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At the second stop of the UCI Cyclocross World Cup, racers were treated with a very rainy and muddy world championships’ course preview.
Power and consistency were key, as were excellent bike-handling skills in the rain and mud. A little bit of luck, helped, too.
Here’s what the stars said after the 2021 UCI Cyclocross World Cup Fayetteville:
Marianne Vos (Jumbo-Visma), 4th at :26
Vos came to Fayetteville as the leader of the 2021-22 World Cup leader on a win at the Waterloo race Sunday. She and the other riders previewed the course in dry conditions on Tuesday, and then raced in torrential rain on Wednesday.
She and current world champion Lucinda Brand separated themselves from the bunch on the fourth of six laps, and the race looked to be a battle between two ‘cross giants.
But Vos slipped and went down on the mud in the final lap. She chased hard after Brand, but the chase effort took its toll, and she ultimately slipped to fourth place.
“I was hoping my shape from the road season would get me somewhere in the cyclocross field, but I would not have imagined being able to race for the win and exactly win. I was pretty surprised but also very happy [with the performance at Waterloo].
“It was really slippery. I made a mistake in the last lap, and from then on I had lost my rhythm a bit. It was unfortunate but, I think it’s just a race. Anything can happen. The mistake was in the long, down hill. I don’t know, but I lost the bike. It’s definitely good to see the course ahead of January. We’ve seen it dry, we’ve seen it wet so that’s good.”
Puck Pieterse (Alpecin-Fenix): 5th, at :28
The U23 European champion rode strongly in the tough conditions. When Vos and Brand went to the front of the race, Pieterse did her best to keep the all-stars in sight, and was at the front of the chasing group in deteriorating and challenging race conditions.
“I think it was such a good race for me. I’ve never been so close to a podium finish before this my best results was 6th last year, and yes, this was just incredible. I was so close. I am really happy about the result. The down hills were super cool, a little bit about mountain biking and so I really liked it.”
Lucinda Brand (Trek-Baloise Lions): 1st and now the World Cup leader
Brand was beaten by compatriot Vos just several days prior to Fayetteville, in soft but not soggy conditions.
Unlike Vos, who took no time between the road and ‘cross seasons, Brand had several weeks to recover from a successful road season, and also to reacquaint herself with her ‘cross bike.
While the world champion did slip on the mud in the second lap, she lost no time and was right with Vos for the entire race — until Vos went down and Brand soloed to the win.
“It was a tough course. I had to get a little bit in my rhythm. Then I was in the front with Marianne, I made a little mistake and had to chase. We went into the final lap and suddenly I was alone. She made a little mistake. Then I was just going all-in until the finish to make sure nobody was coming back. It was definitely a hard race with hard conditions but I really liked it. The course changed to a muddy one. I think I need to bring some water with me in January. I know what to train now.”
Denise Betsema (Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal): 2nd at :09
Betsema was third at Waterloo and second in Fayetteville. Riding aggressively, with just enough caution and skill in the final lap, she dropped a hard-charging U.S. national champion at the end of the final lap.
“I’m happy with this. I really liked the conditions on this course. I never thought I would like it. It became a little bit slippery. Towards the end of the course I was becoming more used to it and I got better and better. I was very happy with the second place. I will hope the conditions in January will be the same.
“For January it’s going to be good, and hopefully the same conditions. I liked it, I never thought I would because its very slippery but it was cool.”
Clara Honsinger (Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com): 3rd at :16
Honsinger improved greatly on her opening World Cup in Wisconsin with a podium in Fayetteville.
As other riders faded in the muddy conditions, Honsinger kept moving up, and even passed Vos on the final lap to land a podium spot.
“Compared to last week, this was really a race about holding steady and pushing through because the conditions were so heavy and fatiguing. I tend to be a very diesel-type rider. I don’t have the snap that Vos or the front end in Waterloo did but when it comes to heavy conditions like that, just steady state, getting people blowing up along the way.
“Last weekend in Waterloo took me a bit by surprise, but it feels really good to nail a podium and just keep checking it up to the top step for Fayetteville. I think it’s a long season. You have to really pace yourself and start a little bit slow making sure you’re going upwards and gaining fitness, building technique and getting ready for the next race coming.”
