On Saturday cyclocross makes history, as we have not only the Elite women’s 2016 CX World Championships, we also have the first ever Worlds for the u23 riders! I’ve been asking riders what they’re thinking about the Zolder World Champs, and in what’s hopefully Part 1 of a mini-series, I have Q&As from Marianne Vos, Helen Wyman and British u23 Hannah Peyton.
Don’t forget, if you want to watch the races as they happen, or find out more about them, even the men’s races (do men race bikes too?) I’ve got a guide here.
Marianne Vos is one of the all-time legends of women’s cycling, but especially cyclocross, with 7 World Championships golds, a silver and a bronze to her name. After a really horrible 2015, with various injuries, she’s focusing on recovery, and is very disappointed to be skipping Worlds this year. But she’s not just the best cyclist in the world, she’s also one of the biggest fans, so rather than hiding from Worlds, she’s promoting the sport, and will be doing analysis on the Sporza stream before and after the elite women’s race.
ProWomensCycling: Who do you think the favourites are for the race?
Marianne Vos: The course is totally different than last week’s Hoogerheide course, so you can’t use that result to come up with the favourites. Of course these top finishers are in good shape, but where Hoogerheide is for the power houses, Zolder is more for the fast & explosive riders. Looking to the results of the season you would say Sanne Cant is the biggest favourite, but she hasn’t been dominant in every race. I reckon it will be a very interesting & exciting race, with many girls having a chance for the jersey.
PWC: It’s the first year there’s a u23 women’s race – how important is that, do you think?
MV: Very important, because the step from U18 to elite could be very demotivating. Now cyclocross is more interesting for young riders and they can aim for a result during the time they improve to the highest level in elites. It also stimulates cycling federations to invest in young riders, because a jersey is a ‘big thing’ for every country. I really think this step will bring women’s cyclocross further, otherwise we’d lose too many young riders to road (or even retire because of a lack of positive results)
PWC: Could you describe what it’s like to ride Zolder? What’s special about this course?
MV: Difficult to answer… It actually feels as you’re on the racing car circuit: fast, and the difficult sections keep coming after each other. On TV it doesn’t look as hard as it really is; the climbing ‘breaks your legs’.
Helen Wyman, nine-times British National CX Champion, and twice European CX Champion, is a huge fan favourite, known for her love of mud, long legs, quick wit and love of media. She’s the first to say Zolder isn’t her ideal course, but of course she’s going to race her heart out.
ProWomensCycling: How are you feeling about Worlds?
Helen Wyman: Good, I think. It’s not like it’s exactly my course, however I have been improving my speed, so never say never.
PWC: You’ve said it’s not your ideal course – and I don’t think we can import the claggy mud you like – how do you prepare when it’s less-than-ideal-Worlds?
HW: Well, it’s a fast, fast course. There will not be an inch of mud – but that’s doesn’t mean I can’t maximize my potential result. I have been working on speed for the last few months and I think I am finally getting there! It’s not something natural to me, but I did ace my motor pacing loop yesterday, so basically I’m gonna win Worlds! I got QoMs on Strava!
PWC: It’s not just the elite women on Saturday – for the first time there’s a separate u23 women’s race, which of course, as a rep on the UCI CX commission, you helped get – how does THAT feel?
HW: It’s really exciting, I almost think that race could be more eventful that ours! Obviously there’s still stuff to do with the category but for the young girls this is awesome
PWC: It must mean so much for the young riders – especially not being destroyed by the superstars – they can go for their own wins at last!
HW: And be world champion – that’s a pretty cool thing to say.
PWC: SO cool! So apart from you, who do you think will win on Saturday in the elites? Who should we watch?
HW: Well, as boring as it may sound I think Sanne Cant will win. However I do think that Thalita de Jong is the ‘dark horse’ and I think the podium will be rounded out with either Katie Compton, Ellen van Loy or Caroline Mani. I think Sophie de Boer likes the course, but she may have peaked a week too soon. Nikki Harris has a chance too, although this year she hasn’t got the same speed she has had in the past, but when it comes to mud courses, she is crazy strong.
PWC: How has your 2015-6 season been?
