Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands may have announced her abdication this week, but Marianne Vos's reign as the Queen of Cycling continues, taking her fifth successive world cyclo-cross championship in Louisville, Kentucky, and the sixth of her career. It was one of three Dutch victories today, the others being in the mens junior and under-23 events, but Belgium ruled the men's elite race, with Sven Nys, whose sole previous victory came in 2008, the year before Vos won her first title, profiting from a mistake by compatriot Klaas Vantournot to win the rainbow jersey.
The four races, due to be spread over two days, were all held today due to flooding forecast for the early hours of tomorrow morning. Defences against any threat he rising waters of the Ohio River presented to the course had been put in place, but it was a blanket of snow, rather than floodwater, that covered it as racing got under way this morning under blue skies.
By the time of the last event, the men's elite race, the ground which had been hard early on had softened and been churned up, making conditions muddy, and that clear sky earlier had given way to snow.
Nys, aged 36, has won the World Cup on six occasions, the Superprestige series 11 times and been Belgian champion eight times, making the solitary world championship he had won until today, his victory coming back in 2005, look very lonely among his palmarès.
It was one of his less fancied fellow Belgians, Klaas Vantornout, who went into the final lap head-to-head with him. Vantornout had sprung a surprise last month by winning the Belgian national championship, and it looked as though he might be able to pull off an even bigger shock by winning the rainbow jersey.
The decisive moment came halfway round the circuit when Nys took a risk as he slid into a corner but stayed upright to give himself clear daylight over his compatriot as he dismounted to take a small climb.
The gap Nys had opened up perhaps made Vantornout panic, the 30-year-old catching his pedal on the mesh fencing as he prepared to remount, and from then on he didn’t look like catching his rival, who for good measure bunnyhopped a couple of fences to ensure he kept the pressure on.
The winning margin of just 2 seconds was more down to Nys sitting up to enjoy the moment than anything else, Vantornout, aware of the error that had cost him the chance to sprint for the rainbow jersey, banging his handlebars in frustration.
At one point, a Belgian clean sweep had seemed to be on the cards, but it was Lars Van der Haar of the Netherlands, winner of the under-23 world championship at Koksijde 12 months ago, who clinched bronze to cap what had been a terrific day for the Netherlands.
The early pace had been set by French rider Francis Mourey, who despite falling into the mud on the third circuit after catching his wheel in a rut, still had a lead of a quarter of a minute as he crossed the line at the end of that lap.
The Belgian charge was relentless, however, and he was caught by Kevin Pauwels with five laps to ride, with Nys and Vantournot just behind.
Two laps later, Mourey fell away and Pauwels, a former world champion at junior and under-23 level, saw his bid to add the elite title ended after his chain jammed.
That left Vantornout and Nys to fight it out as the snowfall that had started earlier began to come down more heavily.
In the women's race Vos, still only aged 25, got clear on the first lap and was never going to be caught. Katie Compton of the United States rode strongly as the race progressed to catch and pass a small chasing group to finish second, with Lucie Chainel-Lefevre of France third.
Great Britain’s Helen Wyman was brought down in a crash after Gabby Day came off her bike just after the very first corner, putting an end to any hopes thate the rider ranked number 2 in the world might clinch the country’s first medal in the event since Louise Robinson won silver in the inaugural edition in 2000.
It’s not clear why a rider of Wyman’s experience was so far down the field so early in the race, but she never recovered and the top British finisher was Annie Last, who came 12th, 3 minutes 36 seconds down on Vos. Wyman was 10 seconds back in 13th.
Vos calmly and relentlessly stretched out her lead on each of the six laps, eventually finishing 1 minute 34 clear of home favourite Compton.
The American rider had lost half a minute on the first lap alone but worked her way up through the field to reach a trio of riders behing Vos, passing them and riding away to her second silver medal in the event.
There was drama in the race for third, with Chainel-Lefevre snatching the bronze medal from the Czech Republic’s Katerina Nash.
The latter, who seemed to have been struggling on the last hill as she chased Chainel-Lefevre, rounded the final bend clear of the Frenchwoman but her chain appeared to jam.
As she desperately tried to freewheel her bike to the line, right foot pushing the left pedal, Chainel-Lefevre passed her to secure her place on the podium.
The first event of the day was the junior men’s race, where Mathieu Van der Poel of the Netherlands soloed his way to victory to retain his title.
His compatriot Martijn Budding came homee 57 seconds back to take silver with Adam Toupalik of the Czech Republic getting clear of Logan Owen of the United States to finish third.
British riders Jake Worseley and Jack Ravenscroft both placed in the top 20, finishing respectively 17th and 18th. Adam King was 26th of the 33 starters.
On the final lap of the men's under-23 race, Mike Teunissen of the Netherlands won his country's third rainbow jersey of the day, getting clear of Belgian rider Wietse Bosmans - runner-up last year to another Dutch rider, Lars Van der Haar, who today rides the elite race.
Bosmans held on to take silver from fellow Belgian Wout Van Aert. with riders from Belgium or the Netherlands filling the first ten places, Zach McDonald of the United States leading the 'foreign' challengers home in 11th spot.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.