Despite a poor start 22-year-old Thalita de Jong (Netherlands) bounced back and captured the world title in the women’s category on Saturday afternoon. De Jong won ahead of Caroline Mani (France) and pre-race favourite Sanne Cant (Belgium).
“After [messing up] my start I thought to myself ‘OK, this was it. Just try to make a nice race from it and get a decent result’,” De Jong said. That decent result was the first place at the 2016 UCI Cyclo-cross World championships in Heusden-Zolder, Belgium.
De Jong follows in the footstep of Pauline Ferrand-Prévot, who won the Tábor 2015 Cyclo-cross World Championship. The six editions before Tábor were won by De Jong’s compatriot Marianne Vos. Vos is also the Rabo Liv teammate of De Jong. She opted to skip the cyclo-cross season in order to recover fully from earlier injuries.
In contrast to the previous two races on Saturday, the weather briefly improved ahead of the start of the women’s race. Ellen Van Loy (Belgium) stated before the race that she was ill but still she was able to take the best start and lead out the 42 other riders into the first muddy stretches around the former F1 car racing track. Van Loy was marked by Helen Wyman (Kona Factory Team), Cant, Sophie de Boer (Netherlands), Sabrina Stultiens (Netherlands), Nikki Harris (Great-Britain), Katie Compton (USA) and Kaitlin Antonneau (USA).
In one of the first corners US-champion Compton slipped away, causing her to lose a lot of positions. A few spots further back De Jong was struggling too. She lost about five spots when she got stuck into the car racing circuit gravel trap. A few moments later the future winner lost even more time, briefly riding outside the top-20. During the second half of the course De Jong made up ground. When hitting the second lap she went full speed on the long asphalted finishing straight in eleventh position at 21 seconds from the leaders, flying by compatriot Sanne van Paassen (Netherlands), who was riding her last World Championship race. At that time those leaders were Cant, De Boer, Harris and Mani.
“Once again I [messed up] my start dearly despite a second-row start position. I wasn’t able to keep up or something and suddenly it got quite a bit smaller. Then I started a long chasing race which is quite often what I have to do,” De Jong told Sporza shortly after her big win.
From there a powerful De Jong started getting out of traffic and gaining speed. During the second lap she equalled the speed of the leaders and during the third lap she closed the gap on them. A thrilling final lap was about to come up.
“I heard people screaming that I was among the fastest riders on course but you still have to move up. It went so well that I bridged up with the leaders before the final lap I was able to take over the command at the hardest part of the course and noticed that Cant was slightly gapped. I accelerated, standing on the pedals and she was dropped,” De Jong said. De Jong took the lead and crushed Cant, Mani, Harris and De Boer with the only women’s sub-10-minute lap of the day (9:49).
Halfway the race it seemed impossible that anybody else than Cant, Mani, Harris or De Boer would take the victory. Maybe Sabrina Stultiens (Netherlands) or Eva Lechner (Italy) but they failed to close the final metres on the lead group. In that group almost every rider had a go, trying to break free. During the second lap Mani managed to get a small gap. During the third lap Harris briefly got away.
“I tried to go. I made some stupid mistakes and the group came back to me. I tried to save some energy. I made too many mistakes. That’s racing. Thalita? She obviously came from the back. She was obviously the strongest today,” Harris told Sporza.
The five leaders hit the final lap and for the first time in the race Cant took the lead. She’s got a fast sprint but apparently she felt the need to try something else. De Jong was glued on her wheel while the others were struggling to keep up.
After winning the World Cup, the European and Belgian championships, topping all the cyclo-cross series, Cant wasn’t expecting to lose control at the World championships. She explained to Sporza what happened.
“I wasn’t going flat out but then Thalita took over. At the point where we had to run I realized it was over,” Cant said. “I’m less disappointed than last year. Thalita was simply stronger.”
De Jong hit the running section with a gap of eight seconds and with powerful steps she quickly clearly increased that lead. “To me, there had been too much rain, which made every part of the course slippery making it impossible to ride that climb where I wanted to make the difference. It’s a pity because you work for it a whole year long,” Cant said.
While De Jong was blasting to an unexpected victory Cant was caught back by Mani, with De Boer also closing in on a medal. Mani ran faster than a defeated Cant and grabbed a well-deserved silver medal. On the finishing straight De Boer came up fast but Cant reacted quick enough to avoid losing bronze.
Harris rolled across the line in fifth place, just ahead of Stultiens and Lechner. Kaitlin Antonneau was eigth, well ahead of Christine Majerus and Sanne van Paassen. High-profile riders failed to crack the top-10, with Wyman, Pavla Havlikova (Czech Republic) and Compton being the next to finish at nearly two minutes from winner De Jong.
|#||Rider Name (Country) Team||Result|
|1||Thalita De Jong (Netherlands)||0:41:03|
|2||Caroline Mani (France)||0:00:14|
|3||Sanne Cant (Belgium)||0:00:24|
|4||Sophie De Boer (Netherlands)|
|5||Nikki Harris (Great Britain)||0:00:32|
|6||Sabrina Stultiens (Netherlands)||0:00:36|
|7||Eva Lechner (Italy)||0:00:46|
|8||Kaitlin Antonneau (United States Of America)||0:01:12|
|9||Christine Majerus (Luxembourg)||0:01:25|
|10||Sanne Van Paassen (Netherlands)||0:01:44|
|11||Helen Wyman (Great Britain)||0:01:51|
|12||Pavla Havlikova (Czech Republic)||0:01:55|
|13||Katherine Compton (United States Of America)||0:01:57|
|14||Elle Anderson (United States Of America)||0:02:03|
|15||Elisabeth Brandau (Germany)||0:02:15|
|16||Mical Dyck (Canada)||0:02:30|
|17||Aida Nuno Palacio (Spain)||0:02:32|
|18||Ellen Van Loy (Belgium)||0:02:53|
|19||Jolien Verschueren (Belgium)||0:03:01|
|20||Loes Sels (Belgium)||0:03:07|
|21||Lucia Gonzalez Blanco (Spain)||0:03:11|
|22||Joyce Vanderbeken (Belgium)||0:03:23|
|23||Meredith Miller (United States Of America)||0:03:25|
|24||Amanda Miller (United States Of America)||0:03:28|
|25||Olga Wasiuk (Poland)||0:03:40|
|26||Martina Mikulaskova (Czech Republic)||0:03:55|
|27||Alessia Bulleri (Italy)||0:04:58|
|28||Janka Keseg Stevkova (Slovakia)||0:05:15|
|29||Asa Maria Erlandsson (Sweden)||0:05:18|
|30||Karen Verhestraeten (Belgium)||0:05:33|
|31||Lise-Marie Henzelin (Switzerland)||0:05:59|
|32||Crystal Anthony (United States Of America)||0:06:21|
|33||Angelica Edvardsson (Sweden)||0:07:02|
|34||Eri Yonamine (Japan)||0:07:36|
|35||Carolina Gomez (Argentina)||0:08:00|
|36||Natalie Redmond (Australia)||0:09:12|
|37||Josie Simpson (Australia)||0:10:40|
|38||Therese Rhodes (Australia)||0:10:45|