After Annemarie Worst and Ellen Noble blew the roof off the course in Bieles, Belgium, the Elite Women had a tough act to follow.
Heading into the bell lap, it looked like Marianne Vos was cruising to her eighth World Championship. The Dutch legend capitalized on a mistake by Sanne Cant on the steep, Jingle Cross-inspired sidehill off-camber and held an eight second lead when she heard the bell.
Then one slick corner changed everything.
For four laps Marianne Vos had been perfect, but on a slick corner two minutes into the last lap, she slipped out on a corner, ratcheted her cranks backwards a bit and dropped her chain, forcing her to dismount and put it back on the ring. Cant closed the gap and then took the lead, but was unable to open a gap when she missed her remount after the barriers.
Cant’s inability to seize the opportunity became a cyclocross fan’s delight, and a near-certain Vos victory became a World Championship finish for the ages. Vos appeared calm and confident in her finishing kick that has won her many road and cyclocross titles, including a sprint-finish in Hoogerheide in 2009.
Cant Defeats Vos in One Turn
The enthralling last lap saw six lead changes between Cant and Vos after Vos’ mechanical. The two riders battled for position at every technical feature, with Cant throwing every gutsy move she had at the seven-time world champion.
Cant made an improbable pass on the high side of a steep up and down, but Vos recovered and took the lead. Cant dove into the low line on the second sidehill off-camber, but Vos recovered and took the lead cresting the ensuing steep climb.
Despite Cant’s heroic efforts, Vos was poised to win the race with under a minute to go, but there was one more difficult feature to ride.
All week leading up to Worlds, videos trickled in of pros trying and failing to ride the steep downhill off-camber located shortly before the finish. The snow and ice rendered the feature so slick, course designer Adrie van der Poel was forced to open the section up mid-week to make it rideable.
With so much attention given to the feature, it is only fitting it would provide the decisive moment of the Women’s Elite race.
In the movie Any Given Sunday, the great American poet Al Pacino said “Life’s this game of inches,” and on Saturday, his words proved prescient for the Women’s Elite finish.
At the bottom of the downhill, the perfect line was in a small rut near the fence. Vos missed the rut by inches and momentarily hesitated. Cant nailed the rut and carried speed out of the feature to narrowly seize the lead for the final time.
She was the first up a small rise onto the finishing straight and held her gap over Vos to hit the pavement first. For most watching the race remotely or in person, the finishing order still seemed to be a formality, as most expected Vos to unleash her powerful finishing kick and have Cant banging on the bars.
It never happened.
Cant powered through the corner, pushed a big gear in an out-of-the-saddle sprint, and didn’t look back.
Vos stood up, looked poised to come around, and then promptly sat back down in resignation.
Coming back from a mechanical proved to be too much for the Dutch star, especially against a Belgian champion so desperate for her first title.
Cant screamed as she crossed the line to win her first World Championship and fulfill a dream she has held since age six.
Said Cant, “I can’t believe it. The jersey is mine for a whole year. I have dreamed of it since I was six years old, so it was 20 years ago. I really can’t believe I beat Marianne Vos, she’s seven-time world champion, so it’s really historic. Just an incredible day. The most beautiful day of my life.”
Ice Turns to Mud at Bieles
Heading into Saturday’s race, both the conditions and course were the story among riders and cyclocross fans. Snowy, icy conditions made many of the features difficult to ride throughout the week, and then on Saturday, some of the ice began to melt and turn into mud. Most riders had pre-ridden the course earlier in the morning, so the changing conditions were an additional factor they had to contend with.
The first half of the course was mostly flat, with a lot of slick turns. The second half of the course featured a greatest hits from races throughout the season. There were two steep downhills like the ones at Zolder and Fiuggi, a sidehill, switchback off-camber like the iconic Mt. Krumpit at Jingle Cross, a steep set of stairs like the ones at Hoogerheide, and two steep uphills like the ones at Namur.
Annemarie Worst made her winning move on one of the steep descents in the U23 race, so the question for the Women’s Elite race was whether one of the other features would get its own time in the sun.
Vos Faces Multiple Challenges Early On
The Women’s Elite race started with a decent-sized group at the front, with no riders able to break off the front through the flat first half of the course. After the riders went through the technical section of the course, a lead duo of Eva Lechner (Italy) and Marianne Vos (Netherlands) established themselves at the front followed by Lucinda Brand (Netherlands) ahead of a group of six riders.
During the second lap, Lechner’s challenge to Vos faded, and Sanne Cant (Belgium) emerged as the next rider to challenge Vos at the front. Cant was able to stick around a lot longer, and took the lead from Vos shortly after the barriers on the third lap.
Vos regained the front position, but when the riders crossed the finish line to head out for the penultimate lap, Cant was with Vos, and Brand and Katerina Nash (Czech Republic) formed a chase duo behind them. The four standouts were closely followed by Canadian Maghalie Rochette (Canada), who had the head-turning ride of the afternoon.
At one point, the three Clif Bar trade team teammates of Rochette, Lechner and Cant were all in a row, chasing the leading four, in different kits but riding matching bikes.
Vos Opens Up a Lead
While Nash and Brand hit the finishing straight together, Nash, a mountain bike legend, was slowly moving to the front on the technical course, while Brand was struggling a bit after sliding out on the sketchy downhill off-camber at the end of the third lap. Nash took over sole control of third early in lap four and looked ready to join Vos and Cant at the front before a slip at the barriers cost her a prime opportunity to join the lead duo.
