Country comes first in the race for the rainbow bands
A special bond between Dutch compatriots Marianne Vos and Daphny Van den Brand may prove to be the deciding factor in the upcoming Cyclo-cross World Championships women's race.
The battle for the rainbow bands is expected to be fought between three racers, American Katie Compton (Planet Bike) and two riders from The Netherlands, Daphny Van den Brand (ZZPR.nl-DESTIL-Merida) and current World Champion Marianne Vos (Nederland Bloeit).
Ranked second and third behind Compton in both UCI and World Cup overall, the odds fall in favor of the Dutch riders due to an extraordinary bond between Van den Brand and Vos - one rarely seen at top level 'cross competition.
Teamwork is rare in cyclo-cross, with the exception of the world-dominant Belgian men who last year joined forces to triumph over The Netherlands' Lars Boom. Yet that coalition was only achieved after the crushing defeat to Boom caused by the Belgians' internal strife.
Van den Brand and Vos have repeatedly put their country loyalties, but more importantly their respect for and friendship with one another above their own personal designs in World Cups and World Championships.
The bond was most recently exemplified by their teamwork in Kalmthout and Koksijde World Cups, where they worked together to hold off Compton. "Marianne and I understand each other - in the race, before the race and after the race. When we look at each other we know what to do or what not to do. And if we don't understand each other then we talk in the race," Van den Brand told Cyclingnews.
"We also respect each other. When she is the best she can win. I have peace with that. And we're good friends. We can laugh with each other. It's fun."
The plan for this year's World Championships is like every year for the dynamic duo. Vos said, "Just try to get in front at the start. And don't chase each other – only the other countries. Try to help each other if there's one in need. We always stick to the plan."
Van den Brand confirmed Vos' sentiments, adding, "It's important for us that a Dutch girl wins. But if we are in a position to fight each other for the win, then we do it!"
Supplementing their one-two punch is countrymate, and trade teammate of Van den Brand, Sanne Van Paassen who is ranked 4th, just behind the two, in both UCI and World Cup. While she may not be strong enough to do some damage in the front, she offers to not work against her countrymates, instead gain her advantage from them. "For example, if Marianne is gone and I am with Hanka [Kupfernagel and Christel [Ferrier-Bruneau], I won't ride to Marianne because they have to do it - and I save my energy," explained Van Paassen.
Regarding trade team loyalties between Van Paassen and Van den Brand, Vos said, "That doesn't affect the relationship between me and Daphny or me and Sanne. It's not a point."
As for each rider's individual ambitions for World Championships, all three acknowledge that the course conditions may determine the race outcome as it is expected to be icy with snow, basically a repeat of the Dutch National Championships last weekend where Van den Brand took home her eleventh jersey.
Vos surmised, "It's going to be a bit of a lottery because of crashes. It's good we already had races in the snow so we are more prepared." If the weather permits, expect to see the Dutch women once again attempting to tag-team their way to the top.
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