ST. WENDEL, Germany (VN) — For the fourth time in her career and the third year in a row, Holland’s Marianne Vos won the world cyclocross championship, beating American Katie Compton and Czech Katerina Nash with a strong attack on the final lap of Sunday’s 40-minute event in Sankt Wendel, Germany.
Vos’ record now matches that of four-time women’s world cyclocross champion Hanka Kupfernagel, who despite a fast start struggled in with a fourth-place finish, 42 seconds behind the winner. Compton and Nash finished at 17 and 22 seconds, respectively.
Course conditions were similar to those in the junior men’s race on Saturday, with a slippery sheen of mud covering the otherwise-frozen surface.
Vos stayed near the front of the race from the start, locked firmly on Kupfernagel’s wheel as the German rocketed off the line to take an early lead in the six-lap event. Compton, mired in early traffic, steadily worked her way to the front and after lap 2, the three medalists moved ahead of the rest of the field.
The easy tactic
With the starting line on a local running track, riders lined up with about two-thirds of the distance to cover before making a hard turn on to the dirt. Sitting atop the UCI points standings, Compton had earned the prime spot, with World Cup champion Sanne Van Paassen of the Netherlands lining up second and Kupfernagel third. Voss, whose time is often split between road, track and ’cross, had earned enough points to take the eighth slot.
But world rankings only matter in assigning a spot when you line up. The rest is up to the rider. Kupfernagel shot out of the field when the starting gun was fired and jumped to an early lead, diving hard on to the dirt section with Vos, behind by a couple of bike lengths and a string of riders trailing behind. At the transition from the track to the dirt Compton found herself in about 10th place, with riders jostling for position in advance of the barriers and the sketchy off-camber that followed.
“If there’s anything I’ve gotten good at this year,” Compton later joked, “it’s bad starts.”
While Kupfernagel set about the task of impressing the home crowd, Vos quickly closed the gap and, for a fleeting moment, it began to look like a two-woman race.
“The tactic was easy today,” said Vos. “You need to stay up front to stay out of trouble and I had to stay close to Hanka, so she wouldn’t ride away and take it early.”
But the two soon had company, with a group of eight riders — including Compton, Nash, Van Passen, Switzerland’s Jasmin Acherman and the French duo of Christel Ferrier-Bruneau and Pauline Prevot Ferrand — joining up on the climb up the back side of the course.
By the end of the first lap, Van Passen led the group across the line, Kupfernagel sitting comfortably in second, with Voss, Compton, Nash and Acherman in the mix.
Again, that nasty little off-camber after the barriers had its say after the leaders cleared the barriers. Kupfernagel slipped and a gap formed.
Vos, Compton and Nash moved ahead and Kupfernagel fought to rejoin as the two French riders began to fade back. Compton moved to the front to up the pace and put pressure on the German.
By the end of lap 2, Compton, Vos, Nash and Van Passen had a three-second advantage over Kupfernagel and that was about as close as the three-time world champion would get.
Compton stayed up front, pushing the pace with the confidence of a rider who not only topped the world points rankings, but won three of the five World Cups she’d entered this year. Happily along for the ride, though, was Vos, with Nash on her wheel.
Within a lap the podium selection had been made: Compton leading Vos and Nash, with Van Passen fading back to fourth at 14 seconds and Kupfernagel at 16. Van Passen would eventually lose steam, crash and get caught and passed by Kupfernagel.
Asked about her decision to spend three laps driving the lead group from the front, Compton said she had to make a choice.
“I just wanted to keep the pace up; to cut the group from 10, to five and then three,” she said. “I didn’t want Hanka to catch on.”
Vos and Nash began to share some of the work and Kupfernagel continued to lose time.
By the sixth and final lap, the three leaders took a more cautious approach to the off-camber, each opting to run, rather than risk riding the slippery slope. Kupfernagel, now on her own, charged the little climb, reached the top and did a 180, barely managing to avoid a crash.
At the same time, Vos gassed it and charged off the front of the leading trio.
“Having crashed twice,” said Vos, “I was just happy I could stay on my bike. I wanted to see what I might do and gave it a try. When I looked back, I had a gap and, at that point, just decided to keep going.”
Compton said she had expected the move, but “when Marianne went, I just couldn’t cover it.”
Vos kept the pace high and then “concentrated on not making any mistakes.” She had enough of a buffer by the time she reached the stadium to enjoy a long celebratory coast across the line.
Compton was obviously disappointed with the outcome, still not having won a rainbow jersey, despite her near total domination of the season.
“I did everything I could,” she said. “The world championship is the one I’ve always wanted to win.”
For her part, Nash was just happy to be on the podium.
“Hey, I was in good company all day,” she said. “I stayed with the best and I earned my first worlds medal. Not a bad day.”
Vos, meanwhile, will have to make just a little more room in her closet for yet another rainbow jersey. It’s her fourth for ‘cross, but that gets added to her rainbow jersey for the road worlds in 2006 and a 2008 worlds gold for the points race on the track.
There’s a lot to be said for multi-tasking.
American Sue Butler crashed on the second lap and was taken to a local hospital. Despite – or rather because of – a cracked helmet, she suffered no serious head injuries and was released after receiving three stitches on a cut to her hip.