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Many riders were saying that the 2018 UCI World Cyclocross Championships were the hardest in years. The races were also some of the most surprising and exciting we’ve seen in awhile. American Katie Compton came within one muddy lap of her first world title but instead finished silver to Sanne Cant, her fourth second-place result. In the men’s race, everyone expected Mathieu van der Poel to walk away with a second rainbow jersey, but instead Wout van Aert manhandled the heavy track. Ready for a roundtable? We are!
Take us through your range of emotions watching Katie Compton during the elite women’s race, lap by lap.
Spencer Powlison, news director @spino_powerlegs: Lap 1: Okay, top-10 isn’t too bad, we can work with this. Lap 2: There we go, a medal might be possible. Lap 3: Holy S—t this is happening!! What would be the perfect headline for this? Lap 4: No. Nooo. Nooo!
Chris Case, managing editor @chrisjustincase: Lap 1: Gaaaaah, where’s Katie?! Not again! Did she get another bad start? (I wholeheartedly admit I may have been too quick to overreact.) Lap 2: Oh, there she is! Nice. Steady… Lap 3: Holy crap. This is it, this is it, this is the year. She’s going to do it. (I wholeheartedly admit I many have prematurely started to envision the win.) Lap 4: Come on, come on…(and then when her entire gap vanished in the pits) a lot of cursing and muttering and, yes, cheering.
Michael Better, reporter @fedora_mike: Lap 1: Ugh, another bad start. Lap 2: Alright here she comes, but geez Sanne can run. Lap 3: Boom goes the dynamite! Lap 4: Does Sanne run marathons in training?
Was this Katie Compton’s last best chance at winning a rainbow jersey?
Spencer: It’ll depend on the conditions in the coming years. She pointed out that there hasn’t been a heavy, hard worlds in years, which isn’t usually in her favor. Next year will be in Denmark — if weather blows in from the North Sea, maybe she’ll have another shot.
Chris: Some people would have said that she had her best chance years ago. But look what she did this year. So, no, absolutely not. She continues to defy her age, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see her back at the front next year.
Michael: There was a strong vibe that if Compton didn’t win this year she never would, but I don’t see it that way. She had one of her best seasons and best worlds races in recent years. It doesn’t look to be slowing down anytime soon, so on to Denmark!
Is there anything Compton could have done differently to win the race?
Spencer: She should have skipped that first pit on the final lap. It’s a bit of a risk, but from a psychological standpoint, Cant got a huge boost when she cruised up to Compton’s wheel like that. I think if Compton had kept her on the ropes, Cant might have lost her spark or made a mistake in her haste to chase back to the front.
Chris: I don’t think so. As she said, she went as fast and for as long as she could. Sanne Cant just had more in the end. If she hadn’t had to run the length of the pits on the last lap, I still think that Sanne would have caught her. Since the Belgian pulled back all of Compton’s lead in a matter of seconds, it was just that much more shocking.
Michael: Run faster? Not have a bad start? Coulda, shoulda, woulda. She had a great race and put on a show, end of story.
When did you realize that things weren’t going Mathieu van der Poel’s way in Sunday’s race?
Spencer: As soon as he looked over his shoulder to check on Michael Vanthourenhout, I knew it was over. No disrespect to Vanthourenhout, but he can’t carry van der Poel’s bib shorts. If MvdP is worried about fighting for a silver medal, his head isn’t in the game and his legs are even worse off.
Chris: When he made his first acceleration after getting to the head of the race. When Wout was able to stick with him, I knew that there was a good chance that MvdP was not going to dominate. You could see it in his body language almost instantly.
Michael: When van Aert threw down a 9:30 lap and put 25 seconds into him. Belgian national anthem was already in the queue for the podium ceremony with over 40 minutes left to race.
Could Wout van Aert have still won on a faster, less-technical course?
Spencer: I think he could have won on a fast day like we saw in Hoogerheide last weekend, but it wouldn’t have been such a cakewalk. Van der Poel would have had more opportunities to hang in there and battle at the end. There was nowhere to hide in Valkenburg.
Chris: Sure, but I don’t think it would have played out the same way. If Mathieu is on a bad day on a course that arguably suits his strengths better, he may be able to stick around longer or utilize his strengths better. But he was totally exposed out there. And Wout was on a twice-in-a-lifetime type day.
Michael: Who knows? It doesn’t matter. We can play the what-if game all day. Chapeau to van Aert for putting it together after van der Poel kicked his head in all season.
Van der Poel dominated van Aert all season, but the roles were reversed at worlds — how do we wrap our minds around that?
Spencer: I’m stunned. It was a great course for van Aert, it was a bad day for van der Poel — maybe he had too much pressure on his shoulders? But still, how could the dynamic flip so dramatically? I guess that’s what makes cyclocross so fun for fans.
Chris: It’s hard to believe in some ways, because not only did MvdP lose, he lost by 2:30. He’s probably never lost a race by that margin in his life. Yet he is having one of the best seasons any ‘cross racer has had in the modern era. He has beaten Wout on 26 of 32 occasions. Therein lies the nature of bike racing though. MvdP hasn’t beaten Wout every time. Even the best have bad days. And, boy, did he choose the wrong day to not be at the top of his game.
Michael: Valkenburg had a strong Namur feel to it and that’s where van Aert won handily (by over a minute) this year. Not a terrible surprise he won. You don’t become a three-time world champion without knowing exactly how to put it together on the one day of the year that matters the most. He was my pick after all, but shhh don’t tell anyone.