Not giving it away in the headline, in case you’ve yet to watch the racing in Fayetteville, Arkansas, but it was a weekend of great results for Britain in the 2022 UCI Cyclo-Cross World Championships.
The news grabbing all the (spoiler) headlines is that Tom Pidcock claimed the World Championship title in the Elite Men’s race, but Zoe Backstedt also claimed a World Championship title for Britain in the Junior Women’s race.
As you can probably tell from the finish line photo, Pidcock won by some margin, on a course that was dry enough to leave pit crews with jet washers standing around forlornly. Physios would be rubbing their hands together with glee (or to warm them up), given the number of stairs on the course. Some viewers complained that the course was too much like a road race, though it’s not as if organisers can plan for the weather and a rain or snow storm would surely have changed things up substantially.
The Yorkshireman attacked on lap four of nine, using the steep off-camber section that saw many riders caught out as his arena to do so, sprinting past Michael Vanthourenhout (Belgium) to distance himself from the rest of the field.
Pidcock never looked back from that moment onwards, establishing within two laps a lead of over 30 seconds to a chasing bunch of five riders. Entering the finishing straight on his own, Pidcock had time to soak up the atmosphere and even show off his infamous superman celebration. In doing so, he became the first ever Brit to win the elite men’s cyclo-cross world championship title.
Post-race he said: “It’s a relief – [the race] was always going to be super hard. The drier it became, the more tactics play a part. The Belgians were trying to ride a tactical race. But yeah, I went out there as if I was going to war and I was having none of it. I found my opportunity and I made it stick.”
2022 CX World Championships Men’s Elite Results
- Tom Pidcock (Great Britain) 1:00:36
- Lars van der Haar (The Netherlands) +30
- Eli Iserbyt (Belgium) +32
14. Ben Turner (Great Britain) +1:48
20. Thomas Mein (Great Britain) +3:12
2022 CX World Championships Women’s Elite Results
There were no British women in the Elite Women’s race, after Anna Kay was forced to pull after an injury sustained at the world cup round at Hoogerheide. Marianne Vos added further weight to her legendary status, claiming her eight World Championship cyclo-cross title in a sprint finish against compatriot Lucinda Brand.
- Marianne Vos (Netherlands) 0:55:00
- Lucinda Brand (Netherlands) +01
- Silvia Persico (Italy) +51
Zoe Backstedt would have been favourite for the race having won the first three rounds of the UCI World Cup, but catching Covid in early January created some uncertainty about how she might perform.
The Welsh rider attacked on lap one, taking on the steep climb of the course and establishing a 17-second gap within the first lap. Teammate Maclean-Howell had a strong first lap also, leading the second group across the line on the first lap. Lap two saw Leonie Bentveld (The Netherlands) make her move, the Dutch-rider being tipped to be Backstedt’s number one rival in the race, it looked as if she would make headway into the gap. However, on lap three Backstedt increased her lead again to 28 seconds.
On her performance Backstedt said post-race, “I was speaking to my coach before the race, and I asked, ‘Do you think I should attack up the first climb?’ And he said, if you’re legs are feeling good then go for it. I came into it, the little kick in second [place].
“And then I just opened the taps and went as hard as I could up there, and I got to the top and I had more people on the sides, saying you’ve got five seconds, you’ve got ten seconds whatever the gap was, and I just thought I’m going to keep going.
“Every lap I made sure I put the effort in up the climb, because I knew that is where I would make a difference and went down the descent and made sure I was controlled and didn’t crash or anything like that, just kept it together and yeah it was a good day.”
“If I’m honest, I’m just shocked”, Backstedt said with a beaming smile. “I’ve had a pretty good season and I was unlucky with the World Cup and the Nationals to have Covid and miss both, but I think ultimately it made me fight back stronger and come here today and put that extra bit of fire into my race.”
2022 CX World Championships Junior Women’s Results
- Zoe Backstedt (Great Britain) 41:16
- Leonie Bentveld (The Netherlands) +32
- Lauren Molengraaf The Netherlands) +57
- Ella Maclean-Howell (Great Britain) +1:06
No caption needed 🤪🌈 pic.twitter.com/GJhUvyGAJ4— Zoe Backstedt (@Backstedt_Zoe) January 29, 2022
There was a podium finish for Britain in the Junior Men’s race too, with Nathan Smith fighting it out in a sprint finish for places.
From his front row start, Smith lead into the first sweeping corner and would lead the riders through the first two laps with a controlled ride, setting the pace. Aaron Dockx (Belgium) made a move on lap three of six. Smith was forced to chase hard as they entered lap four, however he was soon on to the back wheel of the Belgian rider with three laps to go. Jan Christen (Switzerland) joined them, the three riders forming a group on the kicker with two and a half laps remaining, and they would stick together all the way to the line.
