by Kirk Keeler
DÜBENDORF, Switzerland—If dry conditions punctuated yesterday’s UCI Cyclocross World Championships, rain and mud were the deciding factors for today’s U23 Women’s race. Would 2019 U23 champion Inge van der Heijden win her second title, or would a new champion emerge?
After a great season, American rider Katie Clouse, winner at the US Nationals and fourth at Pan-Ams, started on the front grid, along with Dutch National Champion Van Der Heijden and teammate Manon Bakker, French hopeful Marion Norbert Riberolle (2019 French National Champion, third at European Nationals), Hungarian Kata Blanka Vas and Brittain’s young star Anna Kay (second in the 2019 European Championships).
As the light turned green, Clouse found herself sprinting for the early lead, followed by Bakker (NED) and Riberolle. Like her American teammate Magnus Sheffield did in the Junior Men’s race, Clouse would lead the early parts of Lap One.
As the first lap progressed, Bakker and Clouse would change leadership roles, while Vas and Van Der Heijden gelled into a group.
Canadian Ruby West worked her way up to third place by the end of the lap, while Clouse settled in behind.
Riding the course proved nearly-impossible early on, as many riders were reduced to running the hills on the back-end of the course. Steady rain continued to fall on the course, making for extremely muddy conditions.
By the end of Lap One, Riberolle had a 15-second advantage over the group, with Van der Heijden, West, Vas, and Bakker right behind. Anna Kay and Clouse were 31 seconds behind the leader.
The mud proved to be difficult for the defending champion Van der Heijden, punctuated by a crash early in lap two and dropping back to sixth place.
Clouse and Kay would take advantage, while the British rider would put some space between her and the American.
Riberolle would prove her stamina in the race, putting in a sizable gap of 39 seconds by the end of the second lap.
Hungarian rider Kata Blanka Vas was the surprise of the day, getting into second place in front of Kay and West by the end of lap two. Vas took top honors at the Hungarian National Championships on January 12th, besting her second-place competitor, Adél Horvath, by nearly two minutes.
Clouse took advantage of several mistakes made by Dutch riders Bakker and Van der Heijden to move into 5th place on the third lap.
The race settled into its placings on lap three, with Riberolle extending her lead, while Vas and Kay sparred for the silver medal in a race within the race. Kay got within a few seconds of Vas, but ultimately would reconcile her third place.
If going into the pit was a rare occurrence for riders on Saturday’s racing, it was the norm for the muddy Women’s U23 race. Riberolle took a new bike every time she rode up to the pits, while most riders did the same. Vas opted not to pit on Lap 3 to keep her 20-second advantage over Kay.
A crash from Bakker on the third lap would ultimately put Clouse in 4th position, 40 seconds behind Kay, while Van Der Heijden moved up briefly to 5th, but eventually would fall behind Bakker.
Riberolle fist-pumped over the final flyover with a 41-second advantage, made the left turn onto the tarmac and grabbed a French flag to wear as a cape as she crossed the finish line at 48:31.
Vas took the Silver, 27 seconds behind Riberolle and Kay the Bronze back at 40 seconds.
The podium saw two firsts in Women’s U23: France’s first medal (a Gold!) and Hungary’s very first medal in Worlds with Vas’ Silver. Kay’s Bronze made it four medals for Britain since the category was introduced in 2016—three of them coming from Evie Richards with her gold in 2016, bronze in 2017 and another gold in 2018.
"I love rain and cold. It’s because of those conditions that I started doing cyclocross." -Riberolle
In her post-interview, an out-of-breath Riberolle said, “It’s the dream of every bike rider to win the World Championships.” Riberolle expanded to Belgian media, “It’s crazy I became World Champion. This is the dream of each cyclocross rider. I still can’t believe it. This is my third season as a cyclocross rider. Three weeks ago I became French National Champion for the first time and now I am World Champion. I did it! I love rain and cold. It’s because of those conditions that I started doing cyclocross.” [translated]
American Katie Clouse seemed to be right at home in the Dubendorf mud and put in one of the best races of her season, with a fourth-place finish. Canadian Ruby West, who showed great promise early-on, settled into her race to finish within the top 10 at 9th place.
Americans Hannah Arensman and Shannon Mallory finished in 21st and 27th respectively, while the only other Canadian, Dana Gilligan, finished ahead of Mallory in 26th.
Full results and photo gallery below.
U23 Women Results: 2020 Cyclocross World Championships, Dübendorf Switzerland
|Rank||BIB||Last Name||First Name||Country||Result|
|6||1||VAN DER HEIJDEN||Inge||NED||0:50:24|