Marianne Vos Made It Five Today in Koksijde © Bart Hazen

View our complete coverage of the 2012 UCI Cyclocross World Championships in Koksijde, Belgium on our Full Coverage page.

by Robbie Carver

For the fourth consecutive year, Marianne Vos displayed her complete dominance over women’s cyclocross, leading this year’s race from pole to pole. Far more exciting was the battle for second, as Belgian Sanne Cant disrupted a Dutch sweep, taking the bronze behind Daphny van den Brand in an exciting last lap that saw Katie Compton rally, then fumble, and Sanne van Paassen just barely lose contact before the final sprint. Americans Nicole Duke and Meredith Miller came in 19th and 20th, respectively, with Amy Dombroski 23rd and Kaitlin Antonneau 26th.

At the gun, two things became immediately apparent: that this was Vos’ race to lose, and that Compton wouldn’t be there to make that happen. British champion Helen Wyman launched into the holeshot, with Daphny van den Brand making an early bid for the lead. But within moments, it was the reigning champion Vos, who only lost a single race this season (she took second place in her first World Cup of the season, on this very course), coming around Van den Brand to stamp her authority on the race. As Vos stormed off the front, Compton struggled with a poor start, missing her pedal, and a crash that saw her off her bike, shaking her head as riders raced by. Clearly on strong form, it would take the determined American champion half the race to catch the lead chase group, an effort that ultimately cost her the podium.

Daphny van den Brand descending the dunes. © Thomas Van Bracht

Daphny van den Brand descending the dunes. © Thomas Van Bracht

It was Vos’ compatriot, World Cup winner Daphny van den Brand, who did her best to take the race to Vos, clinging to the world champion’s wheel for the first half of the opening lap before Vos’ incredible strength made that wheel just too tough to follow. By the time Vos came around for the second lap, she already had 10 seconds, and she slowly built that up over the remainder of the race.

The famous sand dunes of Koksijde proved difficult for all the riders, as each – from Vos at the front, to a cartwheeling Helen Wyman further back – bobbled and struggled against the deep, shifting terrain. But it was Vos’ ability to ride the short, steep climbs, and to power through the grass, that saw her lead grow.

The Koksijde course claimed its share of victims. © Thomas Van Bracht

The Koksijde course claimed its share of victims. © Thomas Van Bracht

It was not a race lacking excitement, however, as behind Vos, the battle for second remained undecided until the final sprint. As Van den Brand did her best to maintain the gap over those chasing behind, Sanne Cant, Katerina Nash, Sophie de Boer and Sanne van Paassen organized themselves and began drawing the Dutch racer back into the fold. America’s hope, Katie Compton, was nowhere to be seen.

But the American champion was determined to make up for her poor start, and as the lead chase crossed the line for the third time, Compton stormed onto the finishing stretch, her head down, and she charged up to the leaders. Indeed, for the second and third laps, Compton posted the fastest times of any racer on the course. Sanne Cant, not wishing to see the American make contact, attacked hard into the sand, bringing Van den Brand into sight and momentarily splitting up the chase, dislodging Nash and De Boer.

Further back, American Nicole Duke was having an incredible ride, sitting around 16th, with Meredith Miller not far behind her. Kaitlin Antonneau and Amy Dombroski were also riding well in the top 30. It was clear, however, that the sand belonged to the Dutch and Belgian riders.

At the front, Vos – who never looked fully comfortable in the sand, despite her incredible ride – stumbled, offering the spectators a bit of drama as behind her Cant caught Van den Brand, Compton now right on their heels. The battle now was for silver, with Cant, Van den Brand, Compton and Van Paassen crossing the line together with two to go, over 30 seconds behind Vos.

As all the riders struggled in the sand, it was clear that Compton’s effort had cost her dearly, as she strained to keep contact with the two Dutchwomen, Van Paasen and Van den Brand, as they pushed the pace and increased daylight between themselves and the American champion. Cant, however, no doubt boosted by the home crowd, clung to the two chasers and her hopes for to be the first Belgian woman to medal at Worlds. As Americans held tight to the hope that Compton would find that extra little bit, the Belgians cheered on their own to disrupt the Dutch sweep.

