by Dan Seaton
Zolder, Belgium – Under crystal blue December skies, as the remainder of last weekend’s snow melted away leaving the course on the track in Zolder a fast mix of wet pavement, mud, and ice, Marianne Vos rode to a dominant solo victory over Katie Compton and Daphny Van Den Brand.
World Champion Vos, riding in shorts and short sleeves, shot to an early lead and, just a few hundred meters after the course’s first turn, had opened a ten meter gap over Daphny Van Den Brand, who led the chase. American Katie Compton, who came into the race with a slim ten point lead over Daphny Van Den Brand in the overall World Cup standing, told us before the race that she was fighting a cold and not feeling her best. The US National Champion started slow, riding at the back of a small bunch perhaps 20 seconds behind the early leaders.
By the time the race reached its second lap, Vos was pulling away from the rest of the field. Only Van Den Brand could keep her in sight, trailing by five seconds as she crossed the finish line. Meanwhile, Compton battled her way through the field, riding fourth behind Christel Ferrier-Bruneau at the end of the lap. Soon, however, Compton came around Ferrier-Bruneau, setting up what has become a familiar story over the past few rounds of the World Cup, as the American Champion chased the two Dutchwomen in third place.
Vos was powered by her speed on a fast course, hammering through the faster, flat sections, but was also lifted by excellent bike handling early in the race. While Van Den Brand and Compton, both regarded as superior bike handlers, struggled through a series of steep switchbacks and tight turns on this course, much of which crisscrossed a hill on the infield of the racetrack, Vos rode cleanly and widened her gap as she went.
But Compton was also coming on strong, and by the middle of the third lap she reached and passed Van Den Brand, pursuing the front of the race with singleminded intensity and would turn in some of the fastest laps of the day. Van Den Brand briefly held on to Compton, but couldn’t match the American’s power and trailed by 10 seconds by the end of the lap. Vos, however, remained alone at the front, leading all pursuers by more than 20 seconds.
By the time Vos came through with two laps to go, her lead seemed insurmountable, but she continued to bury herself in an effort to fend off any attack from Compton or Van Den Brand. Compton herself, perhaps feeling the effects of both the travel and illness that have hampered her for the past few weeks, was fading, and Vos’ lead was secure.
With each of the top three secure in her situation—Vos with the win all but locked up, Compton in position to stretch her lead in the World Cup standings, and Van Den Brand solidly in third, but losing time to Compton—the action shifted farther back in the field. There, nearly a minute back from Van Den Brand, Sanne Cant, Hanka Kupfernagel, and Sanne Van Paassen battled for fourth.
But just as the trio hit the pavement on their way into the final lap, Kupfernagel attacked, gapping the other two riders. Though her lead was narrow, they simply couldn’t match her and were left, by the time they reached the finish, to sprint for fifth.
In the end, Vos rolled happily into first, with Compton comfortably in second, 25 seconds back. Van Den Brand took third at 1:12. Kupfernagel was fourth, 50 seconds behind Van Den Brand, while Sanne Van Paasen took fifth in front of Sanne Cant. American Amy Dombroski rode to a solid 13th place finish in her first World Cup race of the season, with American Christine Vardaros in 34th.
Vos attributed her improving form to a Dutch National Team training trip to South Africa earlier this month. “I felt really good this week,” said Vos, after her race. “I had some good training the last couple of weeks and some rest this week and it paid off today.”
But the solo victory wasn’t exactly the result of a plan, added Vos. “I had a good start and just thought, ‘well, let’s make a good first lap and see after it if I have a gap and just go for it’,” she said. If the strategy worked, she said, at least part of that was the result of her ability to ride the race she wanted to ride.
“When I’m concentrated and feel good,” she said, “I don’t make many mistakes. It’s the best when I can follow my own path. If you’re alone, you can do what you want.”
American Amy Dombroski, riding in her first World Cup of the season, said she had a great time. “It was exciting,” she said. “It’s amazing how many people come out and watch, it’s really like football in the US. It’s great.”
Dombroski said she wasn’t totally satisfied with her 13th place, but felt like she was improving after missing last weekend’s World Cup in Kalmthout due to illness. “I came down with something right when I got over here,” she explained. “I raced Scheldecross and got sick right after that, so not an ideal week of training. My legs were kind of flat today, but it was okay, considering how I was feeling. It was a good place to start, you’ve got to start somewhere.”
Series leader Compton called her effort to recover from a poor start to a second place finish “damage control” and told us that it was a hard-won finish. “It was definitely a hard day today,” she said, “and I got another bad start. I just don’t have the legs right now to chase on initially, and Marianne was riding really fast. If you give her anything she just keeps going.”
Compton might not have been thrilled to find herself off the top step of the podium for the third time in a row in World Cup competition, but said she was happy to have been able to do what she needed to do today. “I was really happy with the way I rode today, especially because I could feel with two laps to go, ‘Yeah, I think I’m almost done here.’ I don’t have much more in the tank. I rode a smooth race and I was pretty happy with how I rode technically. I had pretty good power, but just didn’t have that high end that you need to keep up with Marianne.”
Compton now heads home for a few weeks of intense training before returning to Europe for the final rounds of the World Cup and the World Championships at the end of January. She also told us she had something special to look forward to. “We’re gonna adopt a rottweiler on Tuesday,” she said. Asked about what they would call her, Compton said, “She’s missing a leg and is little for a rottweiler, so it’s Pixie.”
View our full results from the 2009 UCI Cyclocross World Cup here.