American Clara Honsinger could be just the rider to play havoc with a repeat of the Dutch stronghold of the elite women’s podium at this weekend’s Cyclo-cross World Championships in Ostend. Starting on the front row wearing the stars-and-stripes as the reigning US champion, she is ranked fourth in the UCI World Cup rankings, and sixth in the overall UCI standings for elite women.
After taking two podiums in World Cup races this season, the 24-year-old said she is coming in “a little unknown” performance-wise, but she won’t be sneaking up on the Dutch competition, which includes last year’s podium – reigning World Champion and overall favourite Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado (Alpecin-Fenix), silver medalist Annemarie Worst (777), bronze medalist Lucinda Brand (Baloise Trek Lions) and Denise Betsema (Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal), who is currently ranked fourth in the UCI standings.
“I feel like I'm coming into this race a little unknown - how well I'm going to perform. I feel like I'm riding at the level of those around me, and feeling really good about that. Mostly I'm excited,” said Honsinger on the In the Red with Curtis White podcast, White being her teammate on the Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld Pro Cycling team.
Honsinger is part of a six-rider US contingency at this weekend’s Worlds, joined in the elite women's race with an all-star cast of four-time Worlds podium finisher Katie Compton (KFC Racing p/b TREK/Knight Composites), Rebecca Fahringer (Kona Maxxis Shimano), and teammate Kaitie Keough. The lone under-23 women’s rider is last year's junior bronze medallist Madigan Munro, while White will compete in the elite men's race.
All the UCI races in North America were cancelled this season due to the coronavirus pandemic, so a small number of riders from the US and Canada relocated to Europe in November to race. World Cup competitions were reduced from 14 to five because of the continued health crisis, so Honsinger made the most of her opportunities.
“It's kind of an unbelievable feeling. We came in relaxed about results, we didn't do the Czech World Cup [November 29] because we were too concerned about the travel and exposing ourselves,” said Honsinger, who’s first World Cup start at Namur in mid-December came after six races and struck silver.
“Starting a World Cup down that kind of set me back. I feel like we hit the results pretty well - to be sitting fifth going into the final one, there was a little pressure to find a moment to move up in the overall standings.”
In epic weather conditions at Dendermonde, she took a second silver medal and soared up the rankings. In the final two World Cups, Honsinger was sixth in Namur and fourth at Overijse.
“It's a pretty big deal for me. I remember last year getting two sixth places in Namur and Nommay, and feeling 'holy cow, I'm top 10 in a European World Cup' - that's a huge deal. Honestly, going into the season, if I hit some more top 10s it would have been spectacular but to come away with two podiums and fourth overall, I'm really satisfied with the work we were able to get in.”
Missing the World Cup in Tabor likely stopped Honsinger from leading on the overall podium but she said she has no regrets.
“It would have been exciting to have another race, but mostly I'm really glad we're all safe and healthy. That's the priority here. Race results don't stand up there with that.”
Most of the races this season included very little sand on the parcours, with Zilvermeercross last weekend serving as a main acclimatization for the Belgian course this weekend. Ostend has a large dose of 565 metres of sand, including a section of beach on the North Sea.
“There have been very few sand races this season and this weekend feels like a wild card. Who really knows who has good sand technique right now,” Honsinger said. “We know who is on good form fitness-wise and who can drive their bike through the mud, but who can nail a rut or run 100 metres across a sandy field? Will the sand be a big factor? The part of the course that's along the beach - depending on where the tide is - it might not be such a big deal.
“It's hard to speculate what the course is going to look like so I mostly want to go there and check out the course and start running it through my mind. I'm so excited for this weekend. I'm ready to go out there and rip.”
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