Zoe Backstedt was crowned the junior women’s cyclo-cross World Champion in Fayetteville, Arkansas on Saturday (29 January).
The young-Welsh rider was hot favourite going into the race having dominated the junior ranks this year in the discipline, even winning her first elite women’s race earlier in the season against some of the top ranked women in the world.
Doubts over Backstedt’s form going into the race were put to bed sharpish, the Brit attacking on the first lap on the steep climb which proved to be a catalyst in the other two races of the day.
Backstedt was unable to race the recent British National Championships in Crawley due to Covid-19, which also left her out of the final World Cup race, relinquishing the overall title to Leonie Bentveld (The Netherlands) her number on challenger.
“If I’m honest I’m just shocked. I’ve had a pretty good season on the road and in cross this year, and I was unlucky with the World Cup and with Nationals to have Covid.
“I missed those, but I think ultimately it made me fight back stronger, and I’m here today because I put that extra little bit of fire into my race,” said Backstedt on her win.
Leaving her competitors behind, the 17-year-old rode away with ease to be crowned World Champion, punching the air and taking her second World title in five months.
In the under-23 men’s race, Cameron Mason fought valiantly to take fifth. The Scottish rider fought for seven laps to be in with a shot at sprinting for a bronze medal. However, he would enter the sprint in lead position, only to be overcome by Thibau Nys (Belgium) and Mees Hendrikx (The Netherlands).
Junior Women’s Race
The British duo of Zoe Backstedt and Ella Maclean-Howell would contend the junior women’s race in Fayetteville. Backstedt having won the three junior UCI Cyclo-Cross World Cups this season that she started. She would start as the favourite to take the rainbow bands in the USA.
It didn’t take long for the Welsh rider to take the challenge on, attacking 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, lap three would prove to show the opposite as Backstedt increased her lead again to 28 seconds.
With one lap to go, Backstedt lead from Bentveld in second and Lauren Molengraaf (The Netherlands) in third. Ella Maclean-Howell crossed the line in sixth with Federica Venturelli (Italy) and Lilou Fabegue (France), just 14 seconds behind Molengraaf.
Maclean-Howell attacked from her group midway through the last lap to try chase down Molengraaf for third and a Bronze medal, meanwhile her teammate ahead was climbing the steps for the final time, smiling as she raced to victory.
Backstedt would eventually turn on to the final straight with time to spare, punching the air and taking the World Championship win by 32 seconds to Bentveld.
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.”
Maclean-Howell finished one minute and six seconds behind Backstedt in fourth overall, just nine seconds off third placed Molengraaf.
1. Zoe Backstedt (Great Britain) 41:16
2. Leonie Bentveld (The Netherlands) +32
3. Lauren Molengraaf The Netherlands) +57
4. Ella Maclean-Howell (Great Britain) +1:06
U23 Men’s Race
Cameron Mason and Joe Blackmore both lined up in the under-23 men’s race for Great Britain. Mason, tipped for a podium position having won one of the dedicated under-23 men’s World Cup races this year.
A fast start from the front row, Mason was caught out slightly losing some places going into the first fast left and then a right-hander, but by the end of lap one, the Scottish rider had regained his place in the front group, crossing the line in 11th place after one lap. Joe Blackmore just behind in 16th as part of a chasing trio.
As a large group of riders entered lap two, it was Joran Wyseure (Belgium) who took it upon himself to take the race on and up the pace. Attacking up the climb, by the start of the lap three, the Belgian had a gap of seven seconds to the chasing group.
Mason and Blackmore were together in 10th and 11th at this point, 13 seconds behind in a third group crossing the line.
On lap four of seven, Mason had managed to catch a group of six riders in pursuit of Wyseure. However just seconds later, by the middle of the lap, Pim Ronhaar, (The Netherlands) the reigning world champion sprinted away taking the group with him as Mason and Niels Vandeputte (Belgium) were unable to follow.
Blackmore behind lost time on the same climb, dropping back to 12th and over one minute behind the leading Belgian rider.
A valiant Mason continued to fight; every camera shot showed the Brit dangling off the back of the chasing group, as he reeled in a slowing Ronhaar, passing Ronhaar and then chasing the orange jersey of Ryan Kamp (The Netherlands) all with one and a half laps remaining.
Heading into the last lap Wyseure lead by ten seconds to his chasing teammate, Emiel Verstrynge (Belgium). Behind a group of four with Mason now present were 24 seconds behind.
With just one more time up the climb remaining, Kamp lead his teammate Mees Hendrikx (The Netherlands), taking him as close to the top as possible before grinding to halt. No luck however in losing Thibau Nys (Belgium) or Mason, both hanging in there, digging deep to take it down to a sprint for bronze.
Mason attacked into one of the final corners, passing Nys and Hendrikx before the sprint, trying to distance the pair. They would hold the British rider however, following him onto the finish line and sprinting past Mason, who would finish fifth.
Blackmore would cross the line in 14th, two minutes, and 15 seconds behind the leader.
1. Joran Wyseure (Belgium) 49:21
2. Emiel Verstrynge (Belgium) +13
3. Thibau Nys (Belgium) +33
5. Cameron Mason (Great Britain) +33
14. Joe Blackmore (Great Britain) +2.15
There was no British representation in the elite women’s race with Anna Kay unfortunately forced to pull out of the championships following an injury she sustained in last weekend’s world cup round at Hoogerheide. We’re all wishing Anna a speedy recovery, and know she’ll be back stronger than ever next year.