As the riders made their way into the final lap, the big question was: could Cant unseat the two Dutchwomen? But Compton was not satisfied with fifth place, and clawed her way back onto the lead chasers just as they crossed the line. It was a last ditch move, however, as Cant attacked hard into the sand, answered by Van den Brand, once again dislodging Compton. Van Paassen, also, proved unable to respond.

From then on, the battle for second was an exciting Dutch vs. Belgian affair, as Van den Brand attacked Cant, got a gap, but then bobbled on the steep ride-up that each of the riders struggled to clear, allowing Cant to catch back on. For a brief moment all four latched back together, elbowing into turns, and the hope that Compton could pull out another silver briefly rose again. But a significant bobble by Compton at the base of the run-up ended that hope, and Compton’s race – marred by the difficulties that have plagued her all season – was over.

Nikki Harris rose to the occasion in the sand. © Thomas Van Bracht

Nikki Harris rose to the occasion in the sand. © Thomas Van Bracht

Over 40 seconds after Vos posted up for her fifth world title, Cant unleashed a final bid for silver, dislodging Van Paassen, and the Belgian led into the finishing stretch with Van den Brand tucked in behind her. Cant seemed to know her lot was bronze – even as Van den Brand sprinted around for silver, the Belgian raised her hands in celebration of her podium position. Sanne van Paassen followed a few seconds behind, with Compton and an impressive Nikki Harris crossing shortly thereafter.

“Sanne[Cant] came back in the last section,” said Van den Brand. “It was a very tough section to give full gas but I was sure in the sprint. I was the strongest at the end of the race as I felt like I had enough to give at the end.”

When asked what she’s thinking as she dominates the race, Vos responded, “I just block my thinking – I just think about the next section coming up and how long it is. I try to go fast on the straight sections and save energy on the next section or so. The crowds were also fantastic – I surely noticed the cheers!”

As for Vos’ future in the sport, she responded, “It depends on how it goes with the team and the Netherlands Cycling Federation. For now, the 2012 Olympics is most important, along with the World Championships. But when I am racing ’cross, it becomes the most important. The first goal for me is always the first race that comes.”

Marianne Vos with the gold. © Bart Hazen

Marianne Vos with the gold. © Bart Hazen

When asked about women’s equality in cycling, Vos responded, “In this race – already cyclocross is parallel with the men. It would be nice though if women’s cycling was more popular in general. But it is a vicious cycle with sponsoring and the media with women’s cycling though.”

“I had a really bad start,” said Compton. “I missed my pedal and then I crashed, lost a bunch of spots and had to start chasing. In the sand you can’t pass, so I got stuck going slower than I wanted to and just got tired. This season seems like a cluster-f***,” she continued. “Nothing’s really gone well  so it’s frustrating. It’s good that [next year’s Worlds] is in the US. I want to do a full World Cup schedule at some point. So it might be tough if I spend more time here in Europe. I may have jet lag. But right now I just want to have some down time then think about next year. I just like racing in the US, but I need to be in Europe to race against these girls and race on harder courses to get better. I have to look at the program and plan it. If I spend more time in Europe that’s good too because here I have like my second family – a home away from home.”

“I rode my own race for the first half,” said an excited Sanne Cant. “I started to get closer to Daphny, so I thought, ‘why not go for the podium?’ But I had a lot of people still on my wheel. My plan was to lose a rider on each lap and to hit the last sand section first.” Cant sees her medal as an example for cyclocross women in Belgium – a step towards helping the women’s racing scene in cyclocross to gain more media attention. “The World Championships was my ultimate goal this season. Even though the Belgians expect a medal in every category, I wasn’t nervous after seeing the Juniors and U23s the day before. And leading up to the race all my preparation was perfectly in order – I did all my training well. And it all worked out!”

