Marianne Vos wins her third consecutive world title in Saint Wendel

Marianne Vos wins her third consecutive world title in Saint Wendel © Bart Hazen

SAINT WENDEL, Germany – America’s best chance to win its first-ever Elite Cyclocross World Championship rested on the shoulders of US National Champion Katie Compton. With an incredible international winning record this season, and without the typical late-season leg cramps that have hampered her from training and racing, Compton was the one rider cyclocross fans throughout the world had penciled in as the biggest favorite for the rainbow jersey.  But with one strong attack on the final lap, Dutch rider Marianne Vos reminded the world that she was the defending World Champion for a reason. She surged away from Compton and Czech rider Katerina Nash to take her third UCI Cyclocross World Championship in a row.

The surprise attack by the feared sprinter was too much for the other two to follow, and Vos soloed in for a comfortable victory to defend her rainbow jersey. Just before hitting the running track leading to the finish line, Compton distanced herself from Nash to take second, visibly disappointed, while Nash crossed the line elated with third after narrowly missing the podium last year in front of her Czech fans in Tabor. Hometown favorite Germany’s Hanka Kupfernagel rode largely solo, strongly determined to hold on to fourth place ahead of Jasmin Achermann (Switzerland) and Sanne van Paassen (Netherlands).

Favorites Escape with Early Pile-up

The same ride / run-up that proved to pose a problem to the Juniors and U23 riders yesterday also sent women sprawling early in today’s Elite women’s race. When the field hit the off-camber section shortly after the start of the race, there was a pile-up that snagged Gabby Day, who sat in 10th place, as well as 20 of the riders behind her. Although the top favorites, including Compton, Vos, Nash, van Paassen (Netherlands), Kupfernagel, Achermann, Christel Ferrier-Bruneau and Pauline Ferrand Prevot (both France), all made it through cleanly, those hoping to move up from poor start positions were out of luck, and the rest of the American contingent was hung up. American Sue Butler, unfortunately, went down hard and was taken to the hospital. Details on her condition below.

Meredith Miller moved up to 20th by the second lap, with her compatriots Amy Dombroski sitting in 33rd and 19 year-old Kaitlin Antonneau in 40th. These three would chase for the entire race, each moving up through the field.

Kupfernagel set the pace early on in front of her home crowd, reliving her ride into the rainbow stripes in 2005 – the last time the World Championships took place in St Wendel. But before long it was defending champion Vos on the front, as Compton got her diesel engine up to speed and was working her way up to the leaders. “When I crashed in the first lap, Hanka [Kupfernagel] had a gap and I knew that I had to get her wheel or she’d get away. She had a really fast start and I knew she would be good. She was a favorite I didn’t want to let the favorites go,” said Vos.

Achermann had the surprise ride of the day, as the Swiss national champ, whose top previous results of the season include a seventh at the European Championships and a couple of 14th places in World Cups, installed herself in the front group in the early laps, planted firmly on the wheels of the heads of the sport.

Compton went to the front by the third lap and began to further stretch out the line of contenders. Nash, Vos and van Paassen hung tough, while Kupfernagel dangled off the back by a couple of seconds. Achermann was in sixth, with the French duo of Ferrier-Bruneau and Ferrand Prevot leading Olympic MTB champion Sabine Spitz (Germany) and Sanne Cant (Belgium). Kupfernagel dug deep, but would eventually fade and lose contact, as would van Paassen, and by the fourth lap it had evolved into a three-way race, not unlike the 2009 World Championships in Hoogerheide, only with Nash taking the place of Kupfernagel.

Compton leads the break

Avoiding Vos’ Sprint

Vos has a world-beating finishing kick on the road, and used that sprint many times in cyclocross to win a race, and Compton knew from experience her chances for victory were slim if she entered into the stadium together with Vos. So Compton powered away at the front, in an attempt to ride the other two off of her wheel, but Czech national champ Nash put in a dig of her own and led for much of the penultimate lap.

