After suffering through snow, freezing conditions, a tornado warning and flooding, the 2013 UCI Cyclo-cross World Championships came together to produce a stunning day of racing for its American debut in Louisville, Kentucky. The Netherlands were the big winners, taking three out of four titles, including Marianne Vos winning her fifth consecutive Elite Women's Rainbow Jersey, but Belgium salvaged its pride by winning the premier Men's Elite race, as veteran Sven Nys took the second world title of his illustrious career.
A crowd in excess of 9,000 roared their support for the stars of cyclo-cross, many making their first appearance in the United States. Flood warnings had forced a hasty rescheduling of the Sunday Elite races to Saturday, giving spectators a rare opportunity to see all four championship events in one day of racing. Race day began with snow, leaving nearly five centimetres on the ground for the start of the first race, however, it steadily warmed up through the day.
The Elite Women's race was expected to be between Vos, going for her fifth title in a row (and the sixth of her career), and American Katie Compton, the reigning World Cup champion. However, Compton got off to a poor start, falling back as far as tenth on the first lap. Vos, her team mate Sanne van Passen, Eva Lechner (Italy) and Lucie Chainel-Lefevre (France) took an early lead, as Compton steadily moved forward through the field, catching everyone but Vos by the third lap.
Vos proved to be in a class of her own, recording the only sub-7:10 laps of the race and pulling away to win by one minute and 34 seconds over Compton. Chainel-Lefevre took the bronze medal in an upset, after Katerina Nash (Czech Republic) suffered a mechanical while in third place, less than 100 metres from the finish line. Nash ran for the line, but Chainel-Lefevre sprinted by her with only a few metres remaining to claim the final podium spot.
âA world championship [win] is always special,â said Vos. âThe pressure is going up every year because everyone expects you to win. Of course, if you already won it five times, they think you can win it for the sixth time. They think it will be easy, but I was kind of nervous. The difficult moments were in the past two weeks.â
The Elite Men's race was Belgium's not to lose, fielding a squad stacked with stars of the World Cup circuit. However, the Belgians seemed to be caught a little by surprise in the opening laps, when the French pro Francis Mourey attacked, gaining a 15 second advantage. Mourey managed to hold off the Belgian train until the fifth lap, when he was swarmed by three Belgian riders - Nys, Klaas Vantornout and Kevin Pauwels.
Mourey and Pauwels stayed with the leaders for one lap before Nys and Vantornout turned up the pressure and rode clear. As the two chasers faded, Lars van der Haar (Netherlands) was picking up places, moving into third with a lap and a half to go, and only 17 seconds behind the leaders as the race entered the last lap. Nys and Vantornout were looking over their shoulders as they started the final lap - was there a chance that van der Haar could catch them and give the Netherlands a clean sweep of the titles?
The answer was a definite No, as Nys took control of the situation. The Belgian legend rode five seconds clear of his team mate, foregoing a bike swap as he attacked the final half lap. Nys had actually announced in frustration at last year's world championships that he would no longer race it, after once again failing to claim his first world title since 2005.
Vantornout tried valiantly to reel in Nys, even sprinting after him on the final pavement as Nys celebrated, but finished two seconds behind to claim silver. van der Haar could not match the Belgian attack, but hung on for the bronze medal, denying Belgium a clean sweep of the podium.
"It's amazing," agreed Nys. "Last year I said I won't do it anymore, and now I win the World Championship in the States. I would say thanks to all the US fans, they helped me a lot. It was a lot of motivation for me, and it created something special here. My family and my fans in Belgium, my national federation, they did one hell of a job. I am really happy with my second world title and now my career is complete."
In the Junior and Under 23 Men's races, the Netherlands was the victor, with Mathieu van der Poel - son of legend Adri van der Poel - winning the Junior race ahead of team mate Martijn Budding, and Mike Teunissen coming back from a crash to beat two Belgian rivals.