The 20-year-old British cyclist overcomes brutal muddy conditions to reclaim the rainbow jersey.
As a clear pre-race favorite, Evie Richards had only one goal for the women’s U23 Cyclocross World Championships: She was here to reclaim her 2016 title. The 20-year-old won the Elite World Cup race at Namur in December and also finished third at Hoogerheide last weekend, and all eyes were on the British Trek Factory Racing mountain biker to claim her second rainbow jersey in Valkenburg.
However, winning was not a given on a brutal World’s course with plenty of off-camber corners and run-ups in extremely muddy conditions, and a nervous Richards was awake most of the previous night.
"I had a rough night sleep due to nerves; I was up texting my coach at 3:30 am asking him what to do, and I woke up after a couple of hours of sleep, more scared than ever! It almost felt relief when the lights turned green [for the start], but it took me longer than I wanted to find my rhythm. After a little slip-up, I gave myself a little talking to and soon after got my head in the race."
Once Richards was in her groove, it took little time for her to assume the front in the three-lap race. She built a 21-second lead after lap one and increased that to a comfortable margin by the end of lap two when disaster struck!
Starting her final lap, it was obvious Richards had a problem.
"On lap two, I found my stride but as I came to the end of the lap I realized my gears were broken, and I was stuck in the easiest gear. It didn't look like I was panicking, but inside my head was spinning with thoughts! The crowds were going crazy cheering, so I just kept my legs spinning as fast as I could until I reached the pits where I grabbed a fresh bike for the final half a lap."
A smaller lead could have proved devastating, but Richards’ gap was significant and she easily held on to take the title by 38 seconds.
"Winning a race has never felt so good! I am so lucky to of have the most amazing support around me, and the greatest pit crew, who have put up with me the whole journey to winning this World Championships.
"It was such an exciting course, the mud and deep ruts made it so challenging and a bit of a chaotic race, which fits into my riding style, so I was pretty happy with the random conditions, but as I came over the finish line, I went from having my arms in the air to collapsing to the floor I was so exhausted. It was the most brutal race I have ever competed in!"
With the Cyclocross season drawing to a close, Richards now turns her focus back to the mountain bike, where she will ride her first season for Trek Factory Racing.
"I am so excited to get this MTB season in full swing with my first pro contact racing for Trek Factory. It's going to be a really busy year with the Commonwealth Games and two World Cups outside Europe, but I like being busy, so I can't wait! It will also be my first full World Cups series which will give me the chance to race in so many amazing locations and enable me to learn from the team and races on how to be the best I can be on the MTB. I will have amazing family following me to the races, who I am sure will appreciate some sunnier conditions compared to the cross conditions they have put up with this winter!"