Marianne Vos made it look easy on Saturday as she defended her world cyclocross title in Hoogerheide.
The indomitable Dutchwoman crushed the field in front of a partisan home crowd and crossed the finish line alone, more than a minute ahead of runner-up Eva Lechner (Italy), with Helen Wyman (Great Britain) third at 1:17.
“That was amazing,” Vos said. “From last week I felt really good. I knew I had a good chance. It’s great to win here in the Netherlands.”
Vos and U.S. champion Katie Compton lined up shoulder to shoulder, bracketed by British teammates Wyman and Nikki Harris.
But while Vos fairly blasted off the line, Compton had a terrible start, as did teammate Crystal Anthony, who quickly found herself off the bike and running to the pit.
The two-time World Cup champ’s troubles continued — well back in the early going, she became entangled in a crash with Pavla Havlikova (Czech Republic) that left their bikes locked together and the two struggled to get free as the race went on without them, with Wyman and Lechner up front and Vos hovering in third.
“I missed my pedal at the start, I think that was just being nervous, and then got stuck in traffic and Pavla (Havlikova) crashed in front of me and I T-boned her,” said Compton. “We got our bikes stuck, and my handlebars got stuck in her triangle, and we couldn’t get them apart. We were both pretty calm about it, trying to get them apart. We weren’t fighting each other, we were like, “If you pull here and I pull here. …” but it just wasn’t coming apart.
“By the time we got it apart, everybody was past us, and we tried to start picking people off, but it’s a hard course to try to catch people, that’s for sure.”
But in short order it was Vos on the front and opening a gap. Lechner settled into second, the two women Flintstoning around the slippery circuit, as Wyman dropped to a distant third.
Vos and Lechner briefly diced for the lead as Compton chased well outside the top 10. But as the first lap came to an end, the defending champ gapped Lechner on a short rise leading to the start-finish and then began powering away. She had three seconds over Lechner at the line, with Wyman third at 19 seconds.
Compton was already a stunning 36 seconds down.
The U.S. champion seemed to be near every crash in the first two laps, just slipping past Hanka Kupfernagel (Germany) as she remounted following a spill. But she kept moving forward through traffic as Vos pounded away at the front.
Vos soon had nearly 20 seconds over Lechner. Sanne Cant (Belgium) caught Wyman, and then Compton caught them.
At the end of lap two, with two to go, Vos led Lechner by 23 seconds chased by Cant, Wyman and Compton at slightly less than a minute. Kuperfernagel dropped out.
Lechner clipped a barrier and lost a bit of ground as the three-woman chase became two, with Wyman slipping off the back. Then Compton set about trying to lose Cant as Lechner struggled in second place.
Cant fought back, taking possession of third as Compton slipped into fourth. The pursuit had Lechner in sight.
Suddenly, going into bell lap, the composition of the chase had changed — Vos was still alone off the front, with Lechner at 51. But the battle for third was down to Wyman and Cant at 1:09, while Compton was riding out of the medals at 1:27, clearly suffering, perhaps having another asthma attack.
“It’s hard to feel so shitty and not be able to breathe,” Compton said. “That’s the frustrating part. My body’s good when it’s good and bad when it’s bad, and there’s no gray area. I can’t come back from it and it pisses me off. It’s so frustrating.
“I’ve been struggling with breathing, and I don’t know what the deal is with my allergies. I was okay until this last trip. I was fine in Colorado, I didn’t have any issues, but coming back here, it’s been a problem ever since.”
Vos pounded along relentlessly at the front, unstoppable. Lechner clung to second as the Cant-Wyman chase closed in.
And then Wyman attacked Cant, opening a gap that the Belgian could not close.
Vos began her celebration well in advance of the line, taking her seventh title with no one else in the photo. Behind, Lechner bobbled a rise but quickly sorted herself out and recovered to finish second at 1:07. Wyman followed for third at 1:17.
Compton crossed in ninth at 2:58.
Editor’s note: Dan Seaton contributed to this report.