For the second year running, Annemarie Worst fell short of the rainbow jersey at the UCI Cyclo-cross World Championships. In Dübendorf, Switzerland last year, the Dutch rider was beaten in the sprint by compatriot Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado. This time around, a late crash after contact with eventual winner Lucinda Brand (Netherlands) took away her chance to sprint for the victory in Ostend, Belgium.
Accepting defeat in Switzerland was very difficult, where she was disillusioned and burst into tears. None of that happened one year later. Worst congratulated Brand with a smile and was pleased with her second place.
“Obviously I’m less disappointed. My season hasn’t been great. My goal was to make the best of Worlds, to end the season on a high note,” said Worst, when sitting down in the ad hoc Sporza studio next to the Ostend ‘cross course.
Much can be explained by pre-race expectations. Last year, Worst started the race as one of the major favourites after racking up the wins that season and eventually claiming the overall victory in the World Cup riding for Team 777. This time around, 25-year-old Worst, was merely an outsider after a lackluster season, with, so far, only victory in the Koppenbergcross back in October.
Then again, Worst was well aware that a good ride at the World Championships might spice up her season. She tends to go well at championships, winning the Women U23 title in 2017 and the European title for elite women in 2018.
“Worlds is always a special race and my goal was to be good here. It’s no fun to miss out on the victory but it was a good race,” Worst said.
During the first half of the race Denise Betsema, another member of the dominant Dutch contingency, was alone up front after taking a blistering start. Worst featured in the first chase group where she teamed up with Brand.
“I felt good throughout the race and when bridging up with Denise, I figured I had a chance to win and might as well move to the front,” Worst said.
That was halfway through the five-lap race, on a course that presented a seaside passage with deep sand sections and a twisting segment on the grass of the nearby hippodrome; the two parts of the course were connected by a huge flyover.
“It was a nice lap. I didn’t expect the sand sections to go that well. I tumbled a few times. The running sections went quite well and went nearly as fast as riding through the sand.
“The bridge? It was steep. Uphill it was really hard,” Worst said about the abrupt 20 per cent gradient.
During the penultimate lap, Betsema and Worst made Brand work hard to bridge back up when she switched bikes. The pit area was on a fast section and few riders opted to switch bikes during the race.
“We surely weren’t going too slow down and wanted to make her work. It would cost her energy to come back, certainly at the end of the race. I thought about a bike switch too but felt good on my bike so decided not to do it,” Worst said.
Eventually, the Dutch trio hit the final lap together. Brand set a fierce pace on the beach and up the bridge while Betsema faded away. Also Worst struggled to keep up but managed to cling on.
In the hippodrome, Worst stood tall when Brand put the hammer down in the less-technical section, but then she surged forward in the final twisting passage. Worst moved into the lead but Brand bounced back on the following uphill corner.
Brand cut into the inside and found some grass and grip to surge forward. Worst was slipping away on the outside and suddenly found Brand on her side. There was a minor contact and Worst tumbled to the side.
One would expect Worst would be furious about the ‘shoulder incident’ and losing on the chance to win the gold medal, but none of that.
“We were a close match to each other. It was a race incident. It was slippery. That’s what happens. I didn’t expect her to be there. Suddenly I was on the ground,” Worst said.
That was where her run for glory ended. She continued to put Brand under pressure but the latter stood tall and captured her first world title, with Worst rolling across the finish line eight seconds later.
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