Report & Reactions: Paul’s Trip to the Koksijde World Cup

Paul Burgoine reports on a wet day in Belgium for the World Cup Cyclo-Cross there and a good day for the Brits

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The quaint seaside town of Koksijde on the Flanders coast was not looking to great on Saturday. In fact you couldn’t even see the sea through the mist and rain! Driving from the town centre to the Army Base, the huge Christmas figures on the roundabouts were the only source of colour under the blanket grey cover of cloud.

A few kilometres down the road and the Cyclo-Cross circus had come to town; well to the Army Base anyway; and the team buses and camper vans provided a big splash of colour. The smoke from the frite vans merged into the grey rainy skies, surrounded by sand dunes lined with enthusiastic cycling fans.

This is World Cup Cyclo-Cross at its finest and probably at its most specialist and difficult because with the racing taking place mainly on sand, there is little or no place for recovery or mistakes.

Koksijde is a popular destination for British fans so under the rain sodden skies, there was plenty of support for our girls in the women’s race, and Ian Field later in the men’s. Marianne Vos has still not returned to racing (at Revolution in Manchester next week) so everyone else is getting a chance to go for the win and there were at least five women that were in with a shout.

On the sprint to the first corner, Helen Wyman(Kona) had the upper hand and took an early lead into the sand, but by the time the riders had come back into view, it was all change as Katherine Compton (Trek Cyclocross Collective) had built up a 30 second lead over Nikki Harris (Telenet-Fidea) who had almost the same distance over the French Champion Lucie Chainel-Lefevre (BH Suntour ) with a group of six or so riders chasing including Helen Wyman and Gabby Day (Rapha Focus).

Photo: Thomas van Bracht

With just a few laps completed, Compton seemed to have an unassailable lead over Harris who herself looked comfortable in second while Chainel-Lefevere seemed to also have third place sown up. That was until Sanna Cant (BKCP) found her legs and began to fly through the field to catch her on the final lap.

Compton took the win with ease by over a minute from Harris in second and the fast finishing Belgium Champion Cant in third.

After the race I manage a quick chat with the three riders that made up the podium; first Nikki Harris.

You had a good start and were even leading for a while Nikki. “Yes, Katy passed me and I couldn’t go with her because there were still four laps to go so I had to go at my own pace. I was kind of happy on my own because you can see all around you it’s easier to have a clean line through the sand”.

Do you feel you have maintained your form better by choosing to stay in Europe rather than going to the USA last month? “Definitely. I think if you stay in one place, it helps. It’s all about consistency and routine day in, day out. I go over to Spain quite a bit for training but America is a bit of a distance so I will save all the travel for the Worlds and keep my fingers crossed it’s ok.”

“Today was my best place ever in a World Cup so it can’t get any better than that. Katy Compton is like a motor bike at the moment so it’s hard to stay with her on a course like this so yes I am happy with today”.

Winner Katy Compton.
It must have felt good to get the win today Katy. “Yes, it was much better than the last couple of times. A little tired and clumsy though. I got a good start and rounded the first bend about fifth, then I ran one of the sand sections rather than push a big gear to get over it.”

“I have a love hate relationship with this course. I love it when I’m riding well and hate it when I’m struggling! The road section is the only place where you can just pedal and not worry about the technical stuff. Tyre selection played a big part today, a bit Formula 1, hey I went for the intermediate!”

Sanna Cant had a great second half of the race but looked disappointed with her result. She was asked, Sanna how was the race for you today? “I felt very tired on the first lap and ended up in about position 20 or something so I rode my own race. I have a feeling I could have done more. At the end, I knew I could have done more but I know I should be happy”.

Britain’s Helen Wyman finished in fifth place and Gabby Day in tenth.

By the time the men started, the rain was at its best (or worst depending on whether you want it or not) and it looked like a grim and tough race. As per normal at the moment, Klaas Vantornhout (Sunweb-Revoir) began like he was going to ride away with it. Francis Mourey (FDJ Big Mat) was having a fantastic ride too by not dropping out of the top three. As the race unfolded, Vantornhout and Niels Albert (BKCP) hit the front and looked strong. His main rival Sven Nys (Landboukrediet) was way down the field and looked to be suffering.

With around four laps remaining, Nys began to make some ground up on Bart Arnouts(AA Drinks) and it still looked a possibility that he might make the podium BUT he did not stop there. Next, he swept up Mourey and was heading for Albert but he still looked like he had too much to do.

Unbelievable, within two laps, Nys was on Albert and I doubt Albert believed it when he looked back and saw his rival Nys on his wheel. On the final lap, Albert put in one final attack but still couldn’t shake him and while Nys was right on his wheel, Albert slipped and that was it, Nys was gone.

I don’t think the slip made much difference as World Champ Albert had tried everything in his armoury to keep Nys at bay and looked totally spent. Sven Nys went on to win by a convincing 14 seconds with a tired Albert hanging on to second from Mourey who should be very pleased with his podium place.

After sitting in the press conference baffled by Flemish, I had a few words with the man of the moment Sven Nys in English. I asked if his slow start was part of his plan. “No, I tried to start as fast as possible but the first two laps I was a little bit slower than the other riders and then it’s your motivation that keeps you going.”

“There were a lot riders not doing so well through the sand so you then have to wait for a gap to pass. After three or four laps, I felt very strong and I thought I could win the race. The only problem was Niels Albert was on the front and he is very strong in the sand. Two laps from the end, I felt this was my time and I would try and close the gap and everything went well”.

Did you feel OK in yourself as there were reports of you feeling fatigued? “No, I felt fine. The beginning of the week was the problem but in myself, I felt strong and hope to do it again on Sunday”.

Not everyone one can come from so far back and win a race? “No, but the secret is, this is a special race. It’s the sand and when you have got good technique, you can make ten seconds in one sand area and we saw that today. You have to stay motivated even when you are fifth 25 seconds behind”.

With your current form, no one can touch you. How long can it go on? “I don’t know, maybe tomorrow it’s finished but I try as hard as possible to win as many races, for the moment it’s going very well”.

Ian Field alongside the world champion at the start. Photo: Thomas van Bracht

Ian Field (Hargroves Cycles) finished in 29th position, so I asked him the stupid question that has to be asked! Did you enjoy that? “Kind of” he replied. “I do like Koksijde as there is so much British support out there it’s as near as you can get to a home World Cup. It was crazy how many people were shouting, really cool”.

“I was on the limit the whole race and I got a good start but then I punctured somewhere after the second pit so I dropped six places but I just fought and fought until the end”.



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