“Do you like the off-cambers?” the on-air reporter asked Evie Richards after her stunning Elite Women’s World Cup win at Namur this season.
“I’m not very good at it,” Richards responded. “It was fun, but I just need to practice it.”
It’s the hills that the mountain biker looks forward to, and not just the downhills. “I love all the running. I’ve been doing a bit of running, all the hills and everything, they’re my favorite,” she said after the hilly, off-camber Namur.
At the 2018 Cyclocross World Championships in Valkenburg-Limburg, Richards proved her off-camber skills were just fine, pairing them with dominant running and descending to take her second rainbow jersey in three years.
Richard’s win in the Women’s U23 race was the second-straight British win of the day after Ben Tulett’s win in the Junior Men’s race two hours earlier.
An American Holeshot and Lead
American Emma White, ready to cap off her stellar season and improve upon her eighth place at the 2017 Worlds, rocketed off the line to grab the holeshot and put others on notice that she was ready to battle in the mud.
White dropped into the mud looking confident, with Ceylin Del Carmen Alvarado (NED) right behind. White’s lead was short-lived, but her chase of a medal was not. While Alvarado, Richards and a surprising 16-year-old Brit Harriet Harnden got by, White continued her strong ride, passing Alvarado back and entered lap two firmly in third, 30 seconds off the lead.
The Favorite and Understudy
While Richards makes it no secret she likes running up hills, it’s her mountain bike background and training with downhillers that really set her apart on the treacherous, muddy Valkenburg course.
Richards has ridden for TMO racing, the team of Enduro and Downhill Champion Tracey Moseley. Moseley is also responsible for selling Richards an old Katie Compton Trek cyclocross bike that she won her first World Championships on in 2016.
After she had such success on a similarly hilly, muddy Namur World Cup against the Elite Women, it was no surprise to see Richards quickly make it to the front on lap one.
What was shocking to see was another British rider in tow. Harnden shares the same Moseley-inspired mountain bike background. At just 16-years old, Harnden was on Richards’ wheel. Just a half lap into the biggest race of her life, she was showing the World that she’s a quick study, displaying confidence and grit of her rainbow jersey-winning mentors, Richards and Mosely.
Could the British go one-two?
Tables Turn on Lap Two
The second lap turned decisive for several medal hopefuls.
White, navigating a downhill left-hand turn, took a tumble and went sliding down the mud and soon down in the placings.
Meanwhile, Austria’s Nadja Heigl was surging, and Del Carmen Alvarado was recovering after her fast start and subsequent fall down to sixth. The pair joined forces to bring back and then drop Harnden.
Just outside the top ten was American Clara Honsinger, who moved up in traffic to 12th place.
Singlespeed for the Win
In the heaviest mud, some cyclocrossers prefer the simplicity of singlespeeds. There are fewer gears to collect mud, no shifting problems, and the bike is lighter. Sure, you’re always in the wrong gear, but for some amateurs, the trade-offs are worth it.
Entering the third and final lap, with the title looking like it was already hers, Richards was forced to sample all the hardships of singlespeed life, without any of the benefits.
On her penultimate trip down the finishing straight, the Brit was spinning furiously, and looking down at her drivetrain. Did her derailleur jam? Di2 wire get disconnected? She was stuck in her lowest gear at the course’s fastest section.
“I was just spinning my legs out,” Richards recalled. “I thought I had lost it then.”
While she spun her low gear on the flats, Richard was still able to pedal up the hills, and used her Mosely-trained downhill skills to the best of her ability to maintain her lead. Despite her furious cadence, and the furious chase behind her, Richards only lost seven seconds by the time she hit the pits for a new bike and nine more minutes of racing.
Richards’ brief debut at her own Singlespeed Worlds was a successful one, but she had more than a tattoo or Golden Speedo in mind. She was here to reclaim her 2016 title.
Behind her, it was a fierce, two-woman fight for second between Heigl and Del Carmen Alvarado.
Del Carmen Alvarado took the inside line on a downhill off-camber turn to slip by Heigl, and then gave it a go. She kept her speed to get over a little hump that halted Heigl, and had the daylight she needed to secure silver. The Austrian Heigl pushed on to secured bronze.
Harnden maintained her impressive ride to finish fourth.
White held on for seventh, one better than her 2017 finish. Honsinger finished in 14th, Emma Swartz in 20th, Ruby West in 21st, Katie Clouse in 25th, Hannah Arensman in 30th, Laurel Rathbun in 39th, and Siobhan Kelly in 40th.
2018 Cyclocross World Championships U23 Women Photo Gallery (Including Team USA):