Sanne Cant would finish among the Americans in Roubaix. ? Bart Hazen

Sanne Cant overcoming the barriers at the Roubaix World Cup. © Bart Hazen

by Jamie Mack

Winning a national championship is something many riders dream of and any rider would be proud of. Winning a title in the cycling-crazed nation of Belgium elevates the accomplishment to another level. Sanne Cant accomplished the impressive feat last year not once, but twice. Cant, still a young bike racer at the age of 20, beat many established stars in winning the Elite races at both the Belgian MTB and Cyclocross National Championships.

What makes Cant’s situation even more unique is that while she won two Elite champion’s jerseys, she was only awarded one. Reviewing the UCI results from last year’s Belgian championships is quick confirmation that the cycling world’s governing body considers Cant the top finisher at both the Elite MTB and Cyclocross Championships. But a decision by the Belgian Cycling Federation after the MTB championships awarded Cant a U23 champion’s jersey, rather than the Elite title.

Why all the controversy about the decision? As Cant explained to Cyclocross Magazine, there is a simple problem with the ruling. “I won the the overall at the Elite Championships and they have given me a U23 jersey, but the category U23 doesn’t exist in Belgium!” Essentially, the Belgian Cycling Federation, through this decision, has taken away from Cant the honor of wearing the National Championship jersey that she earned through her victory last July.

Cant has accepted the ruling and simply wants to move on. She explained, “It’s a decision they have made, and I try only to focus on my bike.” And Cant is trying to do just that by moving past the decision and engaging in a vigorous road campaign to try to continue the successful ’cross career that she has been developing over the last several seasons.

Many others can’t seem to simply accept the situation and move on as there has been a lot of discussion lately not about what Cant has done, but rather what she’s not doing. Cant has decided to forgo mountain bike racing this year in favor of an intense road racing program.

There has been a lot of speculation and discussion that Cant’s decision to skip MTB races this season was due mainly to the controversial jersey decision, but Cant says that’s not entirely true. The frustration over not being awarded the Elite champion’s jersey may have been the last straw, but the switch to a more focused approach to ’cross was always in the plan. Cant told Cyclocross Magazine that “the actions…taken at the Championship have seriously disappointed me. But that isn’t the only reason why I stopped mountain biking.” Cant related that the importance of the upcoming season was a driving factor as she thought the road racing schedule would better serve her ’cross interests.

Cant’s new focus on ’cross is helping her to develop as a rider, as she is seeing increases in power during the road races. The high level of competition, particularly in the races abroad, is helping her to mature as a rider and come into the fall season at a higher level of readiness than in previous years. The removal of intermediate goals during the MTB season is also increasing her focus and enthusiasm for ’cross racing. “Normally I have also a goal in the summer [with MTB], but this year is different,” says Cant. “So now I’m already looking forward to ’cross season. I [want to] show to the people that I’ve trained hard and…will be better than last year.”

Time will tell if the change in strategy will result in continued success on the ’cross courses of Europe this fall. Cant relayed that “at this moment, everything is a question. I don’t know how the rest of the cyclocrossers are. I will know it the first ’cross race.” Cant’s first cyclocross race is also a question at this point, as she had not yet determined her race program when she spoke with Cyclocross Magazine.

The details are still to be worked out, but Cant sees the upcoming ‘cross season as very important. With a ’cross racing age of 21, the upcoming season will be one of her last under the U23 banner and, perhaps more importantly, her contract with BKCP expires in December. So this season is especially important because success will make it easier to focus on racing well, rather than the stress of finding a new contract for her first full Elite years.

Given her relative youth at this level of cycling, and the success she has already had, it’s likely that we will hear the Sanne Cant’s name often this season and in the future. And there are many supporters who wish her well, regardless of her choice of racing plans or which jersey she wears. That appreciation is mutual as Cant’s final thought during our interview told Cyclocross Magazine she was very thankful for the support she receives, saying, “I want to thank all my supporters, my parents and my team for the support and the trust in me!”