A first day full of drama in Bieles
During the first day of the UCI Cyclo-cross World championships in Bieles, three races were held. An early morning rain shower turned the course around at the very last moment. The rain wiped away most of the snow on the challenging course but quickly turned into ice on the frozen subsoil. As a result, the Men Junior race got underway on slippery course on Saturday morning. The two remaining races in the Women Under 23 and Women Elite category rode on a less icy but still slippery, muddy course.
In that final race of the day, the big crowd in Bieles was spoiled with an exciting battle between seven-fold world champion Marianne Vos (Netherlands) and UCI Ranking leader Sanne Cant (Belgium). The two leading ladies of women’s cyclo-cross fought out a duel until the finishing straight, with 26 year-old Cant capturing her first-ever world title. “I can’t believe it. The jersey is mine for a whole year”, Cant said. “ I really can’t believe I beat Marianne Vos. She‘s the seven-time world champion. She’s really history. It’s an incredible day, the most beautiful day of my life.”
When hitting the final lap, the situation was way different as Vos was comfortably in the lead with a bonus of eight seconds on Cant. The latter slipped away at one of the few extremely icy sections that was left on the course and broke her shoe. Vos thankfully accepted the bonus and powered away. Cant seemed to be settling for second place but suddenly she spotted a sidelined Vos at the beginning of the final lap. Vos hobbled in a sharp corner and dropped her chain. She quickly recovered but her lead was gone. The duo exchanged accelerations throughout the final lap but none was successful. Cant rode a smooth final off-camber descent and moved into the lead just before the final climb towards the finishing straight. Vos was glued on Cant’s wheel but when hitting the finishing straight Cant had most punch left. Vos quickly sat up and saw Cant sprinting to a tremendous victory. For Cant, the victory resulted in an explosion of joy after finishing third and second in the two previous editions of the World championships. Katerina Nash (Czech Republic) finished third at twenty-one seconds, holding off Lucinda Brand (Netherlands).
Nash and Brand featured in the lead group of four riders that hit the penultimate lap but got dropped when Vos accelerated yet again. The duo was just ahead of Maghalie Rochette (Canada) who was the surprise of the day in Bieles, despite a fourth-row start position. Eva Lechner (Italy) led the race early on but faded back, finishing sixth. The home crowd then welcomed Christine Majerus (Luxembourg). She rode an aggressive race that was awarded with seventh place. Halfway the opening lap, Majerus made the crowd go mad when she was leading the pack. Telenet UCI World Cup winner Sophie de Boer (Netherlands) had an off-day and abandoned the race.
Annemarie Worst (Netherlands) won a hard-fought battle with Ellen Noble (USA) in the Women Under 23 category. In the final lap, Worst powered away when Noble missed a right-hand corner after a steep descent. Twenty-one year-old Worst made no mistakes in the final technical part of the course and captured the world title.
“I knew I had to stay focused and ride the track clean. I was thinking that they can also make mistakes. I’m so happy”, Worst said. Noble held on for second place, finishing well ahead of the defending world champion, 19 year-old Evie Richards (Great-Britain). Richards had a go at extending her world title during the second lap. She managed to drop all her rivals but then started struggling herself when hitting the fourth of five laps. By that time, she had enough of a bonus on Laura Verdonschot (Belgium). The latter crashed twice halfway the race and lost contact with the leading ladies in Bieles. Manon Bakker (Netherlands) was fifth. The Dutch riders did very well in Bieles, placing two more riders in the top-10.
The Men Junior race was held in icy conditions and Maxime Bonsergent (France) managed the best start. He led the race during the opening lap and was then joined by eventual winner Thomas Pidcock (Great-Britain). A few moments later Pidcock dropped Bonsergent, seemingly feeling very comfortable on the ice. What followed was a display of technical skills from Pidcock. The 19 year-old rider made nearly no mistakes and created a massive bonus of forty seconds. Pidcock, the pre-race favourite, was able to high-five his way to the finish line and grab the gold medal.
“I just made sure I didn’t crash, really. Just stayed upright and I let my legs do the work”, Pidcock said in the post-race flash interview. Behind him, compatriot Ben Turner (Great-Britain) bridged up with Bonsergent. Halfway the race, the French rider broke his shoe and he was forced to run barefoot to the pit area. Bonsergent was replaced by Daniel Tulett (Great-Britain) and suddenly the race was headed for a British clean sweep of the podium.
Turner and Tulett both struggled to stay upright in the final lap but they did enough to hold off a comeback from Loris Rouiller (Switzerland) and Antoine Benoist (France). Tulett won the duel from Turner and finished in second place. Turner reached the finish line in third place where an emotional winner Pidcock awaited his compatriots. “It’s history. It’s amazing”, Pidcock said about the clean sweep. Rouiller finished fourth, well ahead of Benoist. Telenet UCI World Cup winner Toon Vandebosch (Belgium) struggled with fever in the days before the race and finished eighth.
On Sunday, the Men Under 23 and Men Elite will battle for the rainbow jersey on day 2 of the UCI Cyclo-cross World Championships in Bieles.