Despite a first lap crash that required a bike change, Nikki Brammeier snagged her second podium of the 2016/2017 cyclocross as the historic Superprestige Zonhoven on Sunday. The British national champion finished in third place behind Sanne Cant (Enertherm-Beobank) and Jolien Verschueren (Young Telenet Fidea).
“I felt really strong today,” said Brammeier. “Considering my crash, I’m really happy with the result, and I’m happy with how good my legs felt. I’ve been training hard in Girona all week.”
“It was harder than usual today because of the heat,” she added. “It’s weird weather in Belgium at the moment. I think it was 20 degrees today.”
The course in Zonhoven is notorious for its giant sandpit that riders must ride up and down two times every lap. While the sandpit is the most notable course feature, there are other challenges including an off-camber section and a running sand section outside the main sandpit.
“It’s a cool course,” said Brammeier. “You sort of start and zig-zag a bit until you drop into the sandpit, and you go in and out of that two times. Both times you come out of the sandpit, you run up a 20-second hill. It’s pretty epic.”
“There’s quite a lot of running on the course and quite a lot of riding in the sand, which I like,” she added. “The sand can cause chaos, so I knew I wanted to be the first one into the sandpit.”
Brammeier was quick off the line and led the race into the sand.
“I know if you get stuck behind people there, you can lose time,” she said. “It made sense to spend energy early to be the first one into the sand.”
“But then I crashed on the first descent,” she added. “They had brushed all the sand flat before the race, so there were no clear lines to take. I hit a patch of sand and went straight over the bars. I suppose it was funny to watch for the spectators.”
In an instant, Brammeier went from first place to fourth place. Scrambling to get back on her bike and limit losses, Brammeier managed to get riding again fairly quickly but discovered that her gears were full of sand.
“I couldn’t shift properly, so I had to pit to change my bike,” Brammeier explained. “After the bike change, I went from fifth place back up to second place but Sanne had already gotten a gap at that point.”
Brammeier’s sand-riding and running skills were on full display as she picked off riders on the second and third lap. She clawed her way back to second place within 26 seconds of Cant, who was riding alone in the lead.
“I was second until the last lap, and I died a little toward the end,” she said. “Jolien caught me on the run-up and held on to the line.”
Next weekend Brammeier will line-up alongside Luxembourg cyclocross champion Christine Majerus for the third round of the UCI World Cup series. Having elected not to travel to the United States in September, Valkenburg is Brammeier’s first World Cup of the season.
“I’ll take it easier this week,” said Brammeier. “It’s meant to rain every day this week. I hope it’s a hard muddy ‘cross race next weekend.”