Day 1 - UCI Cyclo-cross World Championships Heusden-Zolder
Heroics part 1. True cyclo-cross weather was on show during the first day of the UCI Cyclo-cross World championships in Heusden-Zolder, Belgium. The foul weather offered the best cyclo-cross riders in the world a truly heroic setting to battle for the three rainbow jerseys at stake. Continuing rain reshaped the fast course up and around the Zolder car racing circuit into a much heavier challenge. Unsurprisingly every new World champion reached the finish line solo, offering them the time to reflect on their astonishing accomplishments when crossing the finish line. The victors of the day in their race categories were Jens Dekker (Netherlands), Evie Richards (Great-Britain) and Thalita de Jong (Netherlands).
The victory from 22 year-old Thalita de Jong in the Women’s category came after a thrilling race in which she managed to fight back from a seemingly lost position. Despite a second-row start position De Jong failed to feature in the top-10 at the first corner. A few moments later she was even riding outside the top-20. De Jong was considered an outsider for the victory but after her missed start she no longer seemed to be a factor. In front the favourites were on show, except for Katherine Compton (USA) who missed one of the first corners and failed to bounce back.
The leaders after the opening lap were Sanne Cant (Belgium), Caroline Mani (France), Nikki Harris (Great-Britain) and Sophie de Boer (Netherlands). Cant was considered to be top favourite after racking up the overall victory in the World Cup and winning the European and Belgian championships. The presence of Mani, Harris and De Boer was no surprise either after top performances at the World Cup this season. Every rider in the lead group was capable of winning the race. During the opening lap De Boer briefly had a gap. Mani attacked in the second lap but failed to break free. Harris tried the same during the third of four laps but after making a mistake she was caught back too. Just before hitting the final lap the four leaders were suddenly joined by De Jong, who succeeded in turning around a deficit of more than 20 seconds in less than two laps.
When hitting the final lap Cant surged forward. De Boer got dropped first and then also Mani and Harris. De Jong didn’t crack and swiftly followed Cant. Halfway the final lap De Jong took over the command and suddenly Cant was in trouble. A gap emerged and De Jong was slowly riding away from the Belgian rider. In the running section Cant cracked and De Jong steamed towards a well-deserved victory. Mani passed a disappointed Cant who narrowly held on to third place over De Boer. Harris was fifth ahead of Sabrina Stultiens (Netherlands). With Sanne van Paassen in tenth place during her final participation at the World championships every Dutch rider managed to crack the top-10. Unsurprisingly the Netherlands topped the Ranking by Nation in the Women category, ahead of the USA, Belgium and Australia.
Women Under 23
The inaugural World championships race in the Women Under 23 category attracted 43 riders who got under way in stormy weather conditions. 18 year-old Evie Richards emerged as a surprising but deserved winner. Richards was silver medallist at the Junior Women UCI Mountain Bike World championships in Vallnord in September.
Richards wasn’t featuring in front early on due to a third-row start position. The early leader was Chiara Teocchi (Italy), one of the favourites for the victory after achieving strong results in the Women World Cup rounds. The 19 year-old Italian rider quickly gapped the rest of the field during the first sections of the opening lap. The first chase group behind Teocchi featured Ellen Noble (USA), Nikola Noskova (Czech Republic) and Alicia Gonzalez Blanco (Spain). Just before hitting a slippery off-camber section they were joined by Sina Frei (Switzerland), Alice Maria Arzuffi (Italy), Maud Kaptheijns (Netherlands) and Evie Richards. Suddenly Richards emerged first in the group behind Teocchi. With an energetic style Richards bridged up to Teocchi in no time and quickly left her behind at a steep run-up that was followed by a steep climb. Richards was one of the few riders that was able to stay on her bike. In the three following laps Richards kept increasing her lead up to more than half a minute. Teocchi faded back and Noskova and Kaptheijns grabbed silver and bronze in Heusden-Zolder. Despite a strong race Frei fell just off the podium.
After last weekend’s overall victory in the UCI Cyclo-cross World Cup in-form Jens Dekker continued his winning way with a commanding victory in the Junior Men category.
The 17 year-old Dutch rider was biding his time in the lead group during the opening lap behind the three French riders who rode in front of the pack. Tanguy Turgis (France) led the first half of the opening lap ahead of compatriots Thomas Bonnet and Mickael Crispin. Just before hitting the first major obstacles Dekker took over the lead from the French trio. After the off-camber section he accelerated on the steep climb towards the observatory next to the Zolder Circuit. Only Crispin was able to keep up with an impressive Dekker. At the run-up and the following climb Dekker climbed much faster than Crispin and he distanced the big French rider. Behind the duo Thomas Bonnet was battling with crowd favourite Jappe Jaspers (Belgium). During the second lap Dekker increased his lead over while Bonnet and Jaspers were still together. Dekker kept riding away from Crispin and in the third lap Bonnet dropped Jaspers.
The top-3 positions remained the same until the finish which put Dekker in between the French duo on the podium. Kevin Kuhn (Switzerland) won a hard-fought battle for fourth place from a poorly started Thomas Pidcock (Great-Britain), Jakob Dorigoni (Italy). Jaspers finished seventh.
Racing continues on Sunday with races in the Men Under 23 and the Elite Men categories. Rain is expected to keep the course in its muddy condition, guaranteeing spectacular races.
Watch the races live here.