HW: Good, so far. There have been a few sickness issues especially early on, but I have overcome them now and I think it’s coming good. Three wins is always good, especially Belgium/Dutch wins. Although for obvious reasons nationals was hugely disappointing – though equally my new kit’s cool! It’s based on a fusion of Kona team kit and my Velocio Apparel signature range.
PWC: Finally, 2 more questions. Even when it’s not your ideal course, what are the best things about Worlds for you?
HW: Winning? Worlds is allllllllllll about the win. Battling for that converted jersey. I regularly say to people, can you remember who was 3rd in Worlds in 2008? They can’t. But I guarantee you they could tell you who won. Other races are for morale, or the journey, or fun, or technique etc. Worlds is just the one point.
PWC: Finally, why should people tune in to watch, both the u23s and the elites?
HW: Because the u23 category is wiiiiiiiidddeeeee open. It’s the first ever event, they have never all just raced each other, so it’s gonna be wild. The elite women’s is again a battle of wits. On such a fast course it’s got a lot to do with tactics, and that will make for a great race too.
Follow Helen on her website, twitter, Instagram and facebook – and check out her fantastic cycling kit collaboration with Velocio Apparel, for women and for men… You’ll come across great things like this declaration of true love…
and if you want her PoV of Saturday’s Zolder course…
Hannah is one of the young riders who’ll be benefiting from the new U23 category. She’s been racing in Europe getting some really good results, and crowdfunded her way to the Las Vegas round of the 2015-6 CX World Cup.
ProWomensCycling: What do you think of the Zolder World Championships course?
Hannah Payton: It’s a really exciting course. It’s tough, technically and physically and the climbs and descents are steep.
PWC: Is it strange, racing it so soon after the Zolder World Cup? Or is that good for you?
HP: It’s good for me. I spent quite a bit of time on the course in preparation for the World Cup so I know the course well and I know all the lines I took. I’ve been riding the course in my head since I raced.
PWC: What difference does will it make, racing in the u23s, rather than against the top elite riders?
HP: I’ve ridden 2 elite world championships, so to have my own category in my final year as an under 23 is a great opportunity. The racing will be very different because they’ll be no elite riders to mix in between the u23s. It will also be my first time in the front of the grid. I’m normally 3 rows back so that will mean I’m in control of my start and not relying on someone else to get off the start line quickly.
PWC: Is it hard, approaching the u23 race, when no one really knows what it’ll be like?
HP: We’ve been racing each other all season, we know who will be up at the front. It’s exciting!
PWC: How has your season been? What have been the highlights or lows?
HP: I’ve had a mixed season. One of my main goals was the European championships and I was in a crash at the start of the race. My other goal was the British National Championships, and I had dislocated ribs from a crash in Belgium 2 weeks before so I unfortunately couldn’t start. Those were the lows.
However, I have had some good results. I was 11th at bpost Koppenburg, 20th at the Koksijde World Cup and I won the National Trophy series in the UK.
PWC: You crowdfunded to get to the racing – how was that for you? And what have you learned this season?
HP: I crowd funded to get to Las Vegas World Cup. Everybody was so generous that it meant I could race a lot in Europe too. I’ve been backwards and forwards between the UK and Belgium this season which I’ve enjoyed a lot more than last season where I spent most of my time in Belgium. I prefer having people to train with and I prefer my home roads. Belgium can be lonely.
PWC: What are your best & worst memories from previous World Champs?
HP: My first World Championships was Hoogerheide in 2014. My second was Tabor in 2015. I don’t have bad memories from either of those races. The feeling of standing on the start line racing the best in the world was daunting, but kinda cool that I was on that line. I was proud of my selection and proud to be in a team with Helen and Nikki. I had my family at both, waving flags and ringing bells. Both are stand out races and i won’t forget either.
PWC: For people who’ve never watched CX, or CX Worlds, why should they watch this year?
HP: The crowds are going to be huge. Cross in Belgium is completely different to the UK. Both the elite men’s and women’s races are wide open and are going to be really exciting to watch.
Here’s Part 2, of my rider Q&As, with Sophie de Boer, Thalita de Jong and Lisa Jacobs, and Part 3, with Ellen van Loy and Åsa Erlandsson, along with a selection of other pre-race media. And as always, chat with me about the racing on twitter – big thanks to my wonderful Patreon supporters, who fund me to do this kind of thing!