After an unusually late start to the cyclo-cross season due to illness and injury over the summer, four-time cyclo-cross world champion Hanka Kupfernagel (Itera-Stevens) remains on target for the World Championships at the end of the month. Kupfernagel's second-place performance at the World Cup Circuit's penultimate round in Roubaix, France was solid proof to all the naysayers who have written her off earlier in the season.
"In Tour de PEI [Canadian stage race - June] I had one of my worst crashes. For a long time afterwards I had pain in my neck and head so I took some time off from racing for physiotherapy so I could fully recover," Kupfernagel told Cyclingnews.
In addition to her injuries sustained over the summer, she has had to deal with the flu and a breakup with her longtime life partner and trainer Mike Kluge who has played a major role in her cycling career for many years. "He is still supportive and comes with me to a few races. He is coming to the World Championships," said Kupfernagel.
While most of her competitors started their international-level racing October 4 at the opening round of UCI Cyclo-cross World Cup in Treviso, Italy, Kupfernagel didn't get going until a full month later. Her first competition was the second World Cup held in Nommay, France where she finished sixth. If it weren't for an untimely flat tire and her last-row call up she may have placed higher.
In the following three World Cups, she finished fourth. Usually a racer's first events back are not so successful, but Kupfernagel was adamant about returning to competition fully fit.
As the World Championships approach, Kupfernagel's thoughts are positive. "I am looking forward to it. I believe I will do my best there."
Based on her palmares of 31 national titles, nine of which were won in cyclo-cross, she has proven that she knows exactly how to prepare for the big events.
The names she considers possible companions on the podium are Netherlanders Sanne Van Paassen (ZZPR.nl-DESTIL-Merida), national champion Daphny Van den Brand (ZZPR.nl-DESTIL-Merida), and current world champion Marianne Vos (Nederland Bloeit), Czech Republic champion Katerina Nash (Luna), US champion Katie Compton (Planet Bike) and Belgian champion Sanne Cant (BKCP-Powerplus), with whom Kupfernagel is very impressed by the 19-year-old's near misses on the podium in the last few races.
When Cyclingnews asked Kupfernagel what she thought about her competitors such as Vos, Van den Brand and Van Paassen naming her as a possible winner, she mused, "Anything is possible in cyclo-cross. And if I won, it would be one of my greatest days."