World 'Cross Champs - more to come...
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Vos smashes World 'Cross Champs; Brit Helen Wyman wins bronze
Outside Belgium cyclo cross has never had a profile anything like that enjoyed by its sibling road racing, but once a year the entire cycling world stocks up on the Leffe and prepares for dose of good, filthy fun as the riders get down and dirty and fight it out for the biggest prize in 'cross - the World Championships.
In recent years, Marianne Vos' domination of the sport has been so great that bookies probably kept a drawerful of pre-printed betting slips with her name inserted where there'd usually be a blank space - your chances of getting any cash back had you have bet on anyone else was about as likely as your chances of getting it back if you'd dropped your wallet in the Hoogerheide mud. For the last couple of seasons, however, it's been increasingly apparent that rather than "killing the sport" - as some people, presumably ones who've never heard of Eddy Merckx, who was the last rider that can be compared the Dutch superstar, claimed would happen - the Vos phenomenon has had an enormously positive effect: just as the British rider Helen Wyman said would happen, the rest of the field has had to work hard to improve so as to be in with a chance, and women's cyclo cross has become a very great deal more competitive and fascinating as a result. This year, that process has really come to a head - Vos has been World 'Cross Champion seven times, donning the rainbow jersey in all but two of the years since 2006 but for the first time in a long time a large percentage of fans were tipping other riders for victory, with the USA's Katie Compton and Wyman both being named likely victors.
As was the case at the final round of the World Cup at Nommay in France last week, the widely predicted and much-anticipated battle between Vos and Compton never happened - right at the start of the race the American collided with three-time Czech champion Pavla Havlikova and both riders had difficulty untangled their bikes, losing a lot of time. Compton, though, is a very strong rider indeed; she was still in with a good chance of catching up and Vos would only have had to make a tiny mistake for her rival to take control. The thing is, though, Vos doesn't make many mistakes, and later in the race Compton's asthma, which forced her to abandon at Nommay, started to play her up once again. It seems highly likely that, sooner or later, Compton will take the rainbow jersey, but it wasn't to be this year and in the end she took ninth place.
Vos' technique is well-known: she simply finds her pace and then keeps going, and if anyone can stay with her for the duration then they might (and it's a very big might) be able to match her legendary surge of power to the line. In this race she set her pace early, suddenly accelerating hard halfway through the first lap to a speed that suited her. Italian Eva Lechner went with her and looked strong, but the speeds that suit Vos are virtually unhuman and she fell behind by the end of the lap. From that point on, it was virtually beyond doubt that Vos would take another title and there will be those who say that deciding the outcome so early makes for a boring race. However, there is joy to be had in watching an artisan skilled in his or her craft, and Vos is as expert at the technique of cycling as she is as generating vast wattages - time and time again she picked her lines and executed them to absolute perfection, hardly ever putting a tyre more than a centimetre away from where it needed to be to maintain momentum despite the slippery conditions and taking the corners so quickly that the mud hardly had time to stick to her socks, which looked almost as clean when she finished the race after 39'25" as when she started. She is a truly remarkable athlete and entirely deserves every victory she takes, even if her main rival has been taken out.
Lechner, who had now given up on catching Vos and was concentrating on staying as far ahead of the rest as she possibly could; she worked stupendously hard and her second place finish 1'07" behind Vos was impressive. Meanwhile, there was a full-scale melee going on further back down the parcours for the silver and bronze booty: Wyman, who leads many races for a good part of the initial lap due to her lightning-bolt starts, was third for a long time but Compton, still in at this point, and Belgian superstar Sanne Cant were tracking her every move. Had Compton not have experienced difficulties she's almost certainly have finished top three, perhaps even ahead of Lechner; as it was, Wyman ended up only having to deal with Cant who, for a while, managed to get ahead and looked very much like the probable third. Wyman's fast reactions serve for more than just fast starts, though, and Cant only needed to make the slightest misjudgement during the final lap for Helen to leap past her and grab the third place on the podium 1'17" behind Vos.
Of the other members of Wyman's British team, Nikki Harris was the next-fastest in fifth place, while Gabby Durrin was 26th and Hannah Payton 35th.
We hope to photographs of the race as soon as possible.
2014 World Cyclo Cross Championships Top Ten
1 Marianne VOS (Netherlands) 39'25"
2 Eva LECHNER (Italy) 40'32"
3 Helen WYMAN (Great Britain) 40'42"
4 Sanne CANT (Belgium) 40'45"
5 Nikki HARRIS (Great Britain) 41'58"
6 Lucie CHAINEL-LEFEVRE (France) 42'09"
7 Loes SELS (Belgium) 42'12"
8 Thalita DE JONG (Netherlands) 42'17"
9 Katie COMPTON (USA) 42'23"
10 Caroline MANI (France) 42'24"