Superprestige NoordzeeCross Middelkerke (15.02)
Belgium is right at the very centre of the cyclo cross world and the two big series-long competitions Bpost Bank Trofee and Superprestige attract huge crowds. For the male riders they’re almost as important as the World Cup, so they draw an impressive selection of international athletes.
In the case of the Trofee this also holds true for the female riders, because the series has done great things to promote women’s cycling; the same is not true of Superprestige, where the women’s race is somewhere at the bottom of the bill and series president Etienne Gevaert makes comments that reveal he has little interest in doing anything at all for women’s cycling, and as a result it’s common that the top riders don’t bother to show up.
Nevertheless, NoordzeeCross Middlekerke is the final fixture in the series, so it benefited from a decent start list that included British and European Champion Helen Wyman who took first place, finishing 37″ ahead of Belgian Champion Sanne Cant – after a tough battle not just between the riders, but also against the powerful winds that ripped up the parcours: “It was mad!” Margriet Kloppenburg, who was eighth, told Neutral Service.
Wyman and Cant wasted no time in putting a gap between themselves as soon as the race got under way, then set about finding out who was strongest. It was the British rider who showed the first signs of supremacy, leaving her rival behind for a while before the Belgian found what she needed to catch up and take the lead. Wyman’s skills on the sand are widely respected, but Cant can hold her own on those sections too; well aware of this, Wyman spent some time on Cant’s wheel, conserving energy so she’d be in a better position later on to fight the wind – and when she saw Cant make a few mistakes around the Middelkerke parcours’ series of tricky corners, she pounced and was back in pole position by the end of the first lap.
Cant doesn’t make a lot of mistakes, so Wyman will have known that it was time to start putting her under pressure and drove the pace higher; before long it was obvious that she was without equal today and her advantage increased continually throughout the remainder of the race and won by 37″.
Jolien Verschueren has really impressed this season, despite fitting her racing around her profession as a teacher. At the last round of Superprestige, taking place at Hoogstraten last week, she was third behind Cant when Nikki Harris won; she repeated that success with another third place today, completing the parcours 17″ behind Cant.
1 Helen Wyman (Kona) 37’10”
2 Sanne Cant (Enertherm-Bkcp) +37″
3 Jolien Verschueren (Dncs / 2012 Pro Cycling Team) +54″
4 Pavla Havlikova (Young Telenet-Fidea) +1’19”
5 Loes Sels (Young Telenet-Fidea) +1’56”
6 Ellen Van Loy (Young Telenet-Fidea) _2’01”
7 Asa Erlandsson +3’38”
8 Margriet Kloppenburg (Endura Lady Force) +4’05”
9 Cindy Bauwens +4’38”
10 Shana Maes +6’11”
11 Katrien Thijs (UP) +6’38”
12 Stephanie De Croock (Topsport Vlaanderen-Bioracer) +6’58”
13 Lindy Van Anrooij (Zrtc Theo Middelkamp) +7’00”
14 Christine Vardaros (Baboco-Revor) +8’38”
15 Suzanne Verhoeven +8’57”
16 Ilse Vandekinderen +1 lap
17 Meg De Bruyne ST
18 Aurélie Vermeir ST
19 Katleen Fraeye ST
20 Jo Blanchaert ST
21 Jana Dobbelaere +2 laps
22 Mieke Docx ST
23 Cindy Diericx ST
Boels Classic Internationale Cyclo Cross Heerlen (16.02)
Unlike some race organisers (see below), Stichting Cyclo Cross Heerlen – organisers of the Boel Cyclo Cross Heerlen – know a thing or two about how a women’s ‘cross race ought to be run. They know that the world’s top female riders are highly professional athletes and that the public want to see them, so the women’s race is given a prominent billing and is scheduled for right before the Elite Men’s race. Unlike some sponsors, Boels know that women’s cycling is growing fast and is about to become huge – so they’ve got in early with serious financial committment where more conservative companies are afraid to go – and they’ll reap the rewards as a result.
The combination of keen, believing organiser and an enthusiastic sponsor willing to put its hands in its pockets (bad sausages in a boggy field? Heerlen has professional commentators and giant outdoor screens showing the action from around the parcours – though it’ll no doubt be possible for those who enjoy such things to locate a stall selling the sausages, too) is a sure-fire winner: Heerlen, unlike those other races mentioned previously, always attracts the best riders in the world, and they use some of the money to create one of the most challenging, interesting and fun circuits in cyclo cross. It’s not rocket science: enthusiasm and conviction creates a good race which attracts fans and riders, which will in turn attract sponsorship and lead to an even better race.
Very muddy conditions made things difficult for all the riders, but right now there are five women who have the ability to perform so well in tough races that they outclass the rest of the field – those women are Marianne Vos, Katie Compton, Helen Wyman, Nikki Harris and Sanne Cant. Vos and Compton were not in attendance; British and European Champion Wyman, ex-British Champion Harris and Belgian Champion Cant were and few doubted even as the race began that they’d share the podium between them, especially when the dropped the pack right from the start.
Wyman and Cant were racing at Middelkerke 24 hours earlier, while Harris came to the race with fresh legs; however, the two British riders had put a gap between themselves and the Belgian long before the first lap was over. With plenty of racing still to go, they slackened off the pace a bit and Cant caught them, then they gave it some gas and lost her again. One final time they slowed and one final time Cant caught them, then they accelerated once more and Cant was never really in the running for second place again after that.
Although she hadn’t raced yesterday Harris was never quite able to match Wyman’s strength and, as crucially, her technical skill – on this sort of muddy parcours, Wyman truly is without rival and seems to have an ability to see right through the mud to find the lines with a firmer layer beneath, an ability that both allows her to be faster and to expend less energy. As a result, when the race came to the final sprint to the line, she was able to out-power Harris and took another victory in what has been a splendid season.
1 Helen Wyman (Kona)
2 Nikki Harris (Young Telenet-Fidea)
3 Sanne Cant (Enertherm-Bkcp)
4 Ellen Van Loy (Young Telenet-Fidea)
5 Pavla Havlikova (Young Telenet-Fidea)
6 Loes Sels (Young Telenet-Fidea)
7 Yara Kastelijn (Rtc Buitenlust)
8 Margriet Kloppenburg (Endura Lady Force)
9 Asa Maria Erlandsson (Varbergs Mtb / Cube)
10 Reza Ravenstijn-Hormes
11 Esmee Oosterman (WRV De Peddelaars)
12 Inge Van Der Heijden
13 Ilona Meter (Rcp Steven
14 Lotte Eikelenboom (Drc De Mol)
15 Manon Bakker
16 Linda Ter Beek
17 Suzie Godart
18 Milou Meeuse
19 Maaike de Heij
20 Meg De Bruyne
21 Laura Krans
22 Lorena Wiebes
23 Lorena Peterman
24 Jessika Timmermans