U23 Women's World Championship Preview

Hey American Cyclocross Fans!  Are you HYPED to get up at 7AM on January 28th and watch the women's U23 world championship?  YES YOU ARE!

This thing has only been around for two years, but Ellen Noble won the U23 World Cup and Emma White was the youngest woman to ever win a UCI race (take that, Marianne Vos), so you better believe that #MERICA is gonna show up guns a-blazin, sweep the podium,  and you're gonna spill your coffee when you post up in your living room watching a pirated feed early Saturday morning!  We've got the best women in the world!  We're getting our first rainbow jersey this weekend!

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Actually, let's be honest.  You have no idea who is racing the U23 women's world champs except for "Emma and Ellen."

It's not your fault.  U23 women don't get their own race at World Cups, so you know exactly one U23 woman in those races -- whomever is leading the U23 World Cup (thanks to the leader's jersey).  And that's been Ellen all season.  Whom you already knew.  So you can name exactly two U23 female cyclocross racers, and they're the two women from New England you've been aware of since they were winning B races at 14.

But hey, if you're gonna get up at crack-of-dawn o'clock to spill your coffee anyway, wouldn't it be better if you knew a thing or two about the race?  Yeah!    Let's do this!

Last Year


An 18-year old Brit named Evie Richards smashed everyone (note:  only 2 riders within one minute) and took the jersey.  Ellen Noble was 6th, Emma White didn't race, and the next American was Hannah Arensman in 27th.

Third place finisher Maud Kaptheijns and 7th place finisher Alice Maria Arzuffi were 22, so they're too old now.  Everyone else is coming back.  Let's see what they've been up to!

2016 World Cup

It turns out that European U23 women universally decided not to attend the first two rounds of the World Cup (Cross Vegas and Jingle Cross).  This is either says something about their funding, or the relative importance of World Cups to a pro career, or both.  In any case, the only heavy hitters to show up WC #1 and #2 were Ellen and Emma.  Ellen won both, and is going to win the World Cup overall because of this.

The real racing didn't start until World Cup #3 -- Valkenburg.    The U23 women race within the Elite women, but I painstakingly added ages to all the European women so that the age filter on crossresults would show the U23 results (you're welcome!):

HAHAHA those names are totally different from 2016 Worlds wow Colin great job building a narrative.

World Cup leader Ellen Noble suffered a crash and then a related mechanical, and finished 37th overall and 14th U23.  Defending podium finishers Evie Richards and Nikola Noskova didn't race.  The top returning U23 was Laura Verdonschot, 19th overall and 4th U23.  Dutch mountain biker and virtual unknown Annemarie Worst won the U23 race and finished 12th overall.

World Cup #4 (Zeven) had the "big" names back near the top and an entirely different podium:


Laura Verdonschot won, Ellen Noble bounced back, Richards and Noskova returned.  The top unknown rider was 18-year-old Manon Bakker in 4th.  Annemarie Worst didn't race.

At World Cup #5, Evie Richards returned to World-champ form.  Chiara Teocchi made her first podium, and Ellen Noble stayed consistent.  Verdonschot had a rare bad day (mechanical?) and finished 28th (9th U23);  Emma White made her European debut at 22nd (7th U23).

World Cup #6 (Zolder) gave us our first repeat winner (in Europe), Laura Verdonschot, and a big ride from Emma White in 2nd.  Ellen Noble notably led the chase group and was in 2nd overall at one point on lap two, only to suffer another mechanical problem.  Italian Chiara Teocchi made another podium.

Evie Richards didn't race, and last year's runner-up Noskova continued to underwhelm.

World Cup #7 left the cyclocross heartland for an insanely technical course in Italy, and gave us the best U23 racing yet:

There were 5 U23s in the top ten, led by Annemarie Worst in 4th overall.  Noble and Verdonschot podiumed yet again, with Teocchi and Noskova sprinting for 9th just 12 seconds back.  Manon Bakker also turned in another solid ride in 15th.

And then, with a week to go, we got a real check-in on everyone's form at World Cup #8:

On a fast and icy course, time gaps were small and groups were big.  Annemarie Worst won U23 (again), and made the real podium with Verdonshot and Richards outsprinting Katerina Nash and Sophie De Boer just seconds behind.  Helene Clauzel also managed to hang in the lead group for most of the day, coming away with a very solid 12th at the end.

It was a really bad day for American hopes, though -- Noble started well but faded precipitously to 39th, and White didn't start (I heard a rumor about a flight being delayed or something?).  Oof.

Other Races

With the top U23s bouncing around the globe (Noble and White racing in America, Verdonschot racing in Belgium, Noskova racing in Switzerland, Richards not racing at all...) it's hard to get a handle on how they stack up.  Laura Verdonschot was 2nd to Sanne Cant at Belgian Nationals... Nikola Noskova was 2nd to Pavla Havlikova at Czech Nationals.  I have no idea if this tells us anything.

