Sanne Cant (IKO Enertherm-Beobank) had a rough trip to the United States at the beginning of the season, but since her return to the European continent she has been a dominant force, taking wins in 12 of the 18 races she has started there. However, Marianne Vos (Rabobank-Liv) has spoiled Cant's party with two straight victories over the stoic Belgian. On Thursday at the Azencross IJsboerke Ladies Trophy race, Cant overcame a fast start from Vos' Rabobank Liv teammate Lucinda Brand (Rabobank-Liv) and took control midway through the foggy affair to regain her winning ways and take her second straight and third overall victory at Azencross.
The Azencross race is one of the longer-running women's races on the European circuit. First held in 1998, the 2016 event was the 18th time the women took to the start line in the Belgian town of Loenhout. The race has historically been dominated by Dutch riders, with Vos and Daphny van den Brand taking 10 of the first 17 Azencrosses.
Mother Nature brought some of the first semblances of Low Country winter weather to Loenhout on Thursday. A dense fog hovered over the venue at the start of the race, bringing thoughts of the infamous 1988 Fog Bowl between the Chicago Bears and Philadelphia Eagles, and brought slick conditions to the early afternoon Women's race. The track at Azencross is relatively flat, with elevation coming from two flyovers, a section up and over a berm running through the venue, and a memorable series of rollers. The Azencross venue also features a number of small drainage ditches riders frequently chose to run, and it total, racers had to dismount and remount seven times per lap.
Rabobank-Liv Starts Last Race with a Bang
Thursday's Azencross was the last race for the Rabobank-Liv Women's team. The Dutch bank is ending its sponsorship of cycling at the end of the 2016 calendar year, and so Azencross was the last hurrah for the trio of seven-time world champion Marianne Vos, defending World Champion Thalita de Jong (Rabobank-Liv), and Lucinda Brand.
The race started with the World Champion stripes and the iconic white and orange sleeves of the Rabobank-Liv kit charging out to a fast start. However, it was Lucinda Brand and not Marianne Vos in the white and orange kit taking control of the race early on. At the end of the first lap she held an eleven second lead on De Jong and Sanne Cant and a field that strung out quickly.
Most of the American contingent in Europe for the Namur/Zolder block of Euro Cross Camp flew home on Tuesday, and only Elle Anderson (Elle Anderson Racing) and Sunny Gilbert remained in Europe to continue their European campaigns. Anderson's Azencross started well, with a position in the top ten early on and throughout much of Thursday's race.
Fog Monster Strikes in Lap 2
The early afternoon fog also brought moisture to the muddy course and gave many of the corners a slick, non-tacky consistency. Brand was the first to fall victim to the lap 2 foggy monster when she slipped out on a right hand turn shortly after the first flyover. The mistake did not cost her the lead, but it allowed Cant to recover half of her 11 second deficit.
Thalita de Jong was the next Rabobank-Liv rider to fall victim to the foggy villain when she slipped on a dismount after a deep muddy section that forced riders to run throughout the race. During the fall she dropped her chain and lost several places and precious time while trying to ride her way back to the pits for a fresh bike.
Later in the lap, Vos would be the fog monster's third victim when she slipped and fell to the ground while dismounting at an obstacle.
When the thick fog was finished with its mysterious ways after the second lap, Cant and Brand were at the front, while a chase of de Jong, Vos, Laura Verdonschot (Marlux-Napoleon Games), and Ellen Van Loy (Telenet Fidea Lions) did their best to keep the leaders in sight.
Cant Stop, Won't Stop
After Cant caught Brand at the end of lap 2, she showed zero interest in trading pulls with the Rabobank-Liv rider. Cant got clipped by Vos at the end of both the Diegem and Zolder races and clearly did not want to provide the seven-time world champion with an opportunity to get back in Thursday's Azencross.
Cant pulled ahead of Brand at the start of lap 3 and headed out for a solo effort at the front of the race. Cant stayed perfect through the slick, technical corners and combined her running prowess during the frequent dismounts with strong, technical riding to extend her lead at the front. When her lap 3 attack was in the books, she had opened up a 12 second lead on De Jong, Brand, and Verdonschot, while Vos sat 16 seconds back.
Inside two laps to go, De Jong made her move back toward the front. She broke from a chase group of five to cut her deficit to eight seconds halfway through the lap and five seconds when the riders got the bell through the start/finish straight. Would it be Vos' Rabobank-Liv teammate who would spoil Cant's otherwise strong outing?
The fog goblin that plagued the Rabobank-Liv riders all afternoon ensured that the answer to that question would be "no." De Jong was unable to get her right leg over her seat during a remount after one of the drainage ditches and the ensuing scramble to get back on her bike cost her precious seconds she could not afford to give away.
The race would belong to Sanne Cant after De Jong's mishap. She completed her technically-masterful ride to win her second straight and third overall Azencross and close out the 2016 calendar year with her 22nd overall victory.
De Jong slipped back into the chase group and from there it was on like Thalita de Jong in the battle for second. The World Champion was the first to enter the famed rollers and she appeared to be in good position heading toward the start/finish straight. Teammate Lucinda Brand was sitting second in the chase heading into the rollers, but a small slip allowed Vos to pull around her to enter the finishing sprint on De Jong's wheel.
The final chapter of the Rabobank-Liv story would belong to Vos in the finishing sprint. She was able to sneak by De Jong and take second place. De Jong finished third (6"), Verdonschot fourth (9"), and Lucinda Brand rounded out the top five (26").
American Elle Anderson continued her strong ride throughout and finished 15th (1'56"). Sunny Gilbert finished 26th in another European start.
Auld Land Sanne
The next stop for the IJsboerke Ladies Trophy series is New Year's Day at the GP Sven Nys in the legend's hometown of Baal.
We here at Cyclocross Magazine send our sincerest thanks for reading our Euro File race reports, and we wish you good health, good cheer, and good 'cross riding in 2017.
(Be sure to scroll down below the results table to view the full photo gallery with over 40 photos from the Azencross Elite Women's race.)
2016 Azencross Loenhout DVV Verzekeringen Trofee Results - Elite Women
|3||Thalita DE JONG||NED||24||39:57:00||40|
|6||Ellen VAN LOY||BEL||37||40:31:00||20|
|11||Alice Maria ARZUFFI||ITA||23||41:33:00||8|
|12||Ceylin DEL CARMEN ALVARADO||NED||19||41:34:00||6|
|17||Monique VAN DE REE||NED||29||42:36:00|
|18||Inge VAN DER HEIJDEN||NED||18||42:37:00|
|20||Lindy VAN ANROOIJ||NED||21||42:37:00|
|23||Lucia GONZALEZ BLANCO||ESP||27||42:56:00|
|24||Alicia GONZALEZ BLANCO||ESP||22||43:00:00|
|43||Meg DE BRUYNE||BEL||21||45:11:00|
|44||Irene TRABAZO BRAGADO||ESP||19||45:38:00|
|52||Hannah VAN BOVEN||NED||18||47:33:00|
|58||Lise VAN WUNSEL||BEL||17|
|61||Ilona VAN GINNEKEN||NED||19|
|DNF||Anke VAN ROMPAY||BEL||18|