This weekend, from a sporting point of view, is one of my favourites. The European road cycling season gets itself underway with Le Grand Prix Cycliste la Marseillaise (L’Ouverture), although this year the Challenge Mallorca series has been underway since Thursday. The World Cyclocross Championships also take place. This year they are being held at Zolder in Belgium.
The day started off with the race for Junior (under 18) Men which was won by Jens Dekker of the Netherlands, Highlights below;
But Saturday was Ladies Day with the Women’s Elite race as well as the inaugural Women’s under-23 race. Both were excellent races in different ways. The under-23 race being won by the British rider Evie Richards in an almost race long breakaway. She had the disadvantage of starring on the third row of the grid, because as she said at the finish this was the first time she had raced cyclocross outside of the UK (and therefore didn’t have the results that would have given her a better start position). By half way round lap one she had worked her way to the front, took the lead and immediately built a race winning gap.
The highlights of the race are below.
If you want to watch the full race this link will take you to the video.
Following on from that a hour or so later we had the Women’s Elite race. There were two British women Helen Wyman and Nikki Harris who had a reasonable chance of ending the day in a Rainbow Jersey. This race worked itself out differently from either the Junior Men or the Under-23 Women both of which were won “easily” by long range attacks. For most of the race it looked as if one of four women, Sanne Cant (Belgium), Caroline Mani (France),Nikki Harris (Great Britain) or Sophie De Boer (Netherlands) would be the eventual winner. However we had reckoned without Thalita De Jong (Netherlands).
Last weekend at her home cyclocross in Hoogerheide she showed that she was in good form. This week she recovered from a bad start that left her in about 20th place half way round the first lap, but by about a lap and half to go she had made it up to the lead group. She bided her time and made her decisive attack with about half a lap to go.
For a replay of the full race follow this link.
A couple of tweets about the race;
Unfortunately everything was slightly overshadowed by the first proven instance of “mechanical doping”. An electric motor was found in the frame of a bike apparently owned by Under 23 rider Femke Van den Driessche who started as the favourite for the race, but abandoned before the start of the final lap with, ironically, a mechanical problem. She has denied that it is her bike and claims that it belonged to a friend. (Well blaming it on a dodgy steak wouldn’t have worked would it?) She also denies using it during the race. Which may well be the case. I suspect that the plan was to use it for the final lap. It is possibly worth noting that her brother Niels is currently suspended for “ordinary” doping.
Last summer I posted concerning the accusation (unfounded) that Ryder Hesjedal and Alberto Contador had used electric assisted bikes at the Giro d’Italia. I basically poo pooed the idea, saying that I didn’t think that it would help that much because the power boost that you could get from a motor hidden in the down tube would be fairly small and because of the limitations on the size, the battery wouldn’t last all that long. I would still stand by that as regards road racing though not with the level of certainty I had last June.
However cyclocross is a different tactical situation. The races are much shorter, in the case of Under-23 Women, forty to forty five minutes, and the riders swap bikes on a regular basis throughout the race. So consider, it is the last lap of the race, everyone’s legs are hurting. You come into the pits and change your bike for the one with the electric motor. The battery is good for ten or twelve minutes, it will last the lap. It will give you say a 100 watt power boost; not huge but it will probably mean that you can ride that hill that everyone else has to run, and if it comes down to a sprint that extra 100 watts should be enough to give you the edge.
Because bad news always beats good news to the headlines it was sort of forgotten that Jens Dekker, Evie Richards and Thalita De Jong all produced magnificent rides to pull on their respective Rainbow Jerseys. Let’s remember that and not what a talented but insecure young Belgian girl did, possibly under the influence of someone who from the little I have read (and mainly in Dutch) seems to be a very controlling father.