Mixed fortunes in the sand for Anglophone women in cyclocross Worlds
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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Mixed fortunes in the sand for Anglophone women in cyclocross Worlds

by Ben Atkins at 3:59 PM EST   comments
Categories: Cyclocross, World Championships
Best-ever sixth place for Nikki Harris; crashes and health problems for Helen Wyman and Katie Compton

Sunnikki harrisday’s elite women’s cyclocross World championships saw the top Anglophones enjoy mixed fortunes in the sandy dunes of Koksijde, Belgium. Great Britain’s Nikki Harris took a personal best-ever sixth place – little more than a minute behind runaway winner Marianne Vos – but compatriot Helen Wyman was less fortunate, with a spectacular crash capping an illness-hit season.

US champion Katie Compton managed to take a fighting fifth place, but a disastrous first lap effectively ended her chance of a fourth appearance on the podium.

A personal best for Nikki Harris

“Not bad at all, I’m really happy with it; I’m quite surprised to be honest,” Harris told VeloNation after the race. “It would have been nice to get in the top ten, but sixth is… with everybody here, it’s quite surprising; so I’m happy.”

The dunes of Koksijde always contrive to provide a tough race, but the Dutch team – particularly Vos – had managed to make it even harder than usual. Familiarity with the course – where she took seventh in the World Cup race in November – meant that the 25-year-old from Derbyshire was almost able to stay on terms with the leaders.

“It’s the person that makes the least mistakes is going to do well,” she said. “I’ve obviously raced this course a couple of times before, so that really helped. I thoroughly enjoyed it; it was hard.”

Harris’ sixth place is the best British finish since Wyman took fifth in Zeddam, Netherlands, in 2006.

“I don’t know; I was just trying to be the best I could be today,” she smiled. “I was a bit gutted that the podium was so close, but yet so far. At the end it would have been nice to get a podium, but I made a couple of mistakes in the first couple of laps, which cost me a bit of time. But then everyone makes mistakes, actually.

“Obviously I race against these girls every week, which really helps. Because if you can be with them one week you know in your head that you can be if you have a good day.”

A best-ever Worlds finish caps a best-ever season for Harris, lifting her into ninth overall in the International Cycling Union (UCI) rankings; with only a few weeks left in the season, the Briton looks set to finish in the top ten for the first time.

“If you’d have said to me at the beginning of the season that I’d be sixth in the Worlds and have a load of podiums…” she laughed. “I’m made up!”

Harris finished just 25 seconds behind the battle for the silver medal, between Daphny van den Brand and Sanne Cant, which must surely be the target for the 25-year-old in the next year.

Ill-luck at the Worlds again for Helen Wyman

While Harris – Britain’s number two – was having the ride of her life, Wyman – the number one – was having less of a good time and slumped to a disappointing 13th. The British champion’s season has been disrupted by a lung infection, which has gone around many riders in the circuit – and forced Gabby Day to sit out the World championships – and her recent recovery has disrupted her peak of form.

“Not to plan, really not to plan,” she said of the race. “The start was good, it was a really good start; that was to plan. I got myself out of trouble, into the right place; I was just having a bad day really.”

Wyman’s start was so good, in fact, that she actually got the “hole shot” and led around much of the first lap. As Vos and the Netherlands team began to force the pace though, she began to drop back, and was the victim of one of the more spectacular crashes of the race as she descended a steep, sandy drop off.

“Just one, where I winded myself badly!” she laughed. ”I lost about five places then, but I was already in tenth, which wasn’t really to plan. But you just have bad days I guess.”

Despite having recovered her health, Wyman’s illness at the end of December was the cause of much of her bad day, she feels.

“Being sick I had ten days off and it brings your peak forward, and I think it brought it forward to Liévin,” she explained. “After that you’re trying to maintain it, but…

“I was really positive going into the race,” she continued. “I did everything I was supposed to do, but I just didn’t have the legs, which was pretty unfortunate really.

“You have to be on your ‘A’ game for a course like this,” she added.

Disasters at the start give Katie Compton little chance

Where Wyman’s poor result came despite a near-perfect start, US champion Katie Compton’s could hardly have been worse. A missed pedal on the line, followed by a crash on one of the first corners, put the 33-year-old right at the back of the pack, giving her a long chase through the field to reach the fight for the medals.

By the time she did manage to reach the front of the race, Compton had used up so much energy that mistakes in the final lap were almost inevitable.

“But it’s been like that all season, so it’s kind of actually normal right now,” she told VeloNation afterwards.

“I’ve been sucking all year!” she laughed. “What’s one more day?”

Despite starting on the front row, her start line problem saw Compton absorbed by the pack as it started the first lap. The disastrous crash saw her lose even more places, but she managed to fight her way back up to sixteenth by the end of lap one; by now she was already a minute behind Vos.

“I missed my pedal again, and messed up the start, and then I crashed and just went downhill from there,” she explained. “I think I was close to last by the time I got up and got back on the bike and had to chase on. It’s hard to chase on in the sand! You can’t really pass; you can’t run around, and you have to kind of wait, and then your legs get a little tired.”

Compton eventually did reach the first group – which contained Netherlands riders van den Brand and Sanne van Paassen, and Belgian Cant – chasing runaway leader Vos.

“And the Dutch girls are really good at blocking,” said the American, “so I got stuck behind van Paassen a few times, and got held up.”

Unfortunately for Compton, just as van den Brand and Cant were escaping on one of the final sandy sections, a slip on a corner saw a gap open in front of her and fifth was the best she could salvage.


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