With less than a lap to go, Vos surprised everyone by taking the initiative herself to avoid a final sprint. With a quick acceleration on a hill, she saw she had a gap and put down a track-honed burst of speed that instantly had the other two racers on the ropes. Compton came around Nash to try to reel in the Dutch speedster, but it soon became apparent that the race for the top step was all but over. Vos continued to pile coals on the fire, and she turned in the fastest lap of the race (a full 36 seconds faster than the previous lap) to claim her third Worlds’ title.

“By the end I had crashed several times, so finally I was happy to just be on my bike,” said Vos. “I was in the lead, I felt good and thought if there were no mistakes I had a good chance. On the uphill I saw I had a gap and thought, just keep going and I saw the gap increase. That was a good feeling, so I just kept it going.”

“I wanted to keep the pace up and reduce the pack,” said Compton in regards to her driving the pace during the race. “It was a tactic to keep it fast, it’s better to go over the ruts fast, so I wanted to keep the pace up. I did all I could do. Vos was faster at the end. Worlds was the one I wanted to win, this was a tough day for me.”

Katerina Nash was understandably excited about her first Worlds medal. “This was exciting,” she said. “I was in good company all day, fast company. It’s my first Worlds medal, it was a good day for me and I’m happy to be here. The course wasn’t changing that quickly, it stayed pretty frozen. There were only a couple sections to worry about if it got softer. I rode the course the same every time, sometimes more successfully than others.”

Hanka Kupfernagel missed the podium for only the second time in 12 years

Following the trio across the line, 20 seconds later, was Hanka Kupfernagel, who gave an impressive solo chase for much of the race after distancing herself from Achermann and van Paassen. “I am very disappointed about my race,” said Kuperfenagel. “It was a good course for me, but I made one mistake that cost me big. I led the race too soon. At one point I looked behind me and noticed I had a gap on the rest, so I let up on the gas and waited for the others out of fear that I would blow up too soon. I heard from the Junior and the U23 racers that the race is longer than you think and that those who lead the race in the beginning are not there by the end. My big mistake was to listen to these things. Instead, I should have just raced my own tempo which I was doing in the beginning. It was especially a pity because many Germans came here for me.”

Achermann continued to push hard, but it would be another 28 seconds before she rode herself into the top five. “I feel very good about my race,” she said. “It was my best race this year. Yesterday the Junior and U23 riders on our national team surprised me and I have to say that I was also surprised by my result today.”

World Cup series winner Sanne van Paassen rounded out the top six, coming in 10 seconds behind Achermann. “My race was not so good today,” she said. “I don’t know why but I had no air and my legs were not very good. Last week [at Hoogerheide World Cup], that was my goal and this was not that important for me. I am very proud to win the World Cup overall so today is a pity but I am already very happy about my season.”

Meredith Miller coming over the stairs

Meredith Miller coming over the stairs

On the American front, Meredith Miller had been showing a strong ride, working her way up into her goal of a top 10, before running into trouble. “In the middle of the second lap, I flatted,” she said. “I was making up so much ground on the uphill section and I was feeling good, holding them off on the descents; just kept catching people and then during the penultimate lap, that’s when I flatted again. I had to do that whole first section, including the uphill, until I could get back to the first pit again, but it was already one to go.  It was really disappointing. I was feeling good, feeling really smooth out there. I know I would have been top 10. I think I was 10th or 11th and still making up ground when I flatted.” Miller eventually crossed the line in 27th.

Taking top honors behind Compton was Amy Dombroski, who crossed the line just ahead of Miller in 26th place. “I had trouble with my starts this season,” she said. “But here I had a great start and then halfway through the first lap it was one crash after another. I crashed four times in the first lap so that was frustrating.  The course was really fun. It kinda sucked that I was out there all alone for a lot of it. When I was with people it was a lot better.  It was a very up and down season and I was hoping to end it on a high note.”

