ZOLDER, Belgium — Powering through rutted, melting snow on the slippery hillsides surrounding this Formula 1 racetrack, American Katie Compton (Planet Bike) grabbed the overall leader’s jersey in the UCI World Cup of cyclocross with another decisive win over the world’s best women cyclists.
Compton’s wire-to-wire win was her fourth in as many World Cup starts, and showed that, despite the return of world champion Marianne Vos (Nederland Bloeit), she remains on top of the cyclocross world heading into the final month of racing before the world championships in Germany at the end of January.
The seven-time American champion’s victory came on an already technical track turned even more dangerous by record snowfall in Belgium. The heavy, wet snow turned normally easy straightaways into barely rideable gantlets of ruts and slippery potholes, and even left sections of course along the speedy racetrack treacherous with nearly invisible ice that caused more than one hard fall during the day’s four races.
Fall down, get up, repeat
Compton herself slid out as she turned from the tarmac onto the snowy course during the race’s first lap, which momentarily allowed the Czech Republic’s Pavla Havlikova and the Netherlands’ Daphny Van Den Brand (ZZPR.nl) and Sanne Van Paassen (Brainwash) back into the race. But Van Den Brand tumbled and fell from the front of the race moments later, allowing World Cup leader Van Paassen to take over the chase alone.
The American would fall again — and again, and again — on a day that spared pretty much nobody, but popped back up and onto her bike each time she hit the snow. Two laps into the four-lap race, Compton led the pursuit by more than 40 seconds, and the race became a battle for second place, as Vos, who clawed her way back from a back-row start, connected with Van Paassen at the front of the chase.
While Compton continued on to pull away, Vos dropped Van Paassen during the third lap and eventually opened a half minute gap of her own, easily taking second place, almost a minute behind the American. With Van Paassen in third, Van Den Brand managed to hold off Havlikova in a sprint for fourth.
Seven minutes behind Compton, fellow Americans Sue Butler (Hudz-Subaru) and Maureen Bruno Roy (Bob’s Red Mill-Seven Cycles) rounded out the top 20. Bruno Roy spent much of the day closer to 15th place, but told VeloNews that she fell to 20th late in the race when she had trouble with snow-clogged cleats and pedals.
Butler, on the other hand, described her race as nearly opposite her countrywoman’s, struggling with pedal problems early in the race before finally managing to clear the snow and move up to 19th at race’s end.
After the race, Bruno Roy said she benefited from some strategic running on a few of the course’s more dangerous sections.
“I just decided to run (those sections),” she said. “In practice yesterday there was a lot of snow, and you could really easily lose the front wheel. So you run the risk of fighting the bike and then waiting to see what happens, or making the decision at the top to be in control. I think it was just as fast or even faster to run.”
A ‘crazy’ race
Butler, meanwhile, described the race as a comedy of errors.
“Crazy would be a good word for it — insane,” she said. “The start was total chaos. You did what you could do, but you needed a really smooth pedal stroke and I couldn’t get into my pedals because they were iced. People were crashing in front of you — it was just humorous. It was so funny. You couldn’t help but laugh.”
But it was Compton doing the most laughing, as she described her error-riddled, but nonetheless spectacular ride.
“I couldn’t keep it upright today, and I didn’t feel good technically. But I think we were all struggling. It’s harder than it looks out there,” she said, after donning the World Cup leader’s jersey at the end of the race.
“I just figured, I’m going to crash a bunch. I just have to jump up quickly and get going as fast as I can. I think I was two-for-four on the downhill. There’s a reason why all the crowd is on the downhill.”
Runner-up Vos echoed Compton’s remarks, saying she also took her share of spills.
“I think the descents were pretty good, but on the straight parts, you were on a straight track and then suddenly you were just down and or in the barriers,” she said. “It’s incredible. The snow just makes you take paths you don’t want to take.”
Vos said that she was not particularly hindered by a back-row start, the result of her decision to skip the first several months of the season, but wasn’t sure she could have beaten Compton anyway.
“I’m happy with these two second places,” she said. “Of course second is not a win, but Katie was outstanding last week, and this week again. I think second was the best I could do. I’m quite happy to get back and already be racing for the podium.”
The World Cup will continue in Pont-Château, France, in three weeks, where Sanne Van Paassen will be the favorite to retake the leader’s jersey. Compton, who said she is entirely focused on winning a world championship, will return to her home in Colorado for a three-week training block, returning to Europe for the World Cup finale in Hoogerheide, just across the Netherlands border from Belgium.
“I’m really happy to be World Cup leader for another two weeks until the next race, but it’s okay,” she said. “I would love to win it, but it’s hard to travel back and forth and get it all done. I need to get back to work and get training consistently.”
- 1. Katherine Compton (USA), 39:58
- 2. Marianne Vos (Ned), Nederland Bloeit, at 0:54
- 3. Sanne Van Paassen (NED), at 1:29
- 4. Daphny Van Den Brand (NED), at 2:10
- 5. Pavla Havlikova (CZE), at 2:11
Editor’s note: Dan Seaton started writing about cyclocross when he moved from New Hampshire to Belgium in 2008. He started covering European cyclocross for VeloNews in October 2010. Dan has a Ph.D. in physics and spends most of his time working as mission scientist for a spaceborne solar telescope at the Royal Observatory of Belgium. He somehow finds time to race as an amateur ‘crosser in Belgium during the fall and winter. Dan and his wife, Mindi, live in Brussels.