American Katie Compton rode to a comeback victory at the UCI Cyclocross World Cup in Heusden-Zolder, Belgium, on Thursday.
Compton (Trek Cyclocross Collective) topped Dutch world champion Marianne Vos (Rabobank) and Belgian champion Sanne Cant (Enertherm-BKCP) for her 20th career win on the top cyclocross circuit. With the victory, Compton extended her points lead in the World Cup before the final two stops, in Rome and Nommay, France. The World Cup closes Jan. 26 in Nommay.
Series leader Lars Van der Haar (Rabobank) won the men’s race ahead of Czech pair Martin Bina (Cyklo Team Budvar Tábor) and Zdenek Stybar (Omega Pharma-Quick Step).
After a slow start on the Zolder track, Compton fought to come back on Vos. By the second lap, Compton led the race and rolled to a comfortable victory over the multiple-time world champ.
“I felt really good,” said Compton. “I mean, I really pushed hard. I pushed where I could, I mean, on the road sections I’m not going to go hard the whole time, so it’s a matter of do what I can and try to attack more on the technical sections where it’s hard to draft anyway.”
For Compton, it was the second time in a week she had beaten Vos in a World Cup. She topped also topped the reigning cyclocross and road world champion, who returned from a racing break earlier this month, in Namur, Belgium, on Sunday.
“Second is not too bad. It was as I expected,” said Vos. “Namur was hard, and it was no big surprise for me that I couldn't keep up with Katie. I thought today this course would suit me better and I felt already in the start that this race was better. But Katie was way too strong.
"When she passed Sanne and me, I tried to follow, I tried to catch up, I tried to take her wheel, but it was just too fast. I could follow for a few hundred meters, but I felt this was more than 100 percent for me. You can do that for a few hundred meters, but I had to give up and I raced for second.”
In the men’s race, former two-time world champion Stybar and series leader Van der Haar were among the riders to force an early selection that waned to six riders at the halfway point. Niels Albert (BKCP-Powerplus) suffered an early mechanical and dropped out of contention along with Kevin Pauwels (Sunweb-Napoleon Games). World champion Sven Nys (Crelan-Euphony) started slowly, finding his place in a chase group alongside Bart Aernouts (AA Drink).
The Stybar/Van der Haar group swelled to 12 riders at one point, with Nys regaining contact, but acceleration by Rob Peeters (Telenet-Fidea) shelled the group again, with Nys on the losing end. Stybar repeatedly put the leaders’ group under pressure with a series of sharp accelerations, but 13 men came through the finish for the bell lap.
German champion Philipp Walsleben (BKCP) attacked midway through the final lap, but failed to make a difference. Stybar was next to attack, pushing with the power that landed him in the winning group at Paris-Roubaix earlier this year.
Van der Haar surged around the Czech late in the lap, however, and led onto the finish straight. The Dutchman opened his sprint first and held off Bina, who celebrated his second-place finish. Stybar rolled through in third.
“I was in really good position, at one moment I thought today I really could make it. I don’t want to say that I would beat Lars in the sprint, but there’s always some chance to beat him,” said Stybar. “But then I just made a mistake after the stairs, because I didn't really go fast enough into the pedals because of the sand, so I lost maybe 20 or 30 meters there, and it was over.”
Van der Haar said the difference in the race was tactical.
“Stybar was really strong on the road,” he said. “I just stayed in a good position in the race constantly. I knew I had to be in the front on the stairs, and I did everything in the race to do that.”
Stybar said he would have liked the victory, but was happy that van der Haar, who played protagonist for much of the race, was the man to beat him.
“Lars did a really good race, he never waited to take over, and I like to race like that, so I also didn't really mind that he won,” said Stybar. “I would hate if someone won just by staying in the wheels and just made the last lap and he won, but Lars, he really deserved to win.”