By Steve Medcroft
Zeddam turned out to be a kind venue in which to hold the 2006 Cyclocross World Championships. The skies stayed clear and dry all weekend but the temperature never stayed above freezing so the race was run on a dry, clean course with a super-firm, super fast surface.
Which was a set-up for favourites to be favourites and meant that riders like Sven Nys (Bel) and Daphny Van Den Brand (Ned), who have essentially dominated the elite versions of the sport this season, should have powered their way to the top steps of the podium.
But cruel fate decided to lend a hand in the outcome and although we saw strong, fast racing, the favourite were serendipitously bumped off their high horses with the most minor of uncontrollable accidents; a flat tire for Van Den Brand and a nasty spill Nys.
When fate handed them an opportunity, Marianne Vos (Ned) and Erwin Vervecken (Bel) took advantage. In the women's race, Vos had been shadowing leaders Hanka Kupfernagel (Ger) and team-mate Van Den Brand the entire race. Kupfernagel threw on the gas when Van Den Brand flatted, knocking the World Cup leader out of contention and leaving only Vos on her wheel. "I knew Marianne wouldn't take the lead, though " Kupfernagel said after the race about the fact that Vos, with no incentive to work at the front while there was still a chance her team-mate could catch back on, rode in Kupfernagel's slipstream the entire last lap, "but I figured it would be better to have to fight only one Dutch woman and not two."
Vos, who is (unbelievably) only eighteen years old, waited for the final straight to make her move. "When I looked at the U23 race (held the day before and won in the final straight by Zdnek Stybar (Czech Republic) with a slim margin over Lars Boom (Ned), I knew that even ten meters was a sure loss so I had to be as close as possible out of the last turn."
Vos timed her come-around perfectly and added an elite cyclocross world championship to her 2004 junior road world championship, 2005 European cyclocross championship, Dutch elite cyclocross, and Dutch junior road and mountain bike championships. Before that, she won the junior road World Championship.
In the men's race, a compact lead group had struggled to form all day but when it did it contained only four riders; Nys, Vervecken, Bart Wellens (Bel) and Francis Mourey (Fra). When Nys crashed, he was sitting fourth behind Mourey. Vervecken, on the front at the time, managed to build a small gap and won fifty meters ahead of Wellens (who outsprinted Mourey for second). Nys never finished.
The win was Vervecken's second World Championship; he earned the first in 2001. "With a half lap to go," he said after the race, "I knew I could win. In the last corners, everything was like a dream. This world title was far more emotional than my first one in Tabor."