The Netherlands dominated the first day of the UCI Cyclo-cross World Championships in Ostend, Belgium. Dutch athletes showed their prowess on sand, one of the sport’s most demanding terrains. First Pim Ronhaar in the Men Under 23 category then Lucinda Brand in the Women Elite : both winning races that were decided in the beach section, with its unpredictable and difficult surface that caused much drama.
The other protagonist of the women's race was Annemarie Worst, who fell numerous times, but was able to fight with Brand until the last lap (and her last crash). It was a similar fate among the Under 23s for the other Dutch rider, Ryan Kampf, who, after a fall in the early stages, recovered to claim the silver medal.
“For so many years I was so close and now finally after such a great season, to finish it off like this is really cool,” said Brand, who made the podium in the last three editions. “Regarding the crash in the finale, we crossed each other and I just touched her elbow or something. It was the weakest point to touch her so it wasn’t really nice but also not easy to avoid that situation. Unfortunately, it happened”.
“This is an amazing feeling”, said Pim Ronhaar. “At the beginning it was a bit hectic with six or seven riders in front for the first two laps, but I felt really strong and every time on the bridge, I was constantly in place one or two, so that was great. After three laps, I didn’t even attack but just rode my own tempo and got six seconds. On the grass section I was just riding easy, so I had enough power for the sand which paid off in the end.”
A majestic performance from Pim Ronhaar won him the 2021 Men U23 UCI Cyclo-cross World Championships. From the first lap, the Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal rider was the most solid on the demanding beach part and on the second circuit he immediately pulled out a significant advantage over his rivals.
As expected, the tough course led to an elimination race. The first amongst the favourites to lose their chance of winning the rainbow jersey was the Briton Thomas Mein, while climbing the wet steps. On the front, his compatriot Ben Turner was the only non-Belgian or Dutch rider in the nine-strong lead group. Ronhaar showed his form, swapping first position with Belgium’s Niels Vandeputte, only experiencing a little trouble when he briefly slid out on the mud on the wet coastal section.
The second descent off the bridge into the beach was the undoing of the defending champion – and favourite – Ryan Kamp, from the Netherlands, who crashed. Ronhaar took advantage of his technical ability in the sand, gaining four precious seconds from the chasing group which included Belgians Timo Kielich and Toon Vandebosch and the Dutchman Tim Van Dijke.
Kamp rejoined the chasing group while, on the front, Ronhaar was already too far away, with an advantage of 16 seconds to manage on the final lap: he won with 8 seconds in hand over Kamp, who completed an amazing comeback, and 14 seconds ahead of Kielich.
In the day’s second race, for the Women Elite category, the drama came as early as the first turn, with the crash bringing down both the reigning UCI World Champion, Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado (the Netherlands) and the Belgian former triple rainbow jersey winner, Sanne Cant.
Another Netherlands favourite, Lucinda Brand, took the lead immediately on the way to the beach, where almost all the riders had to dismount and continue on foot. While the Belgian Alicia Franck rolled over, Dutch rider Denise Betsema attacked, proving to be one of the best sand specialists, no doubt thanks to her regular training ground on the island where she lives, in the north of the Netherlands. Betsema started the second lap with a small advantage over the remounting Brand and their compatriot Annemarie Worst, while Alvarado took fourth position, with a great comeback after her early crash. By the second lap, the Women Elite race of the UCI World Championships race had become a purely Dutch affair.
The second part of the race was a roller-coaster for Worst: along with Brand she caught Betsema before the end of the second lap, but crashed shortly afterwards, leaving the duo up ahead. But the 2017 Women U23 UCI World Champion was able to push hard on the following sand section, eventually taking the lead just before crashing and remounting once again.
And then, in the exciting shoulder-to-shoulder finale, Worst suffered a final, and this time decisive, crash: and after the UCI World Cup, Lucinda Brand triumphed in the UCI World Championships. Third position went to Betsema and fourth to the American Clara Honsinger ahead of another Dutch rider, Yara Kastelijn.