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'Hectic, brutal, amazing' – Junior women racers react to Cyclo-cross Worlds

FAYETTEVILLE ARKANSAS JANUARY 29 Ella MacleanHowell of United Kingdom competes during the 73rd UCI CycloCross World Championships Fayetteville 2022 Womens Junior Fayetteville2022 on January 29 2022 in Fayetteville Arkansas Photo by Chris GraythenGetty Images
British rider Ella MacLean-Howell racing to fourth place in Fayetteville on Saturday (Image credit: Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Since the junior races at the UCI Cyclo-cross World Championships in 2021 were not held due to restrictions limiting sporting events to professionals because of the coronavirus pandemic, the 2022 event in Arkansas is the first opportunity for all of the junior racers to fight for the title.

After the junior women's race on Saturday, the riders were full of energy and excitement having experienced the biggest cyclo-cross event in the world.

Zoe Backstedt (Great Britain) stormed away on the first lap to complete her unbeaten streak in the juniors and add her second world title after claiming the road world title in Leuven in September.

Dutch riders Leonie Bentveld and Lauren Molengraaf completed the podium but every rider behind them seemed to have a blast, enjoying the atmosphere, the course, and the racing itself.

Cyclingnews spoke to six riders after Saturday's first race to hear their impressions of the race and the course.

Ella MacLean-Howell (Great Britain) – fourth

MacLean-Howell dashed to the front at the start to help teammate Zoe Backstedt, who won the title while she finished just nine seconds off bronze herself.

"It was a quite hectic start. I was on the second row and I didn't expect to go so far up. Everyone sort of collided on the first corner so I was able just to be with Zoe for that first section, which was good. She could go off at the start and I just held back a little bit just to let her get that gap.

"From then on it was just a brutal race – I was in a little group and we were just smashing each other all the way. So I was super pleased just to get fourth.

"[The race] was amazing. I didn't expect that many fans, it was just crazy going up the steps and the hill, there were just so many people shouting and he was a really warm atmosphere and I loved it."

Ava Holmgren (Canada) – seventh

UCI Cyclocross world championships Fayetteville 2022 USA Women Junior 29012022 Ava Holmgren CAN Lauren Molengraaf NED photo Alex WhiteheadSW PixCVSprintCyclingAgency2022

Ava Holmgren leading a small group of riders mid-race (Image credit: Alex Whitehead/SW Pix/CV/SprintCyclingAgency)

Holmgren is part of a big cycling family and was racing with her twin sister Isabella and under the direction of her father, who is the national team coach.

"It was amazing. I might've gone out a little bit too hard on the start, but it gave me that extra confidence and it was great hearing my name out on the course or 'go Canada', because I knew that some of them were my friends and my family, and I'm so grateful that they could be here and that my first World Championships was in North America.

"I didn't see [Isabella] for the whole race until the end. And I was kinda thinking in my head, wouldn't this be great if it came down to a sprint finish, two twins and sisters side by side. It was great seeing her right at the end and giving her a big hug."

Isabella Holmgren (Canada) – eighth

Isabella rode in 11 seconds after her twin sister Ava to score a second top 10 finish for the family.

"It was really fun, especially to race with everybody. And it was nice to always hear people cheering for Canada. It was nice to have a lot of Canadians at the race.

"I really liked the course. Personally, I like more technical courses, but when I was racing it, it felt better than I thought it would. It was really good. It was a really fast course because most of the races in Europe are all muddy, so it was nice to have something a bit different."

Katherine Sarkisov (USA) – 11th

FAYETTEVILLE ARKANSAS JANUARY 29 Katherine Sarkisov of United States competes during the 73rd UCI CycloCross World Championships Fayetteville 2022 Womens Junior Fayetteville2022 on January 29 2022 in Fayetteville Arkansas Photo by Chris GraythenGetty Images

Katherine Sarkisov tackles the staircase during the race (Image credit: Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Sarkisov also raced the relay as part of Team USA B yesterday which resulted in a fifth place. She set a goal of earning a top 10 finish but missed it by one spot.

"It was awesome. It was fantastic. I loved having such a huge crowd and 90 per cent of them were Americans and they're all screaming 'U-S-A'. Some of them don't even know our names, but that's fine. They're screaming for Team USA and I loved that.

"I raced a block in Europe, but we didn't have any spectators there. And so I felt like I missed out on that aspect of racing. So for this to be the first race, in front of such a big crowd and to be on American soil where a lot of people are supporting us and know us – that was fantastic.

"I was a lot more confident going into this race just because I've raced with most of these people. I raced on some really challenging courses out there and it was just helpful to get used to the way they do things and to deal with higher pressure, you know?"

Keira Bond (USA) – 12th

"It just feels so surreal to me here. I'm just so lucky. I feel like I worked so hard for this and now that it's here, I really just can't believe it. My first Worlds was nothing if not incredible, I just had so much fun out there. I did not have my best day if I'm being honest, but I was just having so much fun, I barely even noticed.

"The course was awesome. I got to be honest, I was watching the World Cup and I was not super stoked about the course. And then the first time I rode it, I was like, okay, I love this course. It suits me pretty well. I love the climbing and I thought that was super fun. And there were some muddy corners and some difficult rut sections that made it super interesting too.

[On the new addition of a steep berm] "I loved those parts. Honestly, that was one of the hardest parts of the course because you come up the climb and you're just cracked, you're breathing so hard, your head's kind of all over the place, and then you're like, okay, I have to focus for this little up-down section. So it made it really tricky, but it was a really good addition."

Mia Aseltine (USA) – 18th

"It was an incredible experience just with all the fans cheering you on every corner. Like, wow. The competition was really fast and now I'm super motivated to try harder and hopefully be at the front at the next one."

"This team is amazing. We're so supportive of each other. We definitely pushed each other during the race, so it's just a great team atmosphere.

"[The course] was super fun. It was nice to have a course that was purpose-built for cyclo-cross. It was just super fast and flowy and all the features were just really fun to ride. But very challenging for sure."

FAYETTEVILLE ARKANSAS JANUARY 29 Silver medalist Leonie Bentveld of Netherlands gold medalist Zoe Backstedt of United Kingdom and bronze medalist Lauren Molengraaf of Netherlands pose on the podium during the medal ceremony after the 73rd UCI CycloCross World Championships Fayetteville 2022 Womens Junior Fayetteville2022 on January 29 2022 in Fayetteville Arkansas Photo by Chris GraythenGetty Images

Zoe Backstedt won the rainbows after 41 minutes of hard racing to open Saturday in Arkansas (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

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