Denmark’s Malene Degn celebrated the first Epic World Cup victory when she dominated the women’s under-23 race in the opening event of the UCI Mercedes-Benz MTB World Cup in Stellenbosch on Saturday.
She won in a time of 1:18;52, 27 seconds ahead of under-23 World Champion Sina Frei of Switzerland. Great Britain’s Evie Richards was third, 48 seconds behind the Dane. Degn described the win as overwhelming and the perfect start to the season.
“It was an awesome race on a great course. This was my season goal – to win a World Cup – and I achieved it in the first race already,” said Degn. “I’m pretty overwhelmed. I didn’t know I could do this. I don’t know what to say.”
“Evie did a really fast start and I just tried to hang on and not go over my limit too much. Then both of us made some little mistakes at one point, and we were lucky to get away from the chasers. Evie and Sina were just on the hunt for the first lap of the race and they made it super hard. When I got ahead and I saw them coming hard at me, and, I went ‘No! No!’ But I held on.”
Richards had exploded off the start line taking the early lead as the 25-strong bunch representing 13 different countries thundered on the first of their five laps. Richards, a two-time under-23 cyclo-cross World Champion, had a strong lead after the first lap with Degn and Frei chasing hard in second and third respectively. Degn took the lead on the second lap as she and Frei swept past Richards, relegating her to third place.
Degn, who had been seeded in seventh place on the start grid, opened her lead as the race progressed. She was 10 seconds ahead at the end of the second lap and with one lap to go had a comfortable 37 second gap over Frei.
Richards, meanwhile, had begun to pay the price for her early efforts and was caught by France’s Helene Clauzel on the fourth lap. The Brit, who is concentrating on the World Cups and Commonwealth Games in Australia before returning to cyclo-cross later in the year, dug deep and put in the fastest lap of the race to grab the last podium spot. Clauzel was fourth and her compatriot, Loana Lecomte fifth.
South Africa’s great hope for the under-23 race, Bianca Haw, had been forced to withdraw from the event after a bad crash in training on Friday.