The Cyclo-cross World Championships have been a source of pain for Sanne Cant in recent years. The Belgian has been one of the most prominent performers for the past four years but hadn't been able to transform that into the much-desired rainbow jersey.
In 2015, she was edged out by Pauline Ferrand Prevot to the title, leading her to complain about, what she called part-timers, road riders who competed little during the rest of the cyclo-cross season. Last year, she found herself outgunned by Thalita de Jong, despite a commanding season that saw her take the World Cup title.
Pain turned to joy this weekend when she played her cards perfectly, helped by a little bit of luck and a breath-stopping move on the final lap, and beat seven-time world champion Marianne Vos to don the rainbow jersey for the first time. The win had been a long time coming and beating Vos to take it gave it a little more meaning for Cant.
"This jersey is mine for a whole year," Cant said following her victory. "I have dreamed of it since I was six years old. This is the first Belgian world title for the women, here I have written history. And then, I even grab the title by beating Marianne Vos, a seven-time world champion and a legend. It means a lot to me it gives my jersey shine… I'm happy that Marianne on the start, otherwise people would have again said that I could only win because she was not there."
Throughout her career, Cant has won the Belgian national title eight times, two European titles, two World Cup series victories and six World Cup race victories. Cant's world championship victory has led to comparisons to her compatriot Sven Nys in the Belgian media. Nys retired at the end of last season, with four World Cup series victories and nine national titles, as well as a whole load of other successes.
Nys also won two World titles but, like Cant, had to endure a few near misses before he could put on the rainbow jersey for the first time. Cant accepted the comparison but says she hopes to have a little more time in the world champion's jersey than Nys.
"I understand that people make the comparison with Sven Nys, who also won a lot of races, but had to wait long for his first world title," she said, according to Het Nieuwsblad. "But I hope to be world champion more than twice. In recent years it was frustrating for me to win a lot, only to fall short in the World Championships. I have tried to live with it. And now I can finally prove that you can ride a lot of cross races throughout the season and still be world champion. I cannot always believe it. I'm going to sleep in the rainbow jersey."
Cant's victory was not so easily won after she was distanced by Vos in the closing laps of the race after making a small error, which led to her foot hitting the mud. A mechanical problem for the Dutch rider put Cant back in contention, but Vos wasn't out of it by any means. The two were stuck to each other like glue and Cant realised that she would have to try something imaginative in order to get one over on Vos.
"The last lap was very hard, I still cannot believe I won," she explained. "I knew I was slightly better on the climb just before the finish, but I wasn't able to pull away. We were both able to go deep, and at the barriers I was so nervous that I almost jumped on my bike. At two hundred meters from the finish, I had to overtake in a place where she might not expect. That was the right move, and so I was able to surprise her."