Kaitlin Antonneau, in her debut World Championship, had a fantastic ride, finishing just behind Dombroski and Miller, in 30th place. “I rode myself into the ground,” said Antonneau. “I did the best that I could so I am happy with how it went. I did junior worlds on the road last summer but this is pretty big!  I still think I am a little too young to choose between road and cylcocross [to specialize in] but I really like cyclocross a lot so I want to keep doing it.”

Canadian Natasha Elliot, like Miller, started strong but ran into trouble. “I rode with Meredith Miller for a while. We were working well together and moving through the groups. Then I flatted. I flatted right before the race too! Then I was back down around 21st, but kept on catching people on the faster part, the more rutted sections and losing a little bit on the long drags. But then with one lap to go I flatted right after I passed the pit. I had to ride with the flat a half a lap and lost ten spots.” She came in just behind Antonneau, in 31st.

Helen Wyman took top British honors with her 12th place finish. “It’s a really good course and normally it would be perfect for me,” she said. “It was the first time in a few years I’ve had a good opportunity [to do well] but I didn’t have it today. I just couldn’t breathe today. The air is so cold.  I’m disappointed.  I’ve been sick the last two weeks since Pont-Château, you kind of expect you’d get rid of a cold in two weeks but I haven’t gotten rid of it yet.”

We checked in with Sue Butler after she was released from the hospital, with a few stitches. “I’m a little sore!” said Sue. “I was having a hard time breathing on that first climb [due to asthma] but I just settled in and didn’t worry about it, which helped. What also helped was that before the race Richard Fries told me not to worry about the first lap. Coming into the second lap, I was not where I wanted to be, at about 25th, but then I started drafting off of two girls, and moved up before I finally passed them. Just after that, I must have hit a rut and got caught on the fence right before that first rough rocky rutty section. Luckily it was right by the ambulances,” she laughed.

“They made me go to the hospital, which I argued about the whole way,” Butler recalls. “They took x-rays and I am OK. But I do have some stitches in my hip where they sewed up a hole. I would have liked to have finished the race. Even though I didn’t get a top ten like I wanted, or at least 15th. But it just didn’t happen this time. It’s really upsetting because there are so many people who helped me get here and support me and cheer for me and I didn’t get to do it. One lap and you’re done. But I’ve never been in a German hospital – or any hospital – so it was an experience. And one of the x-ray guys was really cute!

Photo Gallery by Bart Hazen :

Photo Gallery by Jonas Bruffaerts

Full Results:

Place # NAME / First Name Team Time
1 1 VOS Marianne NETHERLANDS 0:40:31
2 16 COMPTON Katherine USA +00:17
3 24 NASH Katerina CZECH REPUBLIC +00:20
7 8 FERRIER-BRUNEAU Christel FRANCE +01:42
8 10 FERRAND PREVOT Pauline FRANCE +01:42
9 28 CANT Sanne BELGIUM +02:00
10 13 SPITZ Sabine GERMANY +02:00
11 3 DE BOER Sophie NETHERLANDS +02:11
12 21 WYMAN Helen GREAT BRITAIN +03:00
15 22 HARRIS Nikki GREAT BRITAIN +03:08
16 12 SCHWEIZER Sabrina GERMANY +03:19
17 30 ROSSI Vania ITALY +03:30
19 15 BRANDAU Elisabeth GERMANY +03:31
20 36 LEUMANN Katrin SWITZERLAND +03:50
21 39 MAJERUS Christine LUXEMBOURG +03:52
23 23 DAY Gabriella GREAT BRITAIN +03:58
24 14 ZWICK Martina GERMANY +04:14
25 9 MANI Caroline FRANCE +04:28
26 19 DOMBROSKI Amy USA +04:33
27 18 MILLER Meredith USA +04:36
28 29 VAN LOY Ellen BELGIUM +04:42
30 20 ANTONNEAU Kaitlin USA +05:24
31 38 ELLIOTT Natasha CANADA +05:33
32 33 GONZALEZ BLANCO Lucia SPAIN +06:34
38 42 AUNE Karin SWEDEN -2LAP