Anneke Beerten (Netherlands) won her first four cross world championship title on Friday night under the lights in Champery, Swizterland. Downhillers Fionn Griffiths (Great Britain) and Celine Gros (France) raced to silver and bronze medals respectively.
"I've been riding for a long time, and I've been mountain biking since age 15. I've never won a world title, and I've worked hard for it," said Beerten. "I finally got that rainbow jersey I've been dreaming of for so long."
Beerten was the third fastest qualifier, but she advanced easily through her heats to the final. Former world champion Melissa Buhl (United States) had qualified fastest and was clearly in good form as she, too, progressed with two heat wins to the finals.
In the chaos that was the beginning of the final run, Beerten rode clean and stayed in front out of trouble. The action was a bit further back as Gros, Griffiths and Buhl battled for the best position just after the gate.
"Both Anneke and Melissa had a good gate, and they squeezed me from both sides," said Griffiths. "I made a decision in the second straight to take a line I'd never ridden before. I was told to go right at the tree with the red pad on it and it worked out. I wasn't pleased with second, but Anneke deserved the win. She was riding well."
Gros, on the other hand, was content with her medal. "It's a great result for me not only because it was a tense race, but it is a difficult course and I haven't raced four cross for six years," she said.
"I was looking to come back and have some fun this season. I felt lucky just to qualify for the finals - that was a success for me. I was able to take advantage of the race situation and go for the opening that led to the bronze."
Buhl said, "I had a slow start which was disappointing as it's always nice to have had that lane choice at Worlds," said Buhl. "I was hoping to use it, but Anneke had an amazing start. I knew Fionn would be a force to be reckoned with in the rock garden. I wish I could have gotten a medal for the US."
A different kind of track
The Champery track was quite different than most four cross tracks in that it seemed to have more technical features and be a step toward downhill and away from BMX in terms of features. Overall, the top women seemed to favor the changes.
"Yes, this is the right direction to go for four cross," said Beerten. "This track showed that you need good downhill skills, too. I'm sitting on the podium between two downhillers. This track required a lot of skills."
"I was on a new bike that Trek made for me not too long before Worlds," she said. "It was a full suspension bike. You didn't need to ride a hardtail out there and this was perfect for the course."
Griffiths clearly thought the same thing as she raced the entire event on her downhill bike.
"I'm a downhill rider," said Griffiths. "I don't think of myself as a four cross rider. I hadn't ridden my four cross bike since the Val di Sole World Cup [two weeks ago], and I didn't feel comfortable on it."
"Once I got past the first turn, the downhill bike was an advantage. Getting to the first turn was a challenge. Braking was easier after the start. I put the bike to work and sent it through the trees because I knew it would be slower if I tried to follow the line of those on the hardtails."
Gros was also pleased with the track. "I enjoyed the challenging course with all its roots and changing terrain. There were parts where you had to make strategic decisions as to what line you would take. Many other courses look more like BMX courses, but this was a move back toward a mountain bike course."
- Beerten has been spotted racing in several cross country and eliminator events this season. When asked if we'd see her in more such events, she said, "I'm a four crosser and so my heart is in four cross, but at the same time I enjoyed doing some eliminators and cross countries this year, so you might see me out there doing some more next year."
- Neven Steinmetz (United States) had her best ever Worlds finish with a sixth place. "I moved up twice due to a crash. Sometimes in lane 4, you just let the action happen in front of you. I'm pleased with my best placing at Worlds."
This article was originally published on Cyclingnews.com.