Sanne Cant (Belgium) has rightfully built a reputation as the best last-lap racer in the world. On Saturday in Bogense going for her third-straight World Championship, Cant made her decisive move a lap early.
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In a season of Dutch women’s cyclocross dominance, it was no surprise to see Lucinda Brand (The Netherlands), Marianne Vos (The Netherlands), Denise Betsema (The Netherlands) and Annemarie Worst (The Netherlands) at the front with Cant and one of the race’s wild cards Jolanda Neff (Switzerland).
When Neff slipped out on a corner in Lap 4, it was down to Cant v. the Dutch with a little over three laps of racing left to go.
Cant’s stone-cold last lap moves are usually perfectly planned. On Saturday, Cant was presented with an opportunity inside two to go that she just had to take full advantage of.
With the group still at give at the start of Lap 6, Brand struggled to come unclipped taking a pit bike and fell to the ground when her mechanic grabbed her bike, dropping her from the lead group. Cant led the way up the climb on the far side of the course and came out of the down-up-down section with a small gap on the now Dutch chasers.
“There two laps at the end where I had just a small gap, it wasn’t part of my plan, it was difficult to decide if I should wait but it was the right tactic,” Cant said about the opportunity.
By the time Cant hit the off-camber, it was all hands on deck for the Dutch. Vos buried herself chasing along the seawall, and then Brand, now recovered from her mistake, led the two down the start-finish straight.
One lap and a six-second advantage stood between Cant and her third-straight Worlds title. Chasing her was Brand, one of the strongest women in the international cyclocross peloton, and the seven-time world champion Vos.
On the long drag to the far side of the course, Cant turned herself inside out to hold her advantage over Brand, knowing she was stronger in the technical sections. She did and then held her lead to the off-camber made slicker by a pre-race mist.
When Brand slipped a bit on the slick off-camber, Cant’s victory was secure. Three straight for the Belgian star, and the first of the three that she got her winning gap before the last lap.
“The first one was unexpected. This one, I really can’t believe it. Last year I was really happy,” Cant said about her three titles. “I am a Belgian rider in front of three Dutch riders. I answered with my pedals.”
The Expected Tight Race
In her last two rainbow seasons, Sanne Cant won a majority of the races she entered. This year, Cant had her races, but the Women’s field was seemingly much more wide open.
With the strong racing from so many riders this season, a large group at the front of Saturday’s World Championships would fit in line perfectly with the narrative of the season.
As a late-afternoon mist hovered in the air at the start of the Elite Women’s race, the Dutch and Belgians did not disappoint fans expecting a tight race in Bogense. After Vos took the holeshot, a line of orange and light blue riders lined up in the first six spots.
The early animators from the lead group were two of the newcomers in Betsema and Worst. Betsema pushed the pace off the down-up-down section while Worst slotted into second. Late in the first lap, at the bottom of the last descent, Brand slipped out and went to ground, forcing her into an early chase.
“Each of the small slips, getting out of the pedal is hard,” Brand said. “You want to conserve energy, but I also had to overcome that first lap. I know I’m a strong rider, so fortunately it happened early in the race and I was able to make something good from the mistake.”
At the end of one lap, the leaders were Betsema, Worst, Cant and Vos, with Ellen Van Loy (Belgium) and Kaitie Keough (United States) chasing 4 and 12 seconds back. Brand was even further in arrears.
“It was a really fast race, there was a lot of wind, it’s normal that the gaps are not too big,” Cant said about race’s pack-racing tenor.
One rider who has come on strong in the last month is Jolanda Neff. After taking on cyclocross last season, the former mountain bike world champion headed into this season with more UCI points and better call-ups. Many fans viewed her as a wild card in Saturday’s race, even though she was gridded up in the fourth row.
Neff powered forward from her starting spot and in the second lap, leaped past Van Loy when the Belgian slipped out on the off-camber and fell down the slick, inclined feature. Neff completed her bridge to make it a group of five two laps into the race.
