-place finish, but she still barely retained the overall series lead ahead of Cant.
The next race on the European schedule is the Telenet UCI World Cup in Bogense, Denmark on Sunday, November 19.
Women's Results: 2017 Telenet Superprestige Gavere
|Rank||BIB||Last Name||First Name||Country||Result|
|3||46||VAN DE STEENE||Kim||BEL||00:43:11|
|23||45||VAN DE PUTTE||Kim||BEL||00:52:32|