Cant continued to give Vos everything she could handle well into the penultimate lap. Cant had trouble with the downhill off-cambers earlier in the race, and with the race nearing the final lap, she again lost her wheel on the feature and fell to the ground. Marianne Vos wasted no time taking advantage of the opportunity and attacked to extend her advantage. Nash, Brand, and Cant briefly came back together to form a chase group
When the dust settled from the penultimate lap, Vos held an eight-second lead on Cant, who was doing everything in her power to reel in the Dutchwoman flying toward her eighth World Championship.
A Final Lap for the Ages
Mechanicals are part of cyclocross, and on Saturday, that particular aspect of the sport provided fans with a thrilling addition to the annals of great cyclocross finishes.
Two minutes into the nine-minute bell lap, Marianne Vos slipped out on a slick corner and her chain got jammed. She dismounted and spent several seconds trying to free it to make the bike rideable again. While Vos was struggling with her mechanical issue, Cant closed the gap and took the lead.
Her chance to exploit the opportunity was quickly dashed when she missed her remount after the barriers, and from then on, a two-woman battle was in order.
The theme of the titanic duel between Cant and Vos was Cant throwing countless gutsy moves at Vos, only to have the Dutch legend continually counter the Belgian’s bold efforts.
Shortly after Cant took the lead, Vos pulled to the front on a straight power section. Cant’s first big move was re-taking the lead with an improbably burst to the high side of Vos on a steep up-and-down.
Vos again momentarily edged ahead of Cant shortly before the one of the off-cambers that troubled Cant earlier in the race. Cant put the mistakes behind her and dove into a lower line close to the fence to again seize the lead.
Vos again countered by running ahead of Cant on the steep, muddy uphill. When she crested the feature, just the gnarly, off-camber downhill and a short ride into the finishing straight were left to navigate.
Cant’s third bold offering of the bell lap would finally be the one that took. At the bottom of the off-camber, Vos missed the prime rut and hesitated for a millisecond when her front wheel hit a bump. Cant nailed the perfect line and was able to summon up enough power to accelerate ahead of Vos just meters before the finishing straight.
The Women’s Elite race was that close, a matter of inches. Inches between title number eight and the first-ever Belgian Women’s World Championship.
The usually-stoic Cant let out an emphatic scream of pure joy while crossing the finish line and soon collapsed to the ground in a moment of happiness, utter exhaustion and tears of joy.
Cant said Vos’ mechanical gave her a renewed sense of strength in the last lap, “I have a good feeling. After my crash in the final lap, or the lap before, my shoe was broken, so I didn’t believe it in the last lap when I saw Marianne had some trouble with her bike. I had the feeling maybe I could win, and it was a really hard final lap and I’m really really happy. “
Katerina Nash finished 21 seconds behind Cant and Vos, beating Brand in a finishing sprint as well. Maghalie Rochette rounded out the top five with the most surprising ride of the two women’s races.
Nash said despite some early and late-race troubles, she was thrilled to step onto the podium:
“That was epic. I didn’t start too well. After the rough start I had a lot of chasing to do after a crash in the first lap. I rode about half a lap on a flat tire before I could get a new bike, but I could keep the leaders in sight. It was a front flat, so it was just encouraging. I was like ‘OK, OK, I’ve got good legs.’“
“I got a new bike and started riding again. Chasing people and moving up. And then I got back into the medals and suddenly I started making more mistakes and crashing. It was a stressful last lap. Not even sure how I pulled it off at the very end. This [holds up bronze medal] makes me very happy. I’ve got a lot of fourth places, so I’ll take this one.”
Top Ten for Brammeier and Antonneau
Kaitlin Antonneau (United States) led the American contingent in 10th. Elle Anderson (United States) finished 11th, Amanda Miller (United States) 13th, Courtenay McFadden (United States) 15th, and Rebecca Fahringer (United States) 21st.
Katie Compton was in 7th place heading into the last lap, but did not finish the last trip around the circuit after crashing on an off-camber, landing on her derailleur, and breaking it into the rear wheel.
Nikki Brammeier (Great Britain) finished 9th, Colorado resident Caroline Mani (France) took 12th, and Helen Wyman (Great Britain) placed 16th.
Other Canadians had a strong day, with Mical Dyck defying conventions, powering a steel bike and tubeless tires to 20th and Cindy Montambault finished in 24th.
Full results below. Stay tuned to our 2017 Cyclocross World Championships coverage on our Worlds page here for more photos, video interviews and continuing coverage from Bieles, Luxembourg.
2017 Cyclocross World Championships Results - Elite Women - Bieles, Luxemourg
|2||VOS Marianne||NED||WM3 PRO CYCLING TEAM||+00:01|
|3||NASH Katerina||CZE||LUNA PRO TEAM||+00:21|
|4||BRAND Lucinda||NED||TEAM SUNWEB||+00:21|
|6||LECHNER Eva||ITA||LUNA PRO TEAM||+00:53|
|7||MAJERUS Christine||LUX||BOELS DOLMANS CYCLINGTEAM||+01:21|
|8||VAN LOY Ellen||BEL||+01:25|
|9||BRAMMEIER Nikki||GBR||BOELS DOLMANS CYCLINGTEAM||+01:31|
|10||ANTONNEAU Kaitlin||USA||CYLANCE PRO CYCLING||+01:46|
|19||GONZALEZ BLANCO Lucia||ESP||LOINTEK||+03:29|
|29||YONAMINE Eri||JPN||FDJ NOUVELLE AQUITAINE FUTUROSCOPE||+08:15|
|31||NUNO PALACIO Aida||ESP||-1LAP|
|DE BOER Sophie||NED||DNF4|
|ARZUFFI Alice Maria||ITA||LENSWORLD - KUOTA||DNF1|