KOKSIJDE, Belgium (VN) – In a women’s race that will likely be noted as much for being a preview of the 2012 world championships as for being the third round of the UCI World Cup, Daphny Van Den Brand (AA Drink-Leontien.nl) showed that she has every intention of capturing a final rainbow jersey before retiring at the end of the season.
The 33-year-old powered away from both world champion Marianne Vos (Nederland Bloeit), who makes her return to cyclocross this weekend, and American Katie Compton (Rabobank-Giant), who blew apart last year’s edition of the race with a two-and-a-half minute victory.
From the start it was clear that this year’s race would not follow the same storyline, as Van Den Brand and Vos quickly gapped the rest of the field, using the early sand sections for which Koksijde is famous to open a 20-second lead over countrywoman Sanne Van Paassen (Brainwash) and Belgian Sanne Cant (Boxx Veldritacademie).
Compton, meanwhile, bobbled at the start and was forced to weave her way through the field instead of trying to respond to the leaders’ early attack.
The American reached Cant and Van Paassen by the end of the first lap, and they set out together to chase the leaders, but made little progress in whittling down the gap; Vos and Van Den Brand were simply better in the loose, unpacked sand.
As the two traded the lead for the first four of six laps, it looked like Vos might have a chance to win her first race of the season, but disaster struck for the world champion with two to go. A combination of bobbles and fatigue set her back close to 10 seconds and handed control of the race to Van Den Brand, who would not surrender the lead again.
Vos collected herself in the final lap, at least enough to hold off a late surge by Compton, who had managed to drop Van Paassen and strike out for a shot at second place. Compton would have to settle for third, while Van Paassen managed to hang on for fourth place ahead of Sanne Cant.
Americans Amy Dombroski (Crank Brothers) and Kaitlin Antonneau (Cannondale-Cycllocrossworld.com) spent the better part of the race together before Antonneau fell off the pace late in the race. The 19-year-old Antonneau, making only her third cyclocross start in Europe, rebounded in the last lap and finished 18th, just 10 seconds behind Dombroski, who was 17th. Fellow American Christine Vardaros (Baboco Cycling Team) was 29th.
After the race, Vos said she was surprised to have such a good result in her first real effort of the season.
“I wanted to do a few races here before I go to South Africa (for some training),” she told VeloNews. “I wanted to already have the feeling and rhythm of the races. I made a few mistakes, and it’s so hard. If you make one mistake, you have to run the whole sand section. And for now, 40 minutes of high intensity is pretty hard. I trained pretty well, but it’s very hard to have a heart rate of 180 for 40 minutes.”
Van Den Brand, meanwhile, said the win gave her confidence for when she returns to Koksijde for worlds in a few months.
“Marianne first had a gap on me, but she couldn’t get through one of the sand sections, so I was able to bridge up to her,” she said. “I knew I was good today; Marianne is good technically as well, but you need power and good luck on this course.”
Compton, for her part, said that despite the bobble — caused by a missed pedal —at the beginning of the race, Vos and Van Den Brand were simply better than she was today.
“I was motivated, but I just didn’t have it today,” said the American, who will remain in Belgium to train and race for the next several weeks. “In sand you can tell. If you’re good you’re good, but if not, it’s unforgiving. I didn’t have the legs today, and you can’t fake that.
“Today the sand was the heaviest I’ve ever seen it. I like the course, I just struggled today.”
Compton’s fellow Americans had expressed similarly mixed sentiments about the outcome. Antonneau said she struggled in the middle of the race, but was happy for the experience in such strong competition.
“It was a good race, and I’m really glad I had the chance to come and do it because it’s good experience,” she said. “But this course is really, really hard; even harder than the two races I did in Europe last year. But I’m happy with how it went.”
Dombroski agreed about the benefits of the race as a learning experience, but said she wasn’t satisfied with her result.
“It was not ideal,” she said with a laugh. “It’s a very different style of racing, and I just didn’t have the legs today; I definitely have some work to do for worlds. But this year is such a learning experience. So I’m happy with what I’m doing in Europe. Yeah, I wasn’t happy with today’s result, but it’s all learning and I’ve had some good results this season, so I’m sure some more will come.”
Van Den Brand’s win gives her a 15-point lead with 150 total points in the World Cup overall, jumping ahead of Katerina Nash (Luna), who opted not to race today. Van Paassen holds second overall, while Nash and Compton are tied for third with 105 points each.
The women’s World Cup returns in three weeks’ time on the hills surrounding the Citadel of Namur in southern Belgium.
- 1. Daphny Van Den Brand (Ned), AA Drink-Leontien.nl, 43:13
- 2. Marianne Vos (Ned), Nederland Bloeit, 43:26
- 3. Katherine Compton (USA), Rabobank-Giant, 43:44
- 4. Sanne Van Paassen (Ned),Brainwash, 44:20
- 5. Sanne Cant (Bel), Boxx Veldritacademie, 44:47