WATERLOO, WI—Under moody October skies, the Elite Women took to the first round of the 2021-2022 UCI Cyclocross World Cup Series at the Trek Bicycle headquarters.
Course Changes, Speedy Racers and Conditions
The course, a staple on the North American circuit, has largely remained the same layout for the Elites over the last couple of years, with a few small changes here and there each year. Some notable features include the “Factory Hill,” a series of off-camber corners that make their way to the bottom before turning right back up the steep hill, and the woods, home of the “Secret Bar,” a fun techy section with fast downs, tight turns, steep ups, rock “walls” and a lot of people.
The tackiness of the course led to some very fast, tactical pack racing. National Champ Clara Honsinger described the conditions:
“In general, the weather made for a very fast course. You know when a course is hard and dry it almost rattles you and you get fatigued and slow down. This was absolutely tacky, it was launching left and right as hard as you could go. Trying to find moments of rest anywhere you could.”
Trek served up a modified course from previous years. Honsinger described the changes:
“They took, what used to be a very long extended off-camber onto the asphalt, that you really had to slow down for. They took that and made it much wider, so that was a section that you could nail no brakes, full gas. Then there were other bits. The rock step-ups had a cut line where you didn’t have to get off your bike, a lot of people were able to ride it or ride around it. It was odd. It was right on the barrier, like they almost forgot to move the barrier over. It was slow to hit that versus ride it, but a lot of people were able to stay on their bikes and power through it.”
The general consensus among the North American women was “I was not prepared for those speeds!” When asking Katie Clouse her thoughts on the difference of today versus the last couple of weeks of racing in the U.S., Clouse cited the depth of the women’s field that showed up today as the biggest difference. [As a now-retired racer, this author doesn’t disagree with her!] The top European women showed up, and they showed up to race, and race hard.
A North American Holeshot, and a Dutch Train
When the lights turned green, it was Maghalie Rochette who was the fastest off the line, claiming the holeshot and leading the charge for the entire first lap.
Rochette has won U.S. World Cups with a solo ride before. Could she do it again?
Eventually current World Champ Lucinda Brand connected with Rochette, and suddenly, Rochette found herself near the back of a European train.
After the first lap, the women, including five Dutch stars, including Denise Betsema, Brand, Marianne Vos, Annemarie Worst and Yara Kastelijn, took turns battling it out in the front.
They would change leads often, thanks in part due to a Betsema dropped chain, but as each lap passed the front group dwindled down.
One rider hoping to add to the front group was Olympic Gold Medalist Jolanda Neff, fresh off her impressive Trek Cyclocross Cup win starting from the back row.
Could Neff repeat the feat on Sunday, with the tougher competition? She’d make it up to the front on lap four to the delight of the fans and her sponsor, race host Trek.
With two laps to go, as Brand attacked the course with Vos in tow, it looked as if the two were going to put on a two-woman show for the remainder of the race, but a slow up in speed allowed Betsema and Neff to catch back on.
A Thrilling Final Lap
Although the four leaders went into the final lap together, it was clear the last lap was between Vos and Brand as they duked it out to stay in front.
By the time the duo hit their final run down Factory Hill, the group was down to three, as Jolanda lost contact after the run-up halfway through the lap.
When you hear “rubbin’s racin’” know that it’s true, especially when a World Cup win is on the line. Both Brand and Vos wanted to lead down Factory Hill, and as Vos tried to move to pass Brand, she was shot down, as Brand wasn’t about to let her guard down. The two made contact, but Brand emerged still in the front.
Being the experienced racer she is, Vos recovered well and pressed on. It wasn’t until after the top of Factory Hill that Vos attempted another pass. She accelerated over the top, got by Brand and led into the final corners before the finishing straight.
Coming out of the final corner, Vos stood up, while Brand looked down.
The sprint was a formality.
After a second-place at the Road World Championships and another second at Paris Roubaix Femmes, Vos was back to her winning ways.
Marianne Vos is victorious in Waterloo after an amazing final sprint against Lucinda Brand! 🔥 Denise Betsema completes a full Dutch podium. 🇳🇱
📺 Follow the action 👉 https://t.co/kUVn3oe570 #CXWorldCup pic.twitter.com/Xkf5nb6aTC
— UCI Cyclo-cross World Cup (@UCIcyclocrossWC) October 10, 2021
The Champs Recall Their Final Turns
Vos was all smiles at the finish, as if it was her first victory. Taking Cyclocross Magazine through her race strategy, it was clear her years of winning were invaluable:
“It was really hard. At a certain point, the group came back together, and you have to stay focused and concentrate, so I stayed in a good position, but Lucinda opened a slight gap with two laps to go, and I had to do everything to get back to her wheel and from then [on], it’s just ride to stay in front.
“I think we had the same idea, wanting to go first into Factory Hill, the last real hill of the course. I went around, then Lucinda came around me again, so there was a fantastic fight for first position, and then I had to try some other move to get around her because I knew that the last line is pretty tough to get around somebody in the last second.”
Hearing the other side offers great perspective. Brand took us through her race and battle with Vos:
“It was super hard and fast. It was a very explosive race, not the most ideal for me, so that was quite hard, but it was definitely exciting. The course is super technical, even if it is fast, it’s technical because of so many corners.
“Of course we both wanted to be first in. Marianne is very explosive so she can come very very late, but I could react to it. I just thought “I’m not going to go out of my way here, I’m not going to brake first. But you see how good she is and she stays calm and takes the next opportunity to get out of it. She is just an amazing rider.”
After a fast start, Maghalie Rochette led the North American contingent, finishing the day in 10th, followed up with National Champ Clara Honsinger in 12th. U.S.-based Czech Katerina Nash finished 20th. Kaitie Keough had an encounter with the sturdy fencing (it doesn’t move in case you’re wondering), causing her to crash on her arm, resulting in a DNF. Thankfully her arm isn’t broken, and she plans to be ready for the next race.
The UCI World Cup Circuit continues on Wednesday, October 13th in Fayetteville, AR hosts of the 2022 World Championships. Stay tuned for updates from Arkansas!
Full results are below the photo gallery.
2021 UCI Cyclocross World Cup Waterloo Elite Women Photo Gallery by Dave Mable: