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Great Britain’s Zoe Backstedt added another world title to her impressive palmares, winning the 2024 UCI Cyclocross World Championships under-23 women’s race. The 19-year-old won the road and cyclo-cross titles as a junior and won her first world under-23 crown in Tábor.
Backstedt followed the fast early pace set by Marie Schreiber, then took the race on during the opening lap and pulled away from her rivals, as Schreiber struggled.
Cheered on by a home crowd, Czech Republic national champion Kristyna Zemanová won a race-long battle for silver with Dutch woman Leonie Bentveld.
Backstedt, who signed with Canyon Sram last year, showed the strength of her father Magnus and the talent of her mother Megan as she powered through the Tábor mud.
Her advantage grew to over a minute entering the final lap and she had time to enjoy her victory, eventually wining by 44 seconds.
After taking three elite cyclo-cross World Cup podiums this season Backstedt said that winning the under-23 world title was the ‘icing on the cake’ of her season.
“I’m over the moon,” said Backstedt.
“I was a little nervous coming into this one. It has been a really good season and I just wanted to top it off with this.
“I’m so glad that I could do it. I’m head to toe in mud, there were points where you were almost stopping on the course into the mud. It just made it so much fun.”
How it unfolded
2023 winner Shirin Van Anrooij was absent in Tábor meaning that a new under-23 women’ world champion would be crowned in front of the reported 35,000 cheering fans.
Luxembourg national champion Schreiber took the race on from the opening lap and put her opponents under pressure. She was quickly followed by fellow pre-race favourites Backstedt and Bentveld, as everyone else fought for position.
Backstedt was undeterred by the fast start and went side-by-side with Schreiber before taking the lead during the opening half-a-lap as Bentvld slipped back.
An apparent grip problem for Schreiber resulted in the Luxembourg rider falling back behind Bentveld and Zemanová as Backstedt quickly pulled out a 10-second lead.
Three-time Czech Republic national champion Zemanová was spurred on by her home crowd and began a race-long duel with Bentveld. Ahead of them Backstedt used her strength on the zapping course and her gap grew to 23 seconds after just one lap of racing.
Backstedt won the junior world cyclo-cross title two years ago in Fayetteville beating Bentveld into second and looked in superior form on each part of the Tbor course. Her gap grew to 48 seconds after 19 minutes and two laps of racing.
At the halfway point little could separate chasers Bentveld and Zemanová as they continued a tactical battle, with Schreiber a further 14 seconds behind.
Backstedt was in total control on the difficult Tábor terrain and her advantage grew out to over a minute on the penultimate lap.
Behind Bentveld and Zemanová continued to trade blows but had the presence of Schreiber and last year’s junior world champion Isabella Holmgren chasing behind.
Canadian youngster Holmgren lost time early in the race but showed her talent and her endurance by posting the quickest penultimate lap. That lifted her to within 30 seconds of the podium positions.
On the final lap Backstedt was able to cruise towards victory. Zemanová used her strength on the muddy climb to finally pull clear of Bentveld in a bid to clinch silver.
A small mistake for the Czech Republic rider allowed Bentveld to close the gap but then Zemanová got the gap again, cheered on by the local supporters.
Backstedt had time to celebrate her victory with her father Magnus Backstedt as she passed the pit area for the final time and she celebrated a dominant victory with a huge smile and a thumbs up at the line.
Zemanová received the loudest cheers as she took the silver medal, 44 seconds down on Backstedt but 11 seconds ahead of Bentveld, who took the bronze medal.
Holmgren, who signed for Lidl-Trek last year with sister Ava, was again quickest on the final lap passing Schreiber to finish fourth and just 13 seconds off the podium.