If women’s cyclocross racing has just one rule, it has to be “never, never, never count out Hanka.”
Germany’s Hanka Kupfernagel racked up an impressive win at the world cyclocross championships on Sunday after a season of insisting that her training was focused entirely on qualifying for the road and time-trial events at this summer’s Olympic Games in Beijing.
After a somewhat dicey start, Kupfernagel powered away on a solo ride to win her fourth rainbow jersey in a discipline that has offered a women’s world title only since 2000, the year the German powerhouse won her first.
By the end Kupfernagel had managed a solid win over another Beijing-bound rider, the Netherland’s Marianne Vos and former two-world ‘cross champion Laurence Leboucher of France.
“This had to be the hardest of the four,” Kupfernagel said after her win. “I really wasn’t 100 percent sure of the win until I reached the last corner.”
But to those watching from the sidelines, Sunday’s 45-minute, five-lap women’s race was all Hanka … well, except for the first kilometer or so.
Kupfernagel and others got caught in traffic on the first turn – a hard 170-degree turn, after a 150 meter charge off the line – and she found herself stuck in 11th spot going into a slippery ride over a twisty, wet and muddy stretch through a meadow.
Up front, Holland’s Daphney Van den Brand took charge and powered through the opening kilometer with Pavla Havlikova (Czech Republic) right on her wheel. Canadian Wendy Simms soon joined them and the leading trio charged into the big 26-percent slope with a nice gap on a chase group that included American Rachel Lloyd, a strong group of Czech and Dutch riders, including Voss … and, of course, Germany’s Kupfernagel.
Through the pits, the leaders entered the route’s second stretch of meadow, broken up by a long, but gradual, run-up. Under the power of a chase driven by Kupfernagel, the group up front was soon reeled in.
As Kupfernagel joined the leaders, she managed to bring a large group of riders, including Voss, Frenchwomen Leboucher, Christel Ferrier-Bruneau and defending world champion Maryline Salvetat.
The course in Treviso, however, is very dependent on weather and ground conditions and an overnight freeze left the grass and dirt stretches “slicker than ice,” according to Lloyd.
And on a tough, muddy turn Voss slipped, stalled a number of other riders in the process and Simms, fifth at last week’s World Cup in Hoogerheide, suddenly found herself leading in the world championship ‘cross race.
“That’s not ever a spot I thought I’d find myself today,” said Simms. “It was right there on my favorite part of the course, too.”
“I’d had problems at the start, but once I found my rhythm, I worked my way through a lot of riders,” Kupfernagel recounted. “I caught onto Daphney and (Simms) and knew I still had a lot of work ahead of me.”
As Kupfernagel joined the leaders, she managed to bring a large group of riders, including Frenchwomen Leboucher, Christel Ferrier-Bruneau and defending world champion Maryline Salvetat. Lloyd, too, joined the lead group, but just as Kupfernagel poured on the gas.
nid:71588]The only rider able to stay with the hard-driving German was France’s Ferrier-Bruneau, and those two hit the end of the first lap with 10-second advantage over Simms, Van den Brand and Lloyd.
By the end of lap two, the leading duo had 15 seconds over Lloyd and another two over Simms.
“I was feeling really good,” Lloyd said, “and then Hanka really poured it on.”
Lloyd had found herself in a similar spot in the 2001 world’s race in Tabor, in the Czech Republic, when she trailed Kupfernagel and fought her way up to third place, only to fade back and eventually finish ninth on the day. Lloyd had an identical result in Treviso.
On the third lap, Kupfernagel finally decided that she’d had enough company and dropped Ferrier-Bruneau after a run up the steep hill.
“I was worried about Marianne (Vos), because I kept hearing how she was moving up on me,” Kupfernagel recalled.
Vos, who like Kupfernagel, has been focusing on plans for Beijing, which includes competition on the track as well as the road. Without UCI cyclocross points, she had been forced to start her race from the back row, but chased on to join the Kupfernagel group until her mishap in the mud.
“The track is a lot less slippery that riding cyclocross,” she later observed.
Vos, with Leboucher in tow, chased until she eventually caught Ferrier-Bruneau on the final lap. Kupfernagel, however, remained an elusive target.
The German national champion charged through her final lap, constantly looking over her shoulder just to confirm that she had the race in the bag, “something I didn’t believe until I reached the final turn.”
Even with a relaxed celebratory ride up the finishing stretch, Kupfernagel still managed a 13-second win over Vos and 17 over Leboucher.
Now, with her attention again turned to Beijing, Kupfernagel said she might be interested in racing on an Olympic mountain bike course that many have described as being quite similar to a ‘cross race.
“We’re flying out to look at the course next week,” she said. “If what they say is true, I may try to qualify for the mountain bike as well.”
American Katie Compton, silver medalist at last year’s world’s, became the first DNF of the race on Sunday, pulling out on the first lap. Compton has been suffering from a recurring muscle ailment that has kept her off her bike for the past two weeks and has left her with a noticeable limp at times.
Before the race on Sunday, Compton said she planned “to start and then see how I feel, but right now, I’m not too sure.”
Results – World Cyclocross Championship
Treviso Italy, January 27, 2008
1. Hanka Kupfernagel (Germany), at 0:45:15
2. Marianne Vos (Netherlands), at 0:13
3. Laurence Leboucher (France), at 0:17
4. Christel Ferrier-Bruneau (France), at 0:26
5. Maryline Salvetat (France), at 0:52
6. Mirja Melchers-Van Poppel (Netherlands), at 0:58
7. Wendy Simms (Canada), at 1:04
8. Daphny Van Den Brand (Netherlands), at 1:09
9. Rachel Lloyd (USA), at 1:23
10. Caroline Mani (France), at 1:42
11. Saskia Elemans (Netherlands), at 1:45
12. Reza Hormes-Ravenstijn (Netherlands), at 2:12
13. Stephanie Pohl (Germany), at 2:14
14. Nadia Triquet-Claude (France), at 2:18
15. Sanne Van Paassen (Netherlands), at 2:24
16. Pavla Havlikova (Czech Republic), at 2:39
17. Susanne Juranek (Germany), at 2:54
18. Helen Wyman (Great Britain), at 2:58
19. Vania Rossi (Italy), at 3:18
20. Kerry Barnholt (USA), at 3:18
21. Amy Dombroski (USA), at 3:44
22. Susan Butler (USA), at 3:53
23. Elke Riedl (Austria), at 4:44
24. Sanne Cant (Belgium), at 4:54
25. Francesca Cucciniello (Italy), at 5:01
26. Daniela Bresciani (Italy), at 5:02
27. Loes Sels (Belgium), at 5:10
28. Milena Cavani (Italy), at 5:15
29. Veerle Ingels (Belgium), at 5:50
30. Kelly Jones (Canada), at 6:07
31. Mika Ogishima (Japan), at 6:19
32. Gabriella Day (Great Britain), at 6:40
33. Lise Müller (Switzerland), at 7:18
34. Masumi Sakai (Japan), at 8:05
35. Veronica Alessio (Italy), at 8:21
36. Ayako Toyooka (Japan), at 9:56
DNF Birgit Hollmann (Germany)
DNF Katherine Compton (USA)