KOKSIJDE, Belgium (VN) — Though Marianne Vos wrapped up another world championship Sunday, it is the young Belgian Sanne Cant whose name was ringing out across the steep dunes. By the time the real race — the race for the second and third steps on the podium — even started, Vos was long gone, dropping Daphny van den Brand on their second trip across the challenging Herygers Dune and never looking back.
The result was hardly unexpected — but neither was it assured. Vos has won all except one of her races this season, but the second place came on this very course and came at the hands of van den Brand. So when the two went clear early in the race it briefly looked like the drama would be in the race for first. But by the end of the first lap, Vos had a ten-second gap that was growing with every turn of the pedals.
“I knew that if I didn’t do anything stupid — I could make some small mistakes — but if I didn’t have any big mistakes or a flat tire that it would be enough,” said Vos about her early lead in an interview after the race. “But I did have to keep my concentration after that first lap. It’s such a hard course, that after one lap I was already suffering. And that’s the difference in the sand here, it’s just hard. I had some confidence, but I knew it was going to be a really hard 40 minutes.”
While Vos was churning through the sand on her way to a record fifth world title, van den Brand was trying desperately to hang on to a rapidly shrinking lead over a chance group that included Czech Katerina Nash, Dutchwomen Sanne van Paassen and Sophie de Boer, and crowd favorite Cant.
And behind the chase group, the great American hope, Katie Compton was storming back from a disastrous early lap. Compton missed her pedal on the first lap and then crashed into a course barrier a few turns into the race. Though in the middle of the first lap she was mired close to 20th place, Compton posted two blazing laps — the fastest of the day by any woman — and connected with the race for the podium during the third of the race’s five laps.
This made it a four-way race for the two remaining medals. Nash had faded as Compton rebounded, leaving van den Brand, Cant, and van Paassen in the chase group. As the group shifted and shuffled through the next several laps, Compton — apparently unable to recover from the effort it took to get back in the race — began to lose ground again, and, as the group started the second lap, Cant and van den Brand began to pull away.
With the prospect of a native daughter on the podium — especially one so young and unexpected — the crowds along the course went crazy, reacting with alternating gasps and cheers with every change of the lead. But even as the Cant and van den Brand made the final trip through the Herygers dune, side by side in the sand, it still wasn’t clear that either could win the race for silver, because Compton and van Paassen were both drawing near again.
Then, on the final stretch of sand, Cant made a neat little move to go ahead of van den Brand, and as the pair descended just ahead of the two pursuers, Compton bobbled badly and fell. Cant and van den Brand tore down the final grassy stretches of the race, Cant sitting just ahead.
It was not quite enough; the pair rounded the final corner and launched the final sprint and van den Brand, bent over and deep in the drops, came around Cant on the right, leaving the Belgian to gesture in resignation to her defeat, her expression simultaneously frustrated and thrilled, having exceeded even her own expectations to claim her first every world championships medal.
Behind them van Paassen rolled comfortably over the line in fourth ahead of Compton, who was clearly heartbroken to have missed yet another chance for a world title.
Vos, of course, had had time to comfortably celebrate another year in the rainbow stripes, nearly 40 seconds up the road from the race for second.
Gallery: 2012 women’s cyclocross world championships