Variety. This is the key-word of this 2017-2018 CX season so far. Has it been in modern cyclocross any other season with so many different winners? The alternatives and depth of the women’s cyclocross field are unparalleled.
Let’s have a close look to some of the main contenders of the first part of the season:
- Maud Kaptheijns break-through season. 6 victories in the first part of the season. Her winning streak is gone in the last weeks (physical problems and more likely mental tiredness), but this should not take the value of her stunning dominance, particularly in October.
- Loes Sels gets her first professional win at 33, at GP Hasselt. The Belgian has been a top-20 contender all along her career, but she has stepped-up her game in this 2017 and she is having her best results ever. One of the nicest surprises of the season.
- A mention apart (and a sentimental one) for Helen Wyman. What else to be said about Helen? She is a star in her own right. I smile when I remember all the riders and fans who asked for a picture with her in the Spanish races she’s been in this year (winning both, ICYMI). Her duo with Stef make them one of the nicest and cleverest people you can find in the women’s peloton. If women’s cycling (I dare say in general, not only cyclocross) is where it stands, it is fair to state Helen and Stef have played a fundamental role on that development. There is still a long way to go for equality, but the road is already paved, and they are pioneers.
- Helen Wyman, Ellen Van Loy or Katie Compton are veterans of the sport who are having particularly noticeable performances. On the other side of the spectrum, young talents like Ellen Noble, Annemarie Worst or Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado have made a huge improvement in their racing, and we always see them shoulder to shoulder with the consolidated CX stars in the first part of the races. The truth is youth comes with less resistance, but this only means that they are the next generation to dominate the sport.
- Another star in the making is Belgian Laura Verdonschot, but her season may have a different approach from now on: “she has been fighting an intestinal fungus for a long time. Starts treatment today. No decisions taken so far for next weekend” her team recently stated. She will take a rest from the next races. Whatever the outcome, Laura has repeatedly shown that she is a great fighter. The European Championships was a memorable battle where she rode to win for the very first lap, no matter her physical condition. It was a performance for the records.
- Lucinda Brand already a top contender. It is funny to think it is only her second season tackling the CX fields. No doubt the best is yet to come for the Dutch as she is proving week after week she is a fast learner.
- Jolien Verschueren and Sophie de Boer: a season to forget? We are not used to see both the Belgian and the Dutch fighting for top-10 positions all season through. The Belgian is a very irregular rider, but we know that if she has her day and the parcours is hilly, she has to be fighting for the win. Her best performance has been at Koppenbergcross, where she finished 3rd, but it is a poor loot for her.
Sophie is a much more consistent rider, thus not seeing her fighting for wins or podium places is one of the negative notes of this first part of the season. Let’s hope the rest of the season comes with better legs for both of them.
- Kaitlin Keough, 6 victories , all in US territory. This great season makes Keitlin be the current number 3 in the UCI rankings, and we look forward to seeing her racing in Europe more from now on.
- Sanne Cant: 14 victories. By far the winningest rider and the feeling that the World Champion is always there, no matter the rivals and the races.
- Caroline Mani, the French champion “turned into” North-American: a needed rider, we hope she is back racing in the next weeks. We need her pain-faces and tremendous personality!
- A stellar come-back: Pauline Ferrand-Prévot. Her last weekend’s performance is not a surprise for those who closely follow the French star. Back in August, she showed an extraordinary form and (as important) ambition at Grand Prix Plouay, part of the Women’s World Tour. That day, she finished second, but some of us thought she was the strongest. After that, good performances in MTB World Cups and a promising 11th place at the Road World Championships held in Bergen. Pauline was back in the game, and we knew that if she planned to be back to CX, she would be at the top from the very beginning.
On a negative note, there are things which seem to take ages to improve. Races are still too short. 38-39 minutes? It is a mockery for the sport. Why are organizers/jury still afraid/reluctant to make longer women’s races when, let’s keep in mind, that ridiculous length goes against the rules? It is hard to understand when season after season the scarce longer races (around 50 minutes) show great battles and both riders and fans stand, loud and clear, for this improvement .
Next up: Scheldecross in Antwerpen (BEL), DDV Trofee on Saturady 16th December. It won’t be another race. It will be Marianne Vos’ first race of the season. With the current level in women’s cyclocross, she knows she will need her best abilities to be back on top. And with her back in the game, the only absent is Thalita de Jong. She has just announced her coming-back date: 6-7th January. Will she be competitive in 2018? Hard to predict by now, but she will certainly give her best to be in top- form as soon as possible. And I cannot wait for the second part of this thrilling season to begin, because something tells me the best is yet to come!