Marianne Vos led wire-to-wire to add a third world cyclocross crown to her already bulging palmares.
The 22-year-old Dutch rider attacked with a vengeance in the opening lap and fended off three-time world champion Hanka Kufernagel in a flawless performance to successfully defend her rainbow jersey in cold and icy conditions in Tabor, Czech Republic. (Click for full results and a Graham Watson gallery)
“I felt good right from the start and I didn’t make any mistakes,” Vos said. “I felt I could keep tire pressure in the corners and that made a big difference. I could carry speed throughout the course.”
It was a tough day for two-time worlds medalist Katie Compton, who started despite nagging leg cramps and pulled out in the second lap (click for a complete interview with Compton).
Kufernagel, 35, was the only rider brazen enough to challenge Vos’s supremacy, crossing the line to take silver medal for her career eighth worlds cyclocross medal at 45 seconds back.
“I’m content with second considering the season I’ve been having. My legs felt better by the third lap and I am happy with silver,” said the German, who’s been a staple on the ’cross scene for years. “Every year, women’s ’cross gets more competitive. There were five favorites who could have won today.”
The real battle was for third, with Dutch rider Daphny Van den Brand fending off a half-dozen challengers to claim bronze at 1:02 back. Czech rider Katerina Nash, a popular face on the U.S. circuit, just missed the podium with fourth at 1:20 back.
Meredith Miller led the U.S. team with 12th at 2:55 back, saying one nasty crash midway through the race handicapped her chances for a top-10 finish. Amy Dombroski came through 14th for a strong showing by the U.S. squad with two in the top 15.
“I had a good race last weekend, that kind of upped my confidence a little. I got off to a rough start today. It wasn’t the result I wanted. It could have been better, but it could have been worse,” Dombroski said. “It’s awesome racing over here, there are so many spectators. It’s like hockey is in Canada or football in the States.”
Compton, meanwhile, made the brave decision to start despite crippling leg cramps that sidelined her for the final two rounds of the World Cup season.
Pain was so bad for the two-time world championship medalist that she had not ridden her bike for more than three weeks, let alone reconnoiter the course.
Her third-place world ranking gave her a front-row start position, but the many weeks away from competition soon showed. She slipped backward in the opening lap and pulled out by lap 2.
“I knew coming in that even finishing was hopeful. I hadn’t ridden in a couple of weeks and I’ve been having the leg pain pretty consistently, but I was trying to be optimistic. I tried to do one lap, it wasn’t pretty,” Compton said. “Sometimes I can push through it and the pain is tolerable, but today I knew there was no way I could do it. When I am sitting in 40th spot, what’s the point, really? I just pulled out at the bottom of the course and came back.
Vos takes control early
A light, overnight dusting of snow coupled with freezing temperatures created treacherous and challenging course conditions. Sections that had thawed during Saturday’s race action were frozen solid, making descending a test of bike-handling skills and courage.
The decisive first lap soon put things in order as Vos imposed her will. Regional favorite Nash fell in a pileup on the first corner, an incident that fractured the pack surging toward the first stairs section.
Defending world champion and Dutch teammate Van den Brand soon surged to the front to set a blistering pace despite the frigid conditions. Kupfernagel showed the class that delivered her three world titles and gave chase.
The versatile Vos, who’s also won medals in world track and road championships, used her leg speed to solo off the front. By the end of lap 2, only Kupfernagel was able to keep it close, trailing her by nine seconds.
The real battle was for bronze, with a half-dozen favorites slugging it out for the final podium spot.
France’s Christel Ferrier-Bruneau, Van den Brand, Caroline Mani and Pauline Ferrand Prevot, both also of France, all trailed through at 30 seconds off Vos’s spectacular pace. Eva Lechner (Italy) and Nash were also gaining steam.
Ferrier-Bruneau fell once in the chase in lap 3, opening the door for the surging Nash to slip into fourth place in the chase for the medals with two laps to go.
By the end of lap 3, Vos widened her gap to Kupfernagel to a commanding 24 seconds, with Van den Brand clinging to third at 41 seconds back. Nash was zeroing in at 49 seconds off the pace, but she had her own problems in lap four, crashing for a second time after coming into a left-hander too fast.
There was no stopping Vos — she soloed home for a huge victory.