Luckily, crossresults.com has a ranking system that can evaluate these disparate performances against each other, and then average them over the season to make some predictions.  Here's the current crossresults.com points ranking for the major U23 players:



Yeah, so it turns out that Laura Verdonschot has been killing it in the professional Belgian scene this year, and riding around with Sanne Cant every weekend is really good for your points.  In American terms -- she's 9-3 against American-Belgian Elle Anderson this season.  Crossresults is impressed.  You should be too.  Verdonschot is the only U23 spending time at the front of Superprestiges or DVV series races.

The Players

I started to try to find pictures of these people, then I realized that everyone wears a national kit at Worlds so you wouldn't recognize them anyway...and that image searching 19 year old female cyclists makes you feel surprisingly creepy.

The Favorite

Annemarie Worst (NED) has barely raced 'cross this year -- but in the 3 World Cups she's entered this year, she's been the top U23 in all of them, and most importantly, two of those were in the last two weeks.

She's not undefeated this year, though --she entered Superprestige Diegem, where Verdonschot and Emma White beat her.  
With recent wins on a gnarly course in Fiuggi and a frozen grass crit in Hoogerheide, she's an all-around rider and has to be considered the favorite.

Odds:  2:1

The Other Favorite

Laura Verdonschot (BEL).  Dating back to World Cup #4 (Zeven), Laura Verdonschot has lined up against the other top U23 women nine times.  Six of those times, she's been the top U23, and two of those other times she was 2nd (Fiuggi and Hoogerheide).  The beauty of cyclocross, of course, is that anything can happen (see:  Verdonschot finishing 28th in Namur), but Laura has been the best with a consistency no one else can touch in the last two months.  If she missed the podium it would be shocking.

Odds:   3:1

The Defending Champ

Evie Richards (GBR).  Evie has raced very sparingly this season -- she was the top U23 on Verdonschot's "bad day" at Namur, but lost to her 3 times in the month leading up to Namur.  Then she went missing from top-level competition for nearly a month (she won British u23s by 2 minutes, and her instagram posted photos from training in Majorca) -- but returned at Hoogerheide to cruise with the lead group all day, eventually losing a sprint to Verdonschot.

Evie's jersey defense will be very hard thanks to the aforementioned riders, but it's certainly within reach.  Her finishing off the podium would be a surprise.

Odds:  3:1

The Contenders

Ellen Noble (USA) has had 5 good races in 8 World Cups, won the U23 World Cup, just won US U23 Nationals, and is the last American to beat Katie Compton.   That's the good news.

The bad news is that she's had seven races in Europe against the other top U23s, and she hasn't been the top finisher in any of them.  But she's been CLOSE in most of them.  She's logged victories over Verdonschot and Richards -- just never both at the same time.

Odds:  9:1

Emma White (USA) goes into the race as the "other American," while still having some incredible palmares like a Junior World Road silver medal and the "youngest woman to ever win a UCI race" record.  She's generally finished behind Noble this year, but might be faster if the course comes down to fitness (see:  that silver at road Worlds;  beating Noble twice at NohoCX).  White also finished only a few places behind Verdonschot at Cyclocross Essen and World Cup #6.

With zero recent European results, Emma is hard to predict.  She's a long shot for a podium.

Odds:  15:1

Chiara Teocchi (ITA) had been 2nd, 3rd, and 4th in the U23 World Cups before a bad ride at Hoogerheide.  She's also won her last 2 UCI races in Italy, although not ahead of anyone fast enough to be really impressive.   Like White, she's a long shot for the podium, but week-to-week variability has been high in the U23 women's race, and the World Champs course looks sure to generate some "incidents" -- so she's only a lucky break or two from a podium.

Odds:  15:1

The Rest

18 year-old Manon Bakker (NED) has been lurking around the podium all season.  Helene Clauzel (FRA) had a huge ride last week in 12th overall.    Last year's runner-up Nikola Noskova (CZE) was 10th overall at Fiuggi, but then skipped Hoogerheide.

Odds:  Nope.  But you'll field good about being able to identify the Czech rider in the chase group, right?

Recap

The top three (Worst, Verdonschot and Richards) were separated by just seconds last week, and the order of the podium is way too close to call with confidence.  With the Luxembourg course looking like it could be pretty gnarly/decisive/exciting, and a whole slew of other podium contenders who've proven they can ride with the top 3 at various races this season, the racing is bound to be exciting.

An American on the podium isn't *likely* (podiums only go 3 deep in Europe, alas), but Americans in the mix is a certainty -- and anything can happen in a 'cross race.
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