In the third of seven laps, Brand showed she was not to be counted out after her early fall. Brand moved past Brammeier and Keough and powered down the long straights along the sea, quickly narrowing her gap to the leaders.
Brand continued to close her early gap and heading back out for Lap 4, it was a group of five at the front with the winner of three World Cups this season chasing just 10 seconds behind.
At the start of Lap 4, the race got another shake-up when Neff slipped out on one of the early corners and went to the ground. As she recovered, Brand passed her and powered toward the far side of the course in chase of Cant and the three other Dutch women.
After Brand made the catch midway through Lap 4, the front of the race went into flux for the next lap and a half. First Cant and Betsema got a gap, then Brand, Cant and Betsema. After five of seven laps, Brand led Cant, Betsema and Worst as Vos dangled seven seconds back.
Cant Makes Her Move, Early
With two laps to go, the stage was set for an exciting finish to a tight race many expected.
Having already overcome mistakes earlier in the race, Brand again found herself in the hole when she struggled to unclip and crashed to the ground when pitting. The mishap set her back to fifth after Vos passed her heading out of Pit 1.
Cant has made a career out of timing her late attacks with laser precision. On Saturday at the far side of the Bogense course, she had to improvise when she got an unexpected gap.
When the three leaders cleared the first down-up-down technical section, Cant had a small gap on Betsema and Worst. Although there was still a lap and a half left to go, Cant attacked.
When the chasers pulled around Pit 2 and headed to the off-camber, alarm bells started ringing for Vos, who had moved back to the leaders. She led the four Dutch chasers into the off-camber and then accelerated along the seawall toward the start/finish straight. Brand followed her, while Worst and Betsema could not keep the blazing pace of the two road standouts.
Brand and Vos showed a little bit of Dutch teamwork through the start/finish drag when Brand took over the lead heading out for one last lap. Their deficit was six seconds. Small, but relatively large given how close the racing had been so far in the afternoon.
“It’s a really technical race, with four Dutch riders, so I had to be smart,” Cant said about her battle with the Dutch.
Cant knew her biggest advantage on the Bogense course was her skill on the technical sections along the embankment. She absolutely buried herself pedaling to the far side of the course in an effort to keep her advantage over the two Dutch chasers. Brand continued to head up the chase along the sea, but Cant still led as they hit the last lap’s first incline.
As the lap progressed, Vos fell off Brand’s pace to drop the race to Cant v. Brand.
“We tried what we could. I didn’t have much more left, so I did what I could,” Vos said after the race. “You obviously hope for more, but this was all I could do.”
Cant kept her advantage at five seconds through the down-up-down section and around back to the technical off-camber. In this race, past proved to be prologue, and Cant nailed the slick off-camber while Brand hesitated at the exit.
That hesitation was the last break Cant needed to secure her victory. It was not a perfect season for Cant, but at the biggest race of the year, she played it perfectly to keep the rainbow stripes for the third-straight season.
“It was really hard against the Dutch riders,” Cant said about the race. “My tactics were quite good, I think. I just wanted to stay second or third place, and then in the technical zone I wanted to be in front. It just turned out the way I wanted.”
Brand gave everything she had to catch Cant and had to settle for second, her best finish ever at Cyclocross Worlds.
Vos held on to take third. “It’s the World Championships, and we knew up front that it was going to be a tight race. And it was,” Vos said. “For us, the Dutch, we went for the title, but Sanne was strong today. She rode a really good race.”
Keough moved into sixth when Brammeier suffered a heart-breaking jammed chain at the end of Lap 4 and held on for seventh.
Rebecca Fahringer finished 16th, Ellen Noble 21st, Maghalie Rochette 23rd, Sammi Runnels 30th and Katie Compton 34th.
Full results are below. Stay tuned for more photos and interviews.
For more from Bogense, see our 2019 Bogense World Championships page.
2019 UCI Cyclocross World Championships Results, Bogense Denmark: Elite Women
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