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Cyclocross

Annemarie Worst back on top at World Cup Koksijde

Dutch rider goes solo in the sand dunes to seal her first win of the season, Lucinda Brand retains World Cup lead.

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Annemarie Worst (Team 777) has been building her form steadily through the season so far, and today she secured the top step of the podium with a classy display in the sand of Koksijde.

Worst beat Denise Betsema (Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal) and Lucinda Brand (Trek Baloise Lions). Brand had gone into today’s race with a 19-point World Cup lead over Betsema. This has now reduced to 14 points.

Worst was emotional at taking her first win in more than a year.

“I’m definitely happy,” she said. “It’s been over a year since I won. I also lost confidence and it didn’t go well at the start of the season, but I didn’t know what it was [referencing her previous back problems – ed].”

“This win definitely gives confidence. It would be nice to get a few more, but I’m certainly happy.”

48 riders sprinted away from the line Sunday lunchtime. The starting straight was along a runway of the Koksijde military base, and Fem van Empel (Pauwels Sauzen Bingoal) led the group into the first corner ahead of Puck Pieterse (Alpecin-Fenix).

Brand, Betsema and Clara Honsinger (Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld) all got hustled out of position in the first three hundred meters. Shirin Van Anrooij (Trek Baloise Lions) took an early lead but faltered in the sand dunes and a group of seven formed around her, including Worst, Betsema, Brand, Van Empel, Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado (Alpecin-Fenix) and U23 World Cup leader Pieterse.

Koksijde is a brutal and unique race; the sand sections are long and deep, with several climbs every lap, which means lots of running. There isn’t much of a decision to make about tires. File treads are the default choice for a sand race, partly because their low-profile tread doesn’t catch on the sides of ruts. Some teams were running pressures as low as 12 psi (0.8 bar).

In the sand, traction and carrying momentum are critical. When a rider hits a section of deep sand, she needs to carefully judge when to dismount. Coming to a dead stop can lose a rider time very quickly. Another important skill is being able to follow a rut because ruts have compacted sand which is easier to ride.

Of the current crop of cyclocross stars, Betsema is perhaps the most skilled at riding in sand. She lives on the island of Texel, north of Amsterdam and facing out into the North Sea. The island has many kilometers of unspoiled beaches and sand dunes. Betsema won at Koksijde in 2018.

Today however, Betsema couldn’t live with the pace of Worst.

The pair went clear on the second of five laps and for ten minutes it seemed that Betsema might break her compatriot with the pressure she was applying. Worst responded every time, and when she accelerated at the start of the fourth lap, it was the decisive move.

Behind them, Brand was chasing courageously, just ahead of team-mate Van Anrooij. Further back were the Alpecin-Fenix pair of Pieterse and Alvarado.

World champ Lucinda Brand finished third and retained her lead in the World Cup standings.

Worst maintained her fluid style through the dunes, extending her lead to 17 seconds by the finish. Dutch riders filled the first nine places, reinforcing their dominance of the sport.

Tenth spot was taken by Honsinger, ahead of Italian veteran Eva Lechner.

Betsema was philosophical afterward.

“It was a really hard race. Annemarie was very strong today, I’m satisfied,” she said. “The general classification is a goal and there are a lot of races left so I hope I can still go for a win.”

Next week the riders at the top of the World Cup rankings will again have to make a travel decision.

Race at the X20 Trofee Urban Cross in Kortijk, then travel overnight to the World Cup in Besancon, France, or skip Saturday’s race? As the World Cup expands geographically over future years, such dilemmas are going to be increasingly important.

UCI World Cup Koksijde lite women top 5

1. Annemarie Worst (Team 777): 46.31
2. Denise Betsema (Pauwels Sauzen Bingoal): +:17
3. Lucinda Brand (Trek Baloise Lions): +:37
4. Shirin van Anrooij (Trek Baloise Lions): +:49
5. Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado (Alpecin Fenix): +1:10