Luxembourgish champion Christine Majerus snagged her first top five finish at a UCI Cyclocross World Cup in Namur on Sunday. Despite an uncharacteristically slow start, Majerus worked her way up to sixth place by the end of the opening lap and by the mid-point of the race, she had begun to factor into the battle for the final spot on the podium.
“I’m really happy with my best World Cup result on one of the most beautiful laps on the circuit,” said Majerus. “I gave absolutely everything I had today.”
British cyclocross champion Nikki Brammeier lined up as the defending champion in Namur. Riding with Majerus for the majority of the first half of the race, Brammeier faded slightly during the last two laps and ultimately finished in eighth place.
“Eighth is okay for my condition,” said Brammeier, who returned to racing only last weekend following a particularly nasty crash at the European Championships in October. “I’m happy with it. It wasn’t as pleasurable as last year, but I can’t be disappointed.”
The sixth round of the Telenet UCI Cyclocross World Cup series is arguably the hardest of the lot. The lap includes the most metres gained of any race on the calendar, and because what goes up must come down, the course also includes short, steep drops and longer off-camber descents.
“The race was faster this year with less mud but still just as hard,” noted Brammeier.
Both Boels-Dolmans riders reported slow starts to the six-lap, 47-minute race.
“I had a rubbish start and got stuck behind a few crashed riders,” said Brammeier. “I managed to have a good second half of the first lap and got up to fourth.”
“My start was not so good,” added Majerus, who has worked hard to become one of the quickest riders off the line. “I missed my pedal twice but stayed calm as I knew that the lap is hard enough that the start might be a little bit less important than it is in other races.”
Majerus and Brammeier reached the finish line for the start of lap two side-by-side. Katerina Nash (Clif Pro Team), Eva Lechner (Clif Pro Team), Sophie de Boer (Kalas-NNOF), Evie Richards (British Cycling) and Ellen Van Loy (Telenet Fidea Lions) had a 10-second advantage over the Boels-Dolmans duo.
“The first lap was a bit chaotic with lots of riders in the way,” said Majerus. “Nikki and I held our little group for one lap before we could ride smooth.”
By the mid-point of the race, Nash rode alone out front with De Boer determinedly chasing. Alice Arzuffi (Selle Italia Guerciotti) had moved up to third place at 30 seconds, only nine seconds ahead of Van Loy, Lechner and Majerus. Brammeier was in seventh place at 54 seconds.
Lap four proved a game-changer at the head of the race, and Majerus got in on the action.
“I felt strong in the hill after the finish, so at lap three, I decided to go a little deeper,” Majerus explained. “All of a sudden, I was really not that far away from the leaders.”
Majerus spent lap five in pursuit of Lechner and Arzuffi and managed to overtake overtake Arzuffi, to slot into fourth place, before the start of the bell lap. Only 16 seconds in front of Majerus, Nash and De Boer were engaged in an action-packed last lap duel for the top step of the podium.
Although third place appeared within reach at several points during the final ten minutes of racing, Majerus ended the afternoon in fifth place.
“I have no regrets at all not to podium,” said Majerus. “I felt good on the technical parts, and I think I rode a consistent race.”
Thirty seconds and three spots further back, Brammeier reached the finish line.
“I died a little towards the end of the race, but that’s normal given my condition and the effort I made in yesterday’s race,” said Brammeier. “I’m happy to have raced two good races this weekend on totally different courses.”