The British Invasion may have been 50 years ago, but on Sunday at the Citadel of Namur, the British women staged an invasion of their own.
Coming into Sunday’s World Cup at Namur, they said the “mountain biker-sters” would have an advantage on the famed hilly, technical course. When the mud settled, it was a mountain biker who would reign, but it was a young woman folks did not necessarily expect to win.
Evie Richards (Trek Factory Racing), the 2016 U23 Women’s cyclocross world champion, of Great Britain is no stranger to World Cup podiums after she took home top three finishes at several U23 mountain bike World Cups this summer. Richards’ cyclocross season has started a bit late due to a knee injury, but when the whistle blew at Namur, she was more than ready to race.
Richards rode through the field and was the top rider in a star-studded field filled with cyclocross and mountain bike stars.
After Eva Lechner (Clif Pro Team), Nikki Brammeier (Boels-Dolmans) and Katie Compton (KFC Racing pb Trek/Knight Composites) got out to a fast start, Richards calmly worked her way up from her bad grid position and navigated crashes and the mud to move into fourth after the second of four laps.
Richards made the catch of the lead trio and then wasted little time attacking and riding off the front. She took a ten-second lead into the last lap and did not look back.
Richardsmania was followed by Nikki Brammeier for a 1-2 English finish. Time will tell how the British encore goes at Worlds in Valkenburg, but on this afternoon, Richards and Brammeier were the headline acts.
Climbs, Crashes, Oh My
Similar to many mountain bike races, the course at Namur starts with a climb. The climb gets steep and narrow near the top, so a fast start is desirable for riders with podium aspirations.
Last year’s Bronze medalist Lechner and Kaitie Keough (Cannondale p/b Cyclocrossworld.com), who entered the race in second in the World Cup standings, wasted zero time going hard on the first climb. By the time the two reached the top, they had an eight-second lead on the rest of the field. As an accomplished mountain biker, Lechner was one of the favorites heading into the race, so her climbing and technical skills were well-suited to put pressure on the field from the front.
After the 2:30 prologue, the shape of the front of the race took shape rather quickly. Lechner was joined at the front by Brammeier and Compton joined Keough in the chase.
Compton’s first big move happened on the infamous rutted off-camber section. She found the right rut and used her right leg to propel her through the section while the two leaders struggled a bit.
Compton’s push-shove through the off-camber propelled her into the lead selection was Lechner, Brammeier and Compton after the first lap. Katerina Nash (Clif Pro Team), Keough and defending U23 world champion Annemarie Worst (ERA-Circus) formed the chase 18 seconds back.
No Time for Waiting
After finishing the first lap, riders saw three to go on the lap counter with a little over ten minutes showing on the race timer. It would be yet another short Women’s World Cup race. On the course, the short race meant there would be no time for sitting in.
Compton made her move to the front by acing the rutted off-camber for the second straight lap. While Lechner struggled a bit, Compton moved through it with about as much grace as can be mustered on the difficult section. The American had a few seconds on the Italian, and she attacked.
Compton’s lead was short-lived. Lechner made the catch at pit two and then attacked on the big climb. Compton did her best to maintain up the long slog, and halfway through the race, Lechner had a small lead. Compton and Brammeier were chasing five to ten seconds.
Lurking behind the top three women was Richards, who was just 16 seconds off the lead. After the long mountain bike season, Richards started her international cyclocross season at the end of November in 2016. This year, her start was delayed a bit by a knee injury. Her first races of the season were last weekend’s tilts in Essen and Overijse, where she finished in the top eight both days.
With few UCI points, Richards was gridded toward the back, so she had some work to do to get to the front. After the race, she said she was surprised to hear she had made it all the way up to fourth. Soon, she would be at the front.
A British Invasion in Namur
Early in the third of four laps, Compton bridged to Lechner but then slipped on a dismount at one of the steep run-ups. She recovered, but then Brammeier caught her and Richards bridged to the lead trio. The lead group was now four with just a lap and a half of racing to go.
The group did not last long.
After bridging, Richards kept going and made the others work to catch her. Brammeier moved into second and Lechner dropped back while dealing with one of the two flat tires she suffered during the race.
Richards took full advantage of the long climb to extend her lead on Brammeier. The young British rider cranked up her cadence and spun her way to a ten-second advantage heading into the last lap. It probably did not feel that different from one of the climbs on most World Cup-level mountain bike races.
Little changed during the last lap of racing. Richards stayed nearly perfect, with only a small hesitation on a descent slowing her down during the last lap. The win was her first career cyclocross World Cup win and podium.
Brammeier rode an equally solid last lap to take second. Brammeier has a number of podiums this season and is currently in second in the IJsboerke Ladies Trofee standings, but her second at Namur was her first World Cup podium of the season.
After dealing with her flats, Lechner passed Compton early in the last lap and finished third at Namur for the second straight year.
Some of the other big names in Sunday’s race turned in solid finishes. Last week’s winner in Overijse Pauline Ferrand-Prevot (Canyon SRAM) finished strong to take fifth, Keough took sixth, Nash seventh and bunny-hopping mountain bike World Champion Jolanda Neff (Kross Racing) finished eighth.
World Cup leader Sanne Cant finished 12th. Although Keough picked up 44 points on her, Cant still has a healthy 409 to 341 lead after the race in the points-based World Cup standings.
A healthy contingent of U.S., U.S-based and Canadian riders are in Europe for a block of racing.
Caroline Mani (Van Dessel / Atom Composites) finished 17th, Emma White (Cannondale p/b Cyclocrossworld.com) 21st, Elle Anderson (Cycling.be – Alphamotorhomes Ladies) 25th, Christel Ferrier-Bruneau (SAS Macogep Aquisio) 26th, Ellen Noble (Aspire Racing) 29th, Maghalie Rochette (Clif Pro Team) 32nd, Rebecca Fahringer (Stan’s NoTubes p/b Maxxis/gofahr) 34th, Jennifer Malik (American Classic Pro Team) 54th, and Christine Vardaros (Stevens) in 58th.
Women's Results: 2017 World Cup Namur
|Rank||BIB||Last Name||First Name||Age||Result|
|19||8||VAN DE STEENE||Kim||31||0:41:30|
|23||42||VAN DER HEIJDEN||Inge||18||0:42:08|
|27||40||DEL CARMEN ALVARADO||Ceylin||19||0:42:37|