Women’s cyclocross: The Kids Are (more than) Alright!

While we were all paying attention to the Vuelta, World Championships, and the late-season classics, the northern hemisphere cyclocross season started back in mid-September. The first World Cup race took place in Iowa on October 9th, and since then, there have been four more World Cup races, the European Championships (at Namur), the Koppenbergcross (X2O series opener), and two Superprestige races (Ruddervoorde and Niel). That gives us nine races to date that are part of the three important season-long series or determine a prestigious jersey. What has the story been?

Three women born in 2002 have dominated the season so far: Fem van Empel, Puck Pieterse, and Shirin van Anrooij. None of those three raced in the Superprestige races (I’m not sure why) but if we consider the remaining seven races, they took all of the wins and 13 of the podium places. Fem van Empel won four of the five World Cup races, the Koppenbergcross, and the European Championships Elite title (Pieterse won the U23 title). The only other woman to win a World Cup race so far this year is Shirin van Anrooij, who, by the way, was a 1-point VDS rider and scored 838 points riding for Trek-Segafredo on the road. Fem van Empel and Puck Pieterse have been riding and winning U23 mountain bike races; if they decide to give road racing a try, I know who I’m picking for my VDS team next year.

What, you may well ask, will happen in the next couple of months when the heart of the cyclocross season gets underway? How about the "older" generation, with world champions such as Marianne Vos, Lucinda Brand, Ceylin Alvarado, Sanne Cant, and Pauline Ferrand-Prévot, some of whom might have been recovering from illness/injury, taking a break after the road season – or taking a several-year break from cyclocross? Well, it’s going to be interesting.

In the most recent World Cup race, Marianne Vos, wearing the world champion’s jersey, took fourth (behind the three 20-year-olds); she has only been back on the circuit for two weeks.

Lucinda Brand has two podium places in World Cup races, and won a race with no top 20-year-olds in the field; she then broke her fingers in a crash and has just started racing again.

Ceylin Alvarado is coming off illness and injury, and looks to be back near her best; she won one of the Superprestige races, and was second at the European championships at Namur and in the World Cup at Fayetteville.

Denise Betsema won the other Superprestige race that's been contested so far, and she leads that series; she was also second at the Koppenbergcross.

Sanne Cant was arguably the dominant cyclocross racer between 2014 and 2018, but hasn’t been quite at her previous level in the last couple of years. She is still ranked 14th in the world, has had some top ten finishes this year, and is the reigning Belgian champion. She seems stronger this year than last year.

Pauline Ferrand-Prévot last rode the cyclocross World Championships in 2017, and has been away from the sport while pursuing other disciplines. She had a tough time with her bike in her first race back at the Koppenbergcross; she still managed to finish 11th and was 7th at the European Championships.

Annemarie Worst has two third places in World Cup races, and Inge van der Heiden has two podiums in the Superprestige races.

The only other woman to podium in a big race so far this season was Blanka Vas of Hungary (we know her from road racing), who was third in the elite category at the European Championships; she was born in 2001…

Clara Honsinger, the U.S. champion, has had some good results: she was fourth at the Koppenbergcross, and she won the Trek Cup as well as the first two Coupe de France races.

There is more young talent coming along as well:

Marie Schreiber, of Luxembourg, was born in 2003; she has two wins in the elite category this year and 9 additional top ten finishes.

Kristyna Zemanova of the Czech Republic, also born in 2003, has been dominating the elite category in races in Germany, Hungary, and the Czech Republic with three wins and five additional podiums; she was 13th and 14th in the two World Cup races she entered.

Line Burquier of France, also born in 2003, has only entered four races this year; she won one elite race and finished second (ahead of Shirin van Anrooij) in the U23 European Championships.

Leonie Bentvelt of Belgium was born in 2004, and has a win and two third places in elite races this year.

Zoe Backstedt of the UK, also born in 2004, has been looking like a future star for some time. She has four top-ten finishes in elite races so far this year.

So the women’s cyclocross season is shaping up nicely as a battle of the generations. Will the three top 20-year-olds continue to dominate, or will the established champions resume their dominance as the season progresses? Will any of the still younger riders further blur the age categories? To find out, watch!

The races are fun to watch, lasting about an hour, and can be viewed on YouTube (the World Cup races) and on GCN or Eurosport. The next Superprestige race is Merkplas on November 19th, followed by a world cup race at Overijse on the 20th; the next X2O race is at Kortrijk on the 26th, followed by the Hulst World Cup on the 27th. In December racing builds gradually to a crescendo of cyclocross goodness between Christmas and New Year’s, and then there’s a bit of a quiet period with national championships in early January before things start to build up again towards the World Championships in early February at Hoogerheide, followed by the last races of the Superprestige and X2O series.