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Marianne Vos (Jumbo-Visma) staked her claim to a record eighth rainbow jersey at next weekend’s worlds with a calculated performance in the final round of the UCI cyclocross World Cup.
The race was dominated by an elite group of five riders who played out a tactical battle on the famous Hoogerheide course. Lucinda Brand (Trek Baloise Lions), expected to be the other main contender for the world championships, outsprinted U23 World Cup winner Puck Pieterse (Alpecin-Fenix) for second place.
After both Brand and Betsema skipped last week’s World Cup in Flamanville, the overall victory was already secure for Brand. The final rankings stand at 432 points for Brand, 361 for Betsema with Pieterse in third on 350 points. Pieterse also wins the U23 category.
The town of Hoogerheide has deep connections to elite cyclo-cross. Lying just over the border, 10 km north of Antwerp, the venue has hosted a World Cup since 2003 (2002 for the men). It has hosted the world championships twice, with another edition planned for 2023.
Regardless of its UCI status the race is actually named the GP Adrie van der Poel, in honor of its organizer, and Hoogerheide’s most famous Dad. It has been a happy hunting ground for Marianne Vos: she has won four World Cups and two World Championships here.
59 riders from 13 nations took the start. The only notable absentees were Clara Honsinger (Cannondale Cyclocrossworld) and Maghalie Rochette (Feedback Specialized), both already in the United States preparing for Worlds.
Inge van der Heijden (777) has frequently shown her starting speed this season. Today the Dutch rider was again fastest into the early corners, with Vos and Vas in close attendance, though Van der Heijden faded quickly.
Kata Blanka Vas (SD Worx) pushed the pace towards the end of the first lap but failed to break up a sizeable leading group that included Silvia Persico (FAS Airport Services), Brand, Fem van Empel (Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal) and Denise Betsema (Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal).
Resplendent in her new Dutch champion’s jersey, Vos was looking sharp. The first serious attack, however, came from 19-year-old Pieterse. Brand, Vos and Van Empel latched on to her back wheel. A strong quartet formed, composed of the two most fascinating duels in women’s cyclo-cross: Pieterse and Van Empel in the Under-23 category, and Brand and Vos in the elite category.
Midway, a lull in the pace at the front allowed Vas to get up to the leaders. Behind Persico and Shirin van Anrooij were chasing, with Betsema further back in 8th. Betsema looked to be lacking the top-end speed required for this course, though that may be less of a problem for her on the heavy Fayetteville Worlds course.
At the front each of the five riders – except Vos – tried an attack. Brand knew that she couldn’t outsprint Vos or Van Empel. Her best chance lay in going for a long attack so on the penultimate lap she pushed hard on a muddy drag, using her power to stretch the group. Only Vos and Pieterse could stay with her.
Vos had everything under control. Having neutralized Brand, she knew she was going to attack on the same tough climb where Brand had attacked the lap before, and when she did so on the final lap it was decisive.
What a final lap by Marianne Vos! The Dutch national champion leaves her two opponents behind and arrives solo at the finish line! 🇳🇱 Lucinda Brand 🥈, Puck Pieterse 🥉.
📺 Follow the action 👉 https://t.co/pD5EvuDu8X #CXWorldCup pic.twitter.com/2yhDCW2f4m
— UCI Cyclo-cross World Cup (@UCIcyclocrossWC) January 23, 2022
Now the riders will take a day or two to recover before flying out to the United States for the world championships in Fayetteville, Arkansas.
Though Brand was defeated today, the reigning world champion will be feeling confident about her chances against Vos because the course in Fayetteville suits Brand better. In the U23 race we can expect another thrilling duel between friends Pieterse and Van Empel, with Van Anrooij in the mix too.
1 Marianne Vos (Jumbo Visma): 52.14
2 Lucinda Brand (Trek Baloise Lions): +0.10
3 Puck Pieterse (Alpecin Fenix): +0.11
4 Fem van Empel (Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal): +0.18
5 Kata Blanka Vas (SD Worx): +0.21