KOKSIJDE, Belgium (VN) — After a month of historic rains — and equally historic mud — in Belgium, it was snow that greeted racers as the sun rose over the third round of the UCI World Cup in the sand dunes of Koksijde.
Though the race featured a retooled course in advance of the 2012 world championships here, the long stretches of sand that gave Koksijde its reputation as one of the most technical races in cyclocross remained.
As temperatures dipped close to freezing, the coldest conditions European cyclocross has seen this year, Saturday’s race stood as a fitting finale for one of the most spectacular months the sport has seen in recent years.
The overnight snow melted by race time, leaving sand heavy and the track thick with sticky mud that meant racers would have to contend with conditions that changed with every corner of the 3km course.
But the new track was only part of the story in a race marked by the return of American national champion Katie Compton (Planet Bike-Stevens) to the forefront of the world stage as she powered away to a resounding solo victory.
In the women’s race, it was European champion Daphny Van Den Brand (ZZPR.nl) who took the early lead before handing off to World Cup leader Sanne Van Paassen (Brainwash), who came to the front as the race entered the sand for the first time. Behind her, Van Den Brand lost ground to 20 year-old German Sabrina Schweizer (Focus-Radsport) and British rider Helen Wyman (Kona). Compton, meanwhile, started slow, waiting until midway through the lap to make a move.
When Compton did go, it was decisive, and by the end of the first lap, she had opened a gap of some 50 meters over Van Paassen, the only woman in the race who could come anywhere close to matching the American. By the end of two laps it was clear that the real race would be for second place, as Van Den Brand and former world champion Hanka Kupfernagel (Itera-Stevens) began to reel in Van Paassen.
By the end of three laps, Compton’s lead had reached nearly a minute and a half, and Van Paassen had fallen behind Van Den Brand, who dropped Kupfernagel midway through the lap. Despite her powerful riding style, the German rider could not match the other women’s technical prowess in the sand, and soon found herself in fifth place behind Belgian champion Sanne Cant (BKCP-Powerplus).
As the sun broke through the clouds and began to melt the last remaining patches of snow, Compton powered around the final turn, and, with a a lead of nearly two and a half minutes, threw her arms in the air, celebrating the entire length of the race’s final stretch of pavement.
Van Den Brand held on for second place, while Van Paassen claimed third, some 40 seconds ahead of Sanne Cant. American Christine Vardaros (Baboco-Revor) found herself isolated at the beginning of the race and never really managed to recover, settling for 31st place. Canadian Vicki Thomas (Ottawa Cross) was 37th.
“I felt good today, and my skills were on — I brought my A-game. It was much better than last year,” Compton told VeloNews, referring to a race in which a series of errors left her struggling to a third-place finish. “I had in the back of my head while I was racing how many mistakes I made last year, so I came in today just wanting to be smooth and ride well. And I did it, so I’m really happy with that.
“It’s such a hard, heavy course that I had to get a good start, but I knew I just had to be patient. I know everybody wanted to get to the sand first, and that initial half lap would be really fast. So I just tried to relax and then around the end of the first lap I got to the front and just went for it.”
Van Den Brand, who was slowed by a series of technical problems early in the race, said she was cold at the start “and it wasn’t possible for me to ride with full gas.”
“I couldn’t do anything. I had some problems with my right pedal, I never managed to click into it. A new bike helped, but after the sand I had problems again, so I was pedaling with one leg. On the climbs I had to hop off the bike quickly. I was just really frustrated.”
The win bumps Compton, who skipped the second round of the World Cup, into third place overall, while Van Den Brand took a five point lead over Van Paassen, some 30 points ahead of the American.
- 1. Katherine Compton (USA), In 45:08
- 2. Daphny Van Den Brand (Ned), at 47:35
- 3. Sanne Van Paassen (Ned), at 47:54
- 4. Sanne Cant (Bel), at 48:29
- 5. Hanka Kupfernagel (Ger), at 48:48