By Neil Browne
Photos & captions by: Colin Meagher
LOUISVILLE, KY. — In the first-ever Cyclocross World Championship held on U.S. soil, both elite races were hard-fought affairs, combated in ever-changing weather conditions. Ultimately, the end of the day saw Sven Nys (Belgium) take home his second Worlds title, while the women's race, witnessed favorite Marianne Vos (Netherlands) take a commanding win over Katie Compton (USA) and Lucie Chainel-Lefevre (France).
In the men's race, the Belgians showed again why they are the country that sets the bar in cyclocross. The Belgian tandem of Sven Nys and Klaas Vantornout tore away from the field with Nys separating himself from his teammate on the last lap to take the win and Vantornout nipping at his heels for second. The final spot on the podium was a back-and-forth between Lars Van Der Haar (Netherlands) and Bart Wellens (Belgium), with the Dutch rider taking third.
In the women's race, the first lap proved to be quite decisive. A crash ruined the chances of several favorites. Among those were Americans Georgia Gould and Meredith Miller, who both got tangled up in a crash and lost several places in the field. With Vos at the front and accelerating away, their chances at a podium were gone. After the first lap she simply shifted into a gear no one else in the field had.
While Vos' win was all but assured, the interesting battle was for the lower placings. Moving up through the field was Compton. This year's World Cup overall winner caught the group that was in pursuit of Vos. However, the time gap was well over a minute between Vos and the chasers—barring a major mechanical she would be adding a rainbow jersey to her collection.
A dropped chain put Katie Compton back a number of places right out of the gate. “I have no idea what happened. Everything on that bike was fine all week. Shoot, everything on all my bikes was fine this week. Sometimes stuff like this just happens.” —Katie Compton.
With a minute-and-34-second gap on the rest of the field Vos cruised to the win. Compton separated herself from the chase group for second and Chainel-Lefevre was third. Katerina Nash (Czech Republic) was in contention for a medal but a dropped chain ruined her chances. However, she was able to hold on for fourth.
The battle for the men' elite race was a bit more hotly contested than the women's. A known "mudder", France's Francis Mourey took the lead in the opening laps as the conditions had changed from cold and frozen terrain experienced during practice, to sloppy mud.
Close behind Mourey was the blue train of the Belgian team.
"We knew Mourey was a strong rider, but he makes a lot of mistakes," said Nys.
While he was allowed a couple of laps at the front, he was eventually overtaken and spit out the back by Nys, Vantornout, and Kevin Pauwel (Belgium). Class was now in session.
With less than two laps remaining Nys and Vantornout were away and it became apparent that the next world champion would be decided between those two.
Over the barriers on the last lap Nys applied a little more power, gapping his teammate. Vantornout pulled himself back, but only to see Nys hit the gas once again, dropping his teammate for good.
Coming around the final turn for the line Nys sat up to acknowledge the crowd, but Vantornout was still chasing and Nys had to sit back down and continue riding to ensure his victory. Vantornout smacked his bars in frustration—forced to come to terms with second place, Van Der Haar, a first year professional, was ecstatic as he crossed the tape in third.
"I kept calm and I'm very happy to have third on this hard course," said the young Dutch rider.
Nys' emotions, despite the substantial age difference, were nearly as effusive as Van Der Haar's.
"To win here might be more special to win than in my home country. I felt really relaxed and the respect I got from here was really special."
A year ago Nys wasn't sure he would contest another world championships. Now he doesn't regret the chance.
"This [world championship victory] was more beautiful than my first."