After three weeks of miserable weather and muddy, technical racing — and three weeks of two riders, Helen Wyman (Kona) and Sven Nys (Landbouwkrediet), dominating Belgian cyclocross — a fast, sunny race in Hasselt Saturday provided riders with a brief respite from both mud and Nys’ stranglehold on the podium.
But the fog rolled in on Sunday, and once again cyclocross plunged back into the mud, albeit a tackier, less soupy variety than the muck that bogged down racers in Ronse, Niel, and Hamme-Zogge in past weeks.
But the mud was only a sideshow in this fourth round of the Superprestige Series in Gavere; Sunday’s challenge was the course itself. Featuring a series of dangerous, technical descents and steep, wooded climbs, the track in Gavere has become the stuff of legend in its nearly 30-year history — a history that, in recent years, has been dominated by Nys and American Katie Compton.
Compton opted out of this edition of the women’s race, leaving British champion Wyman to battle with Belgian champion Sanne Cant (BKCP-Powerplus) and rising Dutch stars Sanne Van Paassen (BrainWash) and Sophie De Boer (ZZPR-Destil). And Wyman lived up to the challenge, storming back from a major bobble on the first descent of the race to grab a lead of some 10 seconds by the race’s second lap.
Behind her, Van Paassen shook off both De Boer and Cant, opening a 10-second lead of her own in her pursuit of Wyman and the front of the race. For several laps Wyman held off Van Paassen, whose skillful handling of the two big descents allowed her to slowly gain time on the Brit.
But despite the climbing prowess that allowed Wyman to gain time on the difficult ascents in the lap’s second half, Van Paassen connected with Wyman, and with two laps to go it was a two-woman race.
Further back De Boer attacked Cant, effectively wrapping up third place with a few laps to go, while Van Paassen and Wyman traded attacks, and the lead, in the front. For two laps Van Paassen gained time on the descents only to have Wyman take it back on the climbs, until the two hit the long, flat stretch ahead of the finish at the top of the hill together.
Then it was the Dutch rider who got the jump after the final turn, and a tired Wyman simply couldn’t come back around, handing the 22-year-old winner of this year’s Plzen World Cup her third victory of the season.
“I had an amazing start,” Wyman told VeloNews, “but going down the descent the lines had changed a little bit, and I went straight into the tape. I came back, maybe a bit too quick, and as soon as I came back I just went straight through, because that’s what you’ve got to do to try to break it up a bit more. I got a good gap, but then I died a bit.”
Despite missing the top step of the podium for the first time this month in Belgium, Wyman said she is feeling good going into next week’s World Cup race in Koksijde.
“Sanne just jumped me in the corner and got the lead into the sprint,” she said. “I really had a chance, but she just got ahead of me. But I’m really confident. I had a really heavy training week this week, and to go from that to second here is really good.”
Van Paassen, meanwhile, told reporters that she tried to ride a patient race.
“I was technically better than Helen during the race,” she said. “I’ve learned that I shouldn’t try to close gaps right away, so when there is a gap, not to blow up just to close it right away. The finish is what matters.”
Tied for the World Cup lead with Daphny Van Den Brand, Van Paassen said Sunday’s finish was a huge lift for her going into next week.
“It boosts my confidence that despite being sick this week, I showed I can still ride fast,” she said.
The only American in the race, Christine Vardaros (Baboco-Revor), rallied from a series of first-lap crashes to a 19th-place finish.