Nikki Harris lined up as a pre-race podium favourite in Heusden-Zolder for the 2016 Cyclocross World Championships on Saturday. The British rider finished in fourth place at the 2015 World Championships in Tabor last year, and she had high hopes to build on her results from last season. She would ride across the finish line in fifth place, gutted with the result but proud of the effort.
“I tried my best. I can’t do any more than that, but at the same time, I knew I was losing a bit of time on the running,” said Harris. “Everywhere else I felt strong and in control.”
With two top ten finishes in World Cups to her name this season, Christine Majerus targeted a top ten finish in Zolder. It was mission accomplished for Luxembourg’s national champion who rode solidly within the top ten from the first lap to the last lap to ultimately finish in ninth place.
“The last two days, the course was really fast, and I know maybe that’s not the best lap for me,” said Majerus. “I was happy the weather turned the way it did, and it got a lot harder with a lot more running. On the start line – I was like: “Yeah, I can do this. I did it last week at Hoogerheide so why not this week?”
Dutchwoman Thalita de Jong, sister of Boels-Dolmans rider Demi de Jong, soloed to victory with a last lap charge to the front. Caroline Mani (France) put in an incredible performance to secure second place ahead of Sanne Cant (Belgium), who rounded out the podium.
It’s another box ticked for Majerus
Christine Majerus relies on a strong start to remain in contention for a top ten finish at the biggest races on the cyclocross calendar. With a third row call up, she knew she needed to make her move early to have a chance to meet her objectives – back-to-back top ten results at the Cyclocross World Championships.
“I had to do a sneaky move through the first corner,” explained Majerus. “It was a risk I had to take. I went into the corner really far away, maybe 16th or 17th wheel, and after the corner I went up to fifth or sixth place. I knew it was the key point for me. I had to take the risk because I knew if I could make it to the front at the start, I could do a top ten. In the end, it worked out.”
On what went right in Zolder: “I didn’t slow down so much. I tried to go with the front group on the first two laps, but I also knew it would be hard to follow them the entire race. At one point, I had to say to myself: “From now on, it’s your own rhythm even if the ones in the front go hard. You need to go your own rhythm to secure a top ten.” That’s what I did, and I think it went really well.”
How it feels to finish in the top ten: “It feels good. There are a lot of people behind me on the World Cup podium. Last year, I was also ninth, but it’s not the same. The level is so, so much higher this year. My performance this year would be have been fifth or sixth last year. I’m usually realistic with my goals. If I can reach them, I’m happy.”
Giving thanks: “I want to thank Specialized for the support. The equipment this year worked really well, and I was so happy to have the full support of Specialized. Last year, it was a little complicated because they weren’t fully on board, and it was so much easier this year. I hope next year will be even better.”
Qatar-bound on Monday: “I’m pretty happy to go to Qatar now. It’s a good thing to go to race straightaway because that’s kilometres I would have to do alone at home in the cold weather. I prefer to do them in race conditions. I’ll try to take my shape over with me and help the team as best as possible.”
A daring ride for Harris en route to fifth place
Nikki Harris made no secret of her ambitions to reach the podium in Zolder at Saturday, and she was in the mix to do exactly that until the very last moments of the 2016 Cyclocross World Championships. Confident and comfortable on the fast, technical course, Harris put in an attack on the second lap to gap the other frontrunners. Three seconds through the forest. Six seconds through the technical sections that follow. Harris looked calm and in control.
“It was going exactly as I planned,” Harris said. “I was in that group in the first two laps, and I thought: ‘Ok, I can go.’ I felt really strong. I made my move, and I was going-going-going. I could tell they weren’t on my wheel anymore.”
“And then I messed up this one little line on one of the banks, and it all came to a complete stop for me,” Harris added. “Before I knew it, they were back onto to me. I was having to scramble back to my bike, and it totally messed up my momentum.”
Rate the effort: “I’m completely gutted, but I can’t be disappointed with the effort. I did what I set out to do. It’s a course I don’t really like. I’ve never had a good result here. I made the very best of it.”
How did you stack up against the others: “I felt so good on the technical sections. I felt like I was better than the group I was in. I was making time and cutting corners and putting gaps into people. […] We were all capable of winning. The people who had a bit more luck on the last lap were at the front at the finish.”
Compare last year to this year: "Last year, I was fighting for a podium at the Worlds, which I had never done before. I was there but I was thinking: ‘I’m not really good enough to be here. Why am I here?’ I couldn’t believe that I was there, but I was there and I was hanging on. Today I felt like I should be there, and when I was there, I felt like I was strong enough to get on the front and dictate the race. That’s a major thing for me.”
Looking forward: “I’m going to keep going for the jersey. I think I can do it. I just need a bit of luck.”