The last week has been a tough one for Sanne Cant (Beobank-Corendon). After suffering a stomach ailment last Saturday that derailed her race in Ronse last weekend, Cant spent the week trying to recover back to her old form. On Saturday, Cant showed she is returning to form with a fourth-place finish at Poldercross.

The iconic race on the sand dunes of Zonhoven has belonged to Cant in recent years. The large sand bowl is called De Kuil—the Temple—by locals and forms probably the iconic cyclocross stadium. Cant has cemented her status as a sand legend by winning the last four times she has contested the race at Zonhoven. Her sand mastery versus illness, one would likely win out on Sunday.

The stadium of cyclocross. 2016 Superprestige Zonhoven - men's race. © Bart Hazen / Cyclocross Magazine

The stadium of cyclocross, called De Kuil by the locals. 2016 Superprestige Zonhoven . © Bart Hazen / Cyclocross Magazine

Sunday’s race was also a special day for American Katie Compton (KFC Racing p/b Trek/Knight Composites). Compton has a contract to race the IJsboerke series during her European trip, but Zonhoven has been on her race bucket list, and she was hoping to get the chance to tackle the famed De Kuil cyclocross temple.

She was able to secure a start contract and was on the start line on Sunday.

The third story heading into Sunday’s affair was the revelation that has been Maud Kaptheijns (Crelan-Charles) since the Europeans returned to the Low Countries at the end of September. Kaptheijns had an impressive ride at the first Superprestige in Gieten and forced the pace early in Ronse before settling for second place.

Three stories—Cant’s sand mastery and recovery, Compton’s dream race, Kaptheijns impressive month—which would be the one that carried the day at Sunday’s Hansgrohe Superprestige Zonhoven?

Kaptheijns Starts Fast Again

Last season, Ellen Van Loy (Telenet Fidea Lions) was known as the fast starter in the Women’s field. Thus far during the European races, she has a challenger for that title in Kaptheijns. As she did last week in Ronse, Kaptheijns started fast and made her competitors sort out their affairs behind her. Kaptheijns went and Compton and Van Loy took up the task of chasing.

After one lap, Kaptheijns already had an 11-second lead on Compton and the rest of the chasers. She did the same last week, so a fast start does not a victory make, but she was in a good spot after the first lap.

The course at Zonhoven puts a premium on all the skills cyclocross riders need to have. They need descending and handling skills on the sandy descents in De Kuil, running ability on the run-ups in the deep sand and power to push through the endless sand that covers the course. (Spoiler alert, there was a lot of sand at Zonhoven)

Sanne Cant runs away to a lead. 2016 Superprestige Zonhoven women's race. © Bart Hazen / Cyclocross Magazine

The sand at Zonhoven puts a premium on several different skills. 2016 Superprestige Zonhoven women’s race. © Bart Hazen / Cyclocross Magazine

Early on, Kaptheijns was demonstrating her mastery of all these skills.

Kaptheijns is Super in Zonhoven

As the race settled in, the big change was in the chase. Compton and Van Loy were replaced by Nikki Brammeier (Boels-Dolmans) and “Mountain Bike-ster” Annemarie Worst (ERA-Circus). Worst did her best to stay with Brammeier, but by the end of the second lap, the Englishwoman began to pull away from her Dutch rival.

Just one wrong turn can send you over the bars, as Nikki Brammeier is about to find out. 2016 Superprestige Zonhoven women's race. © Bart Hazen / Cyclocross Magazine

Nikki Brammeier navigates the sand at the 2016 Superprestige Zonhoven women’s race. © Bart Hazen / Cyclocross Magazine

At the front, nothing changed. Kaptheijns stayed dialed in and quickly extended her lead. The 11 seconds became 21 seconds after the first lap and then 33 seconds halfway through the race.

The young Dutch rider excelled on the sandy climb after a 180-degree turn in a rut riders drove into the sticky sand. She was able to ride a small ledge of solid ground on the right side of the section and stay on the bike longer than many of her rivals.

Maud Kaptheijns ran away to victory in Zonhoven. 2017 Superprestige Zonhoven. © B. Hamvas / Cyclocross Magazine

Maud Kaptheijns ran away to victory in Zonhoven. 2017 Superprestige Zonhoven. © B. Hamvas / Cyclocross Magazine

Kaptheijns’ reward was a growing lead that swelled to over a minute at the end of the six-lap race. Kaptheijns won the first Superprestige, and with the win, she cemented her early hold on the series lead.

After the race, she talked about core work she focused on during the offseason. For fans looking to ride like Maud, especially in the sand of Zonhoven, you can never go wrong with a little extra core training. Finding a giant sand bowl like De Kuil at Zonhoven may prove a little bit more difficult.

The Battle for Second Heats Up

Behind Kaptheijns, the battle for second got very interesting very fast.

Midway through the race, Brammeier pulled away from Worst, and at the end of the fourth lap, Compton was closing fast as Worst struggled in the sand on the warm afternoon.

2017 Superprestige Zonhoven. © B. Hamvas / Cyclocross Magazine

2017 Superprestige Zonhoven. © B. Hamvas / Cyclocross Magazine

Compton’s podium chase would be short-lived. When she hit the run up the wall of sand, the heat, allergies and asthma all struck at once. Sanne Cant, who had been as far back as seventh only a lap ago, closed a 10-second deficit on the climb and passed Compton shortly thereafter to move into fourth place.

Cant started the race slowly, but halfway through, she appeared to put recover from her stomach ailment and almost immediately ride like the Cant who had won four straight tries at Zonhoven. As the riders around her quickly faded, she seemed to gain power by the minute. At the bell, she was only seven seconds behind Worst for third.

Cant again made her move in the iconic sand bowl. As she did to Compton a lap before, she caught Worst on the climb of the sand wall and then quickly passed her. With half a lap left, it still appeared third would be as high as Cant would get on the afternoon.

Sanne Cant reigned in the sand and defended her 2015 title. 2016 Superprestige Zonhoven women's race. © Bart Hazen / Cyclocross Magazine

Sanne Cant was at home in the sand at Zonhoven in 2016. 2016 Superprestige Zonhoven women’s race. © Bart Hazen / Cyclocross Magazine

The camera went to Kaptheijns in the lead and then cut back to show … Cant passing Brammeier? Something happened to the English rider and Cant was now in second place. The advantage was to Cant, who was riding strong the entire second half of the race, while Brammeier was struggling to recover from either a mechanical issue or crash.

From seventh to second, it was not a fifth straight win at Zonhoven, but after Cant’s rough week, it was a finish that bodes well for her return to the front of the Women’s field next weekend.

Brammeier held on for third, Worst took fourth, Van Loy fifth, Alice Arzuffi (Steylaerts-Betfirst) sixth and Compton held on for seventh. Elle Anderson finished 10th and was one of only 16 riders to finish on the lead lap.

After the race, Compton said she enjoyed her bucket list race despite the allergies and asthma. “I was struggling with asthma all race,” she said. “I actually enjoyed the sand. It was a disappointing finish, even though it was a fun race.”

A Big Weekend Ahead

Next weekend is a big one on the European schedule. Saturday is the Hansgrohe Superprestige Niels Albert CX in Boom and Sunday is the Telenet UCI World Cup in Koksijde. Cyclocross Magazine will have reports from both.

Women's Results - 2017 Superprestige Zonhoven

RankBIBLast NameFirst NameCountryAgeTime
53VAN LOYEllenBEL3747:29
68ARZUFFIAlice MariaITA2347:45