Quinten Hermans (Tormans Circus Cyclocross), 1st
Hermans put on an excellent display of bike handling skills in lousy conditions.
He was fast off the start, and when others slipped or suffered mechanicals, he did not appear to overextend himself to pad his lead. He rode confidently, and smartly, putting a foot down when necessary to prevent slipping and maintain control.
He went into the final lap with nearly a 45-second margin and held on to win by more than half a minute.
“It had just started to rain, before the women’s race and the [men’s] warm up. It wasn’t as wet as it was now. I lowered my pressure a little bit. Once it was lap one I had already changed bikes to a lower pressure, from then on it didn’t change that much.
“Toon [Aerts] had hit the gas on the second lap, but I felt he struggled with the pace a bit on the top of the climb. I felt I could push through that, so I did the third lap and got a small bonus. There were three riders behind us, and they were always looking a little bit to each other like we did the second lap on the asphalt. When they’re looking at each other a little bit, you know you could get five, six, seven seconds bonus, so I was gambling on that. Of course, you have to have the legs to keep in front but that was good. It was just racing from the gut. I felt that was the time, everyone was a little bit tired and I had to take advantage of this.”
Gage Hecht (Aevolo), 8th at 1:44
The U.S. national champion finished mid-field in Waterloo, Wisconsin in slippery conditions. Racing under driving rain and and deeper mud than the previous week, Hecht battled well behind a field dominated by the Dutch and Belgians to a strong top-10 result.
“I don’t know if I can open my eyes very well right now. [Hecht was mud-covered from the race. —Ed] It was awesome. It’s really power-heavy right now, not a lot of punchy stuff – coming from the road that was awesome. That was a really cool day, I really enjoyed that course! It’s going to be interesting to see how worlds turns out. If it’s dry like it was, it’s going to be really fast like a crit, or if it’s going to be a slog, like a mountain day for a road race. It was really cool.”
Lance Haidet (L39ion of LA): 24th, at 4:19
Haidet is on the top domestic criterium racing squad and is also making a go of it with the fastest ‘cross racers in the world.
“That was insane! Coming from pre-riding the course yesterday where you’re going 30mph everywhere, super fast and dry to just dumping rain all day. When it’s like this, it’s not even that technical, it’s just even on the downhills you’re having to put down power just to keep moving. You could find some lines that were a little faster than others, but for the most part, the entire width of the course was just soggy and slow.
“I maybe did a billion and a half watts. No, honestly my max power was probably not that high, but it was just pedaling the whole time. When it’s like this you have to stay in a bit harder gear to maintain that rear traction. It just thrashes your back, your lower hip area. It was fun when you get past all the suffering. This is the fun part.
“I went the first two laps without pitting, and then once it stopped raining it started getting a little thicker, so I was pitting every lap just to get stuff off the bike. I made a couple of]little tire pressure changes throughout the race, I just kept going lower. My pit crew was on top of it today.
“Assuming January will have similar weather to this, it could be a real hard man’s race. I’m looking forward to it, but I’ve got to get some mud work in first! We’ve been racing in the dry too much. It will be sweet.”
Michael Vanthourenhout (Pauwels Sauzen–Bingoal): 3rd, at :49
Vanthourenhout was in the front of the race from the start, already 20 seconds ahead of the big bunch after just two laps. He, winner Quentin Hermans, and World Cup Waterloo winner Eli Iserbyt drove the pace, never easing up, even on fast and technical descents in the mud.
While he suffered a mechanical issue on lap five, a quick pit kept him in contention for a podium until he again had mechanical difficulties on the penultimate lap. He was able to fix his bike mid-course, and ride side-by-side with Iserbyt until the smaller rider pulled away on the big climb.
“I’m happy with third place. It was very, very hard. I think maybe one of the hardest races in the season, for sure with the rain. At the end, I was almost walking, so I’m happy. Every lap the course changed, so it was difficult to change the tires a little bit in the race.
“Every lap it was playing with the tires, so it was good. For me, it’s a good course with the elevation. I hope January we have the same conditions with the rain.”