On one hand it seems like just yesterday that Michiel van der Heijden was putting on the rainbow-striped jersey of the world champion. On the other, it's been a long time coming again.
The Dutch rider won the cross country world championships as a junior in Mont-Sainte-Anne, Quebec, Canada in 2010. Four years later, he has taken his first cross country world title as an under 23 rider.
In between, he came close to the U23 title several times, but didn't quite pull it off. He got a silver in Austria in 2012 and a bronze in South Africa in 2013.
"This is my last year in the under 23 and I was trying to get this jersey again. It's so good to have this jersey again," he told Cyclingnews. "Last year, I raced here and felt good. This year, I felt good on the track during training but today I was suffering so hard. I had to give everything to stay at the front."
Van der Heijden got away from several other rivals to solo to victory after riding along for the final few laps.
"I got my gap with 2.5 laps to go on a steep uphill - I was climbing well. I just tried to keep my pace, but the last lap, I was cramping everywhere on the climbs," he said.
Van der Heijden has a few more races planned for 2014, but unfortunately for him, they will probably be Elite races so he won't get to race in his new world champion's jersey.
"I'm going to have to find a under 23 race just so I can race in this thing," he said. "But I'm excited to move up to the Elites and race the big guys next year. It's what I've been aiming for."
"I did a few races in the Elites this year and last year, like nationals and some races in Germany and Switzerland. Sometimes I do well in them, but they are also quite hard. Maybe when I'm doing them every weekend next year, I'll be able to be up there. It's a difference going from under 23 and the Elites. Next year will be hard, but maybe I can do a few good results."
Van der Heijden said he will probably do a few 'cross races this winter, but will pick just a few of the ones on courses that suit him.
"I hope to also ride with friends in France and maybe go do some enduros," he said. "I'll probably do four or five 'cross races to get in shape for the nationals. It's good to do something in the winter. I did it a lot of 'cross in the past and it's fun, but with cyclo-cross, there are so many courses which are not so exciting."
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