by Christine Vardaros
This Sunday, Marianne Vos [Rabo-Liv] will aim to defend her Dutch National Championship title. Of the five races entered this season, Vos has collected three golds and two silvers. “I’m favorite but who knows if someone can pull off a surprise on the day,” explains Vos to Start-Box.be.
When asked who she looks to who can be that “someone”, she is quick to name her three teammates taking the start alongside her. Of those, current U23 European Champ Sabrina Stultiens has the highest chances of pulling off such as stunt as to dethrone Vos.
Stultiens kicked off her season rather late in November, starting with Zonhoven where she placed 5th. Two races and three weeks later she finished 2nd at Koksijde World Cup. “I wanted to rest after road Worlds, train some, then come back to race cross.” She is transitioning to fulltime road racer but is not quite ready to give up cyclocross.
Their two other teammates are Anna van der Breggen and Lucinda Brand. While they may have done less than a handful of UCI cross races this season, they are serious powers not to be dismissed as evidenced by their lofty road racing palmares.
Last road season Brand finished 1st overall in both the UCI’s Energiewacht Tour and GP de Plouay, and was National road race champion the year previous. Vand der Breggen was 2nd in the Ronde van Drenthe World Cup, 1st overall in the Grand Prix Elsy Jacobs and Ladies Tour of Norway, and 3rd overall in both the Giro d’Italia Femminile and Emakumeen Euskal Bira. In their last cyclocross race together at Centrumcross Surhuisterveen held January 2nd, Brand and Van der Breggen placed 2nd and 3rd respectively to Vos.
But if the Nats course continues to be riddled with mud and sand, a very tricky combination, the advantage goes to Stultiens to overthrow her teammates for the second spot on the podium.
Outside of the Rabo-Liv team there is one rider who has serious designs – and the chops – to overthrow the whole bunch. Her name is Sophie de Boer [Kalas-NNOF Cycling Team], this season’s winner of the infamous Koppenbergcross. She also finished 3rd on the sandy Koksijde World Cup course. Last year her season was extinguished early due to breathing problems which she now has under control. Unfortunately, though, she wasn’t able to immune herself from the nasty flu that has been blowing through Western Europe the last weeks. She caught it before Zolder World Cup and held onto it through Diegem where she abandoned midway through the race. On January 1st , she had to forfeit GP Sven Nys Baal since she was not yet recovered, causing her to lose her BPost Bank overall lead to Belgian Telenet-Fidea rider Ellen van Loy. If De Boer is fully recovered and well rested, she has a chance to realize her dreams.
Fighting for the top five are two notable riders, Sanne van Paassen [Boels Dolmans] and Reza Hormes-Ravenstijn [Orange Babies]. Even though Van Paassen is a former World Cup winner in seasons past, she keeps her ambitions for this season rather modest as it is a comeback season for her. Even so, she started it off strongly with a 4th at Koppenbergcross, a 5th at s-Hertogenbosch, a 7th at European Championships, and a 9th and 11th respectively at Valkenberg and Koksijde World Cups. But soon after she began to fade, most likely due to a weak summer preparation from an injury.
The other rider who knows what it is like to ride to a top placing is Reza Hormes-Ravenstijn. She juggles fulltime work with parenting, so if she can get a full week of rest, she’ll be present near the front of the race to battle it out with the other gals. Last year she finished 5th.
On a course like this where both power and finesse is strongly called upon, the strongest will certainly prevail…chances are her name is Marianne Vos. There is a reason why she’s already collected 17 National jerseys and 13 World jerseys at only 27 years old.