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Antonneau makes strides in muddy Zolder

ZOLDER, Belgium (VN) — Saturday was a bleak day for cyclocross, and not just because of the monumentally bad weather that battered riders and fans on the former Formula One track in Zolder, Belgium. On a day of gloomy weather, gloomy crowds, and even gloomier news, American Kaitie Antonneau’s eighth-place finish was a ray of sunshine piercing the darkness.

“I’m super, super happy,” Antonneau told VeloNews after the race. “I’m proud to finish off the season on a good note. I finally got my top-10 world championship in Europe, and that’s my best place. So I’m super happy. I couldn’t have asked for more.”

Antonneau’s ride in Zolder capped a fantastic season, one during which she took the biggest strides yet in her still young career. In October, the 24 year-old earned her first World Cup podium place, finishing second behind Italian Eva Lechner, at the second race of the series in Valkenburg, Netherlands. She followed that up with a top-10 finish in Namur, Belgium, in December and a fifth-place finish in the penultimate World Cup in Lignières-en-Berry, France.

On Saturday, Antonneau battled again with Lechner and with Luxembourg champion Christine Marjerus, but she also battled a stupendously sloppy course and some of the worst weather the sport has seen during an unusually temperate season.

“Oh man, it was totally night and day from any time I’ve ever done this course,” she said. “It was still fast, but it was just muddy and it just changed the way that — you know, by the last lap my arms were tired, because when this course is dry there are parts where you can rest. But it’s technical this time, so it just made it hard the whole time. It was exhausting.”

In 2011, when Antonneau was still a protege of perennial U.S. national champion Katie Compton, Compton predicted Antonneau’s ride.

“She’s such a hard worker and a talented rider; just a really nice girl,” said Compton then. “She’s learning fast, and she’s got so much potential. She’s going to develop as a bike racer on the road, on track, on the mountain bike, and in ‘cross. I just want to see her develop as a bike racer, and 10 years from now, be an Olympian.”

But increasingly, Antonneau has been the ‘Kaitie’ to beat in American cyclocross. On Saturday she finished nearly a minute ahead of her similarly-named mentor, an achievement by any measure, much less at a foul weather world championships. The two still share a close relationship, and Compton was quick with a huge and congratulations on the finish line.

For Antonneau, though, the biggest prize remains the progress she is making. At only 24 she still has plenty of room to grow. And, if this season is any measure, she’s headed to great places.

“The French World Cup where I was fifth … If only that had happened I would have walked away super happy,” she said of her most successful season yet. “But to be on the podium at the World Cup, to have two top-fives and the finish here, I’ve grown so much this season. I’m just so happy. I couldn’t ask for better.”