Dockx led the sprint, but the Swiss rider, Christen, overcame the Belgian and got away to win by a bike length. Smith meanwhile chased the back wheel of Dockx as they would both lunge for the silver medal. Two tyre widths would split them, Dockx just stealing silver, and Smith taking a well-earned bronze.
“I mean it was super heard the whole way round. The sun’s out, which made it pretty hot and the climb every lap, it just got harder and harder. I wasn’t really expecting it [the sprint finish] to happen on that last lap, both riders were attacking [Dockx and Christen] and then they sat up and was going with the flow, I wasn’t sure how it was going to pan out. It was pretty special to be on the podium, if I had of managed to get the win that would have been pretty special, but I can’t be disappointed with third.”Nathan Smith
2022 CX World Championships Junior Men’s Results
- Jan Christen (Switzerland) 43:11
- Aaron Dockx (Belgium) +1
- Nathan Smith (Great Britain) +
Under 23 Women
Dutch riders dominated the race, a last minute mechanical and a sprint finish settling the final finishing order between defending champion Fem van Empel, Puck Pieterse, and Shirin van Anrooij.
In the final lap, Pieterse found herself alone in the lead when Van Empel hit her back wheel riding some tricky slopes that she had previously run down. Van Empel’s chain was dropped, forcing her out of the battle for gold. Having been stuck behind Van Empel in this incident, Van Anrooij made an impressive comeback ahead of the final stretch, but Pieterse managed to hold her off.
“It was such a weird race. We kept overtaking each other but no one could really get away. There was a really tricky corner, and I heard my team shout that I had a gap, so I just went from there. Just before the last pit zone, Shirin came into my wheel, and I knew it would be a sprint. I just went all out. I didn’t know if I had it at first, because it was so close but I’m really happy to take it. It’s really cool to be on the podium with two other Dutch girls.”Puck Pieterse
Having started on the second row, Britain’s all-round riding talent Hattie Harden finished 10th. Check out our interview with her in Issue 141 of Singletrack Magazine.
2022 CX World Championships Under 23 Women Results
- ResultsPuck Pieterse (The Netherlands) 49:21
- Shirin Van Anrooij (The Netherlands) +0
- Fem Van Empel (The Netherlands) +12
- Hattie Harnden (Great Britain) +3:34
Under 23 Men
Cameron Mason had been hoping to fight for a podium place following some good performances this season, however trouble at the start saw him fighting his way through lap one to catch the leading group.
After a fast paced first lap, Belgium’s Joran Wyseure made a move on the second lap, forcing the Dutch riders to work behind him. With four laps to go, he enjoyed a 14’’ gap to the first chasing group led by Mees Hendrikx (NED). Hendrikx kept chasing, with only Belgians Emiel Verstrynge and Thibau Nys matching his pace in the fifth lap. Verstrynge even managed to go solo behind Wyseure in the sixth lap, while Kamp came back to Nys and Hendrikx.
Wyseure managed to stay alone at the front all the way to victory, 13’’ ahead of Verstrynge. Nys dominated the sprint for third (+33’’), making it a full Belgian podium, ahead of Hendrikx and Cameron Mason (GBR), who came back at the end, while Kamp took 6th after giving his all for Hendrikx.
“On the 2nd lap, I thought ‘I ride full gas on the climb’ and we will see what I get,” Wyseure explained. “I had a few metres, and then I wanted to ride the whole race at my own tempo and it was enough for the win today. I’m really happy with my performance. It’s really nice that we are three Belgian guys on the podium today, especially with Emiel. In the Belgian Championships, he was the best, and today I win and he was second. That’s phenomenal.”
2022 CX World Championships Under 23 Men Results
- Joran Wyseure (Belgium) 49:21
- Emiel Verstrynge (Belgium) +13
- Thibau Nys (Belgium) +33
5. Cameron Mason (Great Britain) +33
14. Joe Blackmore (Great Britain) +2.15
Last year the event faced calls to be relocated following the passing of anti-transgender legislation in the socially conservative state, with the organiser issuing a statement decrying the legislation but asking riders not to boycott the races. Instead, the organiser asked riders and fans to show their disapproval of the state’s legislation by supporting relevant organisations and businesses. While the state as a whole is socially conservative, the Bentonville and Lafayette areas are more liberal, with attractive relocation packages encouraging remote (and often young and liberal) workers to move there. The Walton and Walmart empire has also been providing extensive investment in and sponsorship of the area and cycling events, creating a cycling and tourist destination that is something of an island within the largely rural state. After all the debate, it seems that some riders and fans did stay away, but others chose to attend and showed their support in banners, flags and – in the case of the US rider Caleb Swartz, wristbands.
Congratulations to all the riders. We’d say it was time for a well-earned break, but riders like with Vos, Pidcock and Harden all eying up mountain bike, road and even enduro seasons ahead, we’ll guess that celebrations might be little more than a Bloody Mary on the plane home before training starts again.
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