Mani earns bronze at the European Cyclocross Championships

Posted on October 31, 2016 by meredith miller

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Lining up to contest the 2016 European Championships for the first time since 2010, Caroline Mani was on a mission to bring home a gold medal for France on home soil. However, reigning world champion Thalita de Jong spoiled the Frenchwoman’s quest when she rode away from the rest of the field to claim victory for the Netherlands. In a two-up sprint for the silver medal, Mani was outpaced by De Jong’s compatriot Lucinda Brand. Having never before won a medal at the European championships, Mani was nonetheless happy to be on the podium receiving the bronze medal in front of a home crowd.

“I am pretty happy and so are the French federation and the French people,” said Mani. “There were tons of French people screaming all during the race and at the podium. It was exquisite!”

On a familiar course in Pont-Château, which has played host to two world championships, the European championships, six French championships and several rounds of the world cup, the race got off to a lightning fast start. Clouds of dust ballooned behind the 22 starters, representing 10 different countries, as they sped off on the superhighway-like course.

“It was so dry and fast and compact,” Mani said. “I used Clement LAS’s, something you don’t normally use in Europe. And for sure it was suited really well to a road racer.”

With few technical bits to sort out the race, the field stayed together in one large mass as they sped around the course in the opening laps.

“There were so many people together at the beginning,” said Mani. “It was sketchy. There were too many girls together, and they were passing everywhere. I got elbowed too many times in the first lap. I hate it. So on the second lap I decided to put the race on because I didn’t want to be caught in a crash or miss the right attack. It was time to clean the peloton.”

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Mani’s acceleration on the climb and a crash mid-pack helped a group of seven riders, which included three Dutch, two Belgians, one Italian and one French, detach themselves from the rest of the field. From that group, De Jong, Brand and Sanne Cant (Belgium) jumped away to open a sizeable gap, but the high speed from De Jong was too much for Brand and Cant to hold on. Behind the front three, Mani worked with Sophie de Boer (Netherlands) and Alice Arzuffi (Italy) to chase down the two displaced riders.

“Lucinda and Sanne went with Thalita when she attacked, and I got dropped,” Mani said. “I stayed steady and caught Brand and then Sanne. After I passed Sanne, she caught me and attacked again. I thought ‘how can you do that after you’ve just been dropped?’ “

The chase group reshuffled several times as riders were dropped but clawed their way back in hopes of podium glory. On the final lap it was Belgian women Jolien Verschueren who put in a vicious attack on the climb, which left Mani digging deep to cling to her wheel.

“I almost got dropped when Jolien went so freaking hard on the climb before the finish,” said Mani. “It was the last lap so I told myself I had to stay on the wheels.”

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Stay on the wheels she did. And then it was Brand and Mani who traded blows, which effectively left France versus the Netherlands in the bid for silver. Doing much of the work in the final minutes of the race, Mani led out of the last corner and was first to open the sprint to the finish line, but Brand was able to come around Mani in the final meters.

“I had to do the last long stretch, the last climb really fast because Jolien was coming back,” Mani said. “It was really tactical. And Lucinda is a road racer. If we are waiting and watching each other for the sprint, then another rider could have come back and I might have ended up fourth. I wanted to make sure I got a medal. I was cooked for the sprint, but tactically I was pretty smart. It was not easy to get a medal here.”

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Despite not earning the gold medal, Mani was very content with her race, especially when considering her competition.

“Thalita is the strongest in the world right now,” Mani declared. “And I showed that I am capable of beating De Boer who is leading the world cup classification. I am running really strong, which gives me confidence ahead of Koksijde and Zeven.”

On US soil at the third edition of the Pan American Championships in Covington, KY, Lance Haidet finished in eighth place in the U23 men’s race.

“I was having back issues and had a few mechanicals, but the main issue was me sucking,” said Haidet. “Maybe I could have been fifth, but I wouldn’t have been with the lead group of Spencer [Petrov], Gage [Hecht] or Curtis [White] anyway feeling the way I was. Overall it was not a good day.”

Before lining up with the elite men on Sunday at the KingsCX C1, Haidet made a few position and cleat changes to his bikes in hopes of turning things around. Haidet finished 12th on the day, but it was a mid-race crash that kept him from finishing with the front group.

“I went for a nice morning spin and probably went a bit longer than I should have,” Haidet said. “But it was the first time in awhile that I actually felt good on my bike. The body felt good, and I was mentally ready to race.”

On the start line, the rain started to fall, much to Haidet’s pleasure. Chaos ensued as most of the men switched from file treads to more aggressive tires.

“I decided to keep the Clement LAS’s on,” said Haidet. “They were pretty sweet for about four laps but then the rain started collecting enough to make things muddy instead of tacky. That’s when I crashed and ruined my chances of staying with the front group.”

After losing spots from the crash and a couple of bike changes, Haidet was able to get back into a steady rhythm to tick off guys who had previously passed him.

“After my second bike change I was around 15th,” Haidet said. “In the last two laps I moved up three spots. I closed about 11 seconds to [Jonathan] (Fuji) Page and [Jeremy] Martin (Focus CX Team Canada). I was close to catching them, but I couldn’t quite close the gap before the finish.”