Van den Brand at Nacht van Woerden. Bart Hazen

Van den Brand at Nacht van Woerden. Bart Hazen

by Christine Vardaros

Nacht van Woerden is one of the few European cyclocross events that many riders have a love-hate relationship with. They love the course but hate that they can’t always see where they are going as the races are held at night. With minimal lighting around the course, it’s always an adventure for the cyclists. The thick rutted mud riddling the course definitely brought the technical level up a notch, especially considering much of it was not visible by the riders. They had to hit these tricky sections at full speed, hoping that their wheels would land squarely in a rut and stay in place. When unlucky, the rider was instantly catapulted to the ground, which many riders can now attest to. And all of it is done with heartrates at their limit since the course is known as “Nacht van Intervals” (Night of intervals) since the course repeatedly turns on itself – one U-turn after another.

The women’s event started at 8:45 p.m. The start was on a slightly downhill strip of pavement before dumping them briefly into a mud-rutted field. Upon their exit, it is over a short bridge and tight left over a slippery curb and onto yet another mud-rutted field where the u-turns begin.

From the start, the front runners took their position and strung out the field behind. With only one good line for much of the race combined with only a handful of seconds between each turn, it was a hard one to pass riders. Even so, the riders’ positions were changed as the race progressed.

Up front, the fight for victory was between European Champion Daphny van den Brand (AA Drink) and last year’s winner of this event, Brit rider Helen Wyman (Kona). They never let the other out of their sights until the end, where Van den Brand came down the finishing strip for top glory with Wyman trailing behind for second place.

At the finish, Van den Brand said, “It was an easy race but you can’t always see where you are going in the dark;  I crashed on the last lap. That Helen [Wyman]! She’s a tough one! I couldn’t get rid of her. When I crashed I saw her sprinting hard to catch up to me! Luckily I still won.”

Wyman explained, “Daphny [van den Brand] and I basically stayed together the whole race until the end. She tried attacking me a few times but I came right back. She only gapped me on the last lap. She rode a technical section really clean and got 100 meters on me. She also crashed just before the finish but I still couldn’t get her. It was definitely a race of intervals – but the positive side of it is that you never have to go hard for more than fifteen seconds at a time.”

The fight for third spot looked as if it were locked up by Dutch rider Linda van Rijen (Skil-Shimano) as she held a big gap on Lucie Chainel-Lefevre. But halfway through the race, Chainel closed the gap with Van Rijen riding at her limit to hold her wheel. Unfortunately a poor bike change where she was seen tripping over her new bike allowed Chanel to slip away for good to snag the final podium spot.

Another rider who had an excellent start was British rider Gabby Day (The Chainstay/Renner) who held fourth place for quite some time before eventually drifting back to eighth.

A special appearance in the race was four-time World Champion Hanka Kupfernagel who finished sixth. The fans were appreciative of her presence based on the constant cheers she collected throughout the course. As for her take on the experience, Kupfernagel said, “That was a race of turns. I have never done so many turns in a ’cross race before! I’ve done night criteriums but never a ’cross race at night.”

As for our sole American rider Christine Vardaros (Baboco), she finished in 15th. “It may not be a podium spot but I am still fairly pleased with the result. It was also a blast to race in the dark, not knowing where your front tire will land as you enter each mud-rutted section. Every time I got nervous that I couldn’t see, I just kept the pedals turning which seemed to help keep me out of trouble.”

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