“I’m disappointed,” said Kaitlin Antonneau, who finished 26th. “The only positive thing I can think of is that I did better than last year. I tried my best. But I can’t be disappointed with my season even if [today] didn’t go as well as I wanted.”

Amy Dombroski, who had to skip the US Nationals because of illness, was pleased with how her day unfolded. “I’m happy with how it went since the last two weeks, I didn’t even know if I’d be here riding. I’ve just been feeling so awful. Technically, I think I was solid. The thing you have to remember when you mess up is that everyone is messing up here, so you can’t get angry about it. I think I’m going to finish out the season because I’m starting to feel better and better. It can only get better from here,” she added. “It was a long stretch of time when I was feeling awful. Here I am, in the cyclocross capital of the world, and everyone’s talking about all the races and the training and I’m just sitting on the couch. It was a trying period but I learned a lot from it. If you are racing so much and start to feel rough, you can’t just race through sickness here because then you’ll bury yourself in a hole like I did. People are always telling athletes to back off and take some more rest but the way you actually learn this lesson is by falling in that hole and finding your way out.”

“I was crashed out by a Polish rider on the last sand section,” said Joyce Vanderbeken. “She fell so I tried to go around since there was enough room. But just as I tried to pass she threw her bike in front of me.”

“After watching the videos and talking to enough people before getting here, I knew what to expect,” said Meredith Miller, who had never raced on the course before. “When I got here on Thursday and rode it, I wasn’t overwhelmed because it was what I expected. This is definitely about as hard as it gets. And in the days of pre-riding, I wasn’t really going race pace because I wanted to try and save everything for today. So today was much harder than anything I’ve ridden in the last couple of days! We don’t have anything like this sand in the US. It’s one thing to ride across it but a completely other experience to ride down it and know how to dismount while keeping your momentum. I came here with no expectations, finished 20th, was hoping for better than that but it is what it is.”

View our complete coverage of the 2012 UCI Cyclocross World Championships in Koksijde, Belgium on our Full Coverage page.

Results below galleries.

Bart Hazen Gallery:

Thomas Van Bracht Gallery:

Jonas Bruffaerts Gallery:

UCI Cyclocross World Championships 2012: Elite Women

1Marianne VOSNED2541:04:00
2Daphny VAN DEN BRANDNED3441:41:00
3Sanne CANTBEL2241:42:00
4Sanne VAN PAASSENNED2441:53:00
5Katherine COMPTONUSA3441:57:00
6Nikki HARRISGBR2642:07:00
7Sophie DE BOERNED2242:09:00
8Katerina NASHCZE3542:15:00
9Jasmin ACHERMANNSUI2342:16:00
10Lucie CHAINEL-LEFEVREFRA2942:58:00
11Pavla HAVLIKOVACZE2943:47:00
12Sabrina STULTIENSNED1943:47:00
13Helen WYMANGBR3143:49:00
14Christine MAJERUSLUX2543:50:00
15Linda VAN RIJENNED2443:56:00
16Arenda GRIMBERGNED3444:05:00
17Gesa BRUCHMANNGER2244:34:00
18Caroline MANIFRA2544:40:00
19Nicole DUKEUSA3844:44:00
20Meredith MILLERUSA3944:58:00
21Olga WASIUKPOL2545:56:00
22Martina MIKULASKOVACZE1946:08:00
23Amy DOMBROSKIUSA2546:25:00
24Joyce VANDERBEKENBEL2846:38:00
25Kajsa SNIHSSWE2246:43:00
26Kaitlin ANTONNEAUUSA2046:45:00
27Rocio GAMONAL FERRERAESP3346:47:00
28Sabrina MAURERSUI2347:00:00
29Nikoline HANSENDEN2547:23:00
30Asa Maria ERLANDSSONSWE3847:38:00
31Alice Maria ARZUFFIITA1847:59:00
34Lise-Marie HENZELINSUI21
35Genevieve WHITSONNZL32