UCI Marathon World Championships, 26 June
Ariane: 4th place
Fresh from her Swiss Marathon Championships victory, Team Spur’s Ariane Kleinhans was eager to pitch herself against the best in the world on a demanding and technical 70km course at the UCI World Marathon Championships in Laissac, France.
A build-up week of rain and overcast weather had left large sections of the course wet, particularly those deep in the dense natural forest. While it made for near-perfect traction in some of the singletrack, it meant riders were splattered in mud almost as soon as they hit the dirt roads outside the start village.
Race day itself was sunny and humid, and contributed to the red-hot racing from the gun. Ariane’s winning Absa Cape Epic partner, the Danish powerhouse Annika Langvad, showed her colours early on, attacking in the first kilometres and pulling clear of the field.
Unfortunately, Annika would go on to take a wrong turn while in the lead and then suffered a flat tyre and a mechanical issue, all before the second water point, effectively ruling her out of contention for the podium. She continued riding despite her hardships and finished a respectable ninth.
For Ariane it was another solid day of powerful pacing, which kept her in sight of the top five. Up front, her young Swiss countrywoman Jolanda Neff was piling on the pressure, unaware she was in the lead. Neff hadn’t seen Annika’s wrong turn and believed her father, who was supporting her on course, was giving her time gaps to the lead. In fact, he was calling the time back to second-placed Sally Bigham from Great Britain! Neff only realised she had won after crossing the line.
As the race progressed on Ariane consolidated her fifth position and started working away at the time gap to fourth. Just before the final waterpoint Ariane made the move past Frenchwoman Helene Marcouyre and trailed third-placed Frenchie Sabrina Enaux by just over two-and-a-half minutes. The final 10km descent saw Ariane pull back another minute, but it wasn’t enough and she came home in fourth, only 90-odd seconds behind Enaux.
“On the positive side I paced myself really really well,” a disappointed Ariane said. “I had something left for the last climb, I still had a good feeling from Swiss champs on how to pace myself and it definitely paid off. It was quite a battle for that fourth place actually!”
“It’s too bad that Annika couldn’t show what she was made of: she booked out really early and she could’ve taken that win pretty easily. She is super strong. She’d already said goodbye to all of us in the first kilometres… but she’s going to show next weekend who’s the world champ in the cross-country.”