Racing against prodigy Zoë Backstedt isn't always fun: "When you see she's participating, it's sometimes like, damn" Cycling

Racing against prodigy Zoë Backstedt isn't always fun: "When you see she's participating, it's sometimes like, damn"

Racing against prodigy Zoë Backstedt isn't always fun: "When you see she's participating, it's sometimes like, damn"

Fem van Empel reigns supreme in the elite category, but the women's U23 category is rarely exciting in cyclo-cross either. Zoë Backstedt emphasized once again on Sunday, at the European Championships in Pontchateau, that she is nearly unbeatable in her own age category. The impact of this on the rest was beautifully expressed by the runner-up, Marie Schreiber, after the race.

The gap between Backstedt and Schreiber at the finish was 34 seconds, and the third-place Kristyna Zemanova was more than a minute and eleven seconds behind. A formidable show of strength from the winner, who only turned nineteen in September but has already compiled an impressive list of achievements. Indeed: she became the junior world champion on the road in 2021 and 2022, and in September, she also became the European champion in time trial in the U23 category. Additionally, in 2022 she was crowned the junior world champion in cyclo-cross.

"It wasn't my intention to take off alone after just two laps. The plan was to just stay on Marie's wheel and only go when she was totally spent," Backstedt said, smiling, in the post-race flash interview. "So, I went much earlier than planned, although I did feel very strong. It was really a course for the powerhouses, which suits me. In that regard, I would like to thank the organizers for laying out this course."

Listening to the young Brit, you hear ambition. Before the European Championships, anything less than gold was not good enough. "In my head, it was gold or I had a bad day. It turned out to be a good day, because I am walking away with that jersey in a strong U23 roster. A podium would have been amazing too, but I always set high ambitions." And consider that she combines all this with road cycling too, where she rides for Canyon/SRAM. "I'm doing the entire cyclo-cross season, but I'm planning some training camps in between. I'll miss some races before the Christmas period, but from Christmas on, I'll continue until the World Championships. I'm going to fight for the world cup jersey in the U23. I can improve even more, so we will see how I fare after a training camp.

Read more below the video

Zoë Backstedt wants to follow in the footsteps of Van Empel and Pieterse

A busy schedule, especially since Backstedt competes in two categories. She will participate in the championships for the U23. She has a vacancy on her list of achievements at the World Championships later this season. However, we also see her regularly working hard among the elite women. For instance, she has already finished fifth in Waterloo, third in Woerden, and sixth in Ruddervoorde. Her thirteenth place in Maasmechelen was only her first finish outside the top ten this season.

When asked by whether Backstedt feels like she is caught between two categories at the moment, she answers, "Yes and no. I'm doing well with the U23 and I'm happy with that. But I'm also doing well in the elite races at the world cups. The girls there push me and I gain a lot of experience. I'm getting better technically and in terms of power, so that's fine."

The follow-up question is easy: what does she need to start competing for victories with the elite? For now, she still falls short against the likes of Fem van Empel, Puck Pieterse and Shirin van Anrooij. "I need age, a bit more time doing cyclo-cross. I'm only nineteen years old, so I have time to get there and hopefully win against Fem and Puck and all the others. That's the goal, but give me one more season and then we'll see what happens," she declares ambitiously.

Racing against prodigy Zoë Backstedt isn't always fun: "When you see she's participating, it's sometimes like, damn"
Backstedt has already won multiple rainbow jerseys in her still young career.

Racing against Backstedt is not always fun

For now, she continues to combine categories, which is bad news for the girls competing in the under-23s. Because if Backstedt participates, you're essentially racing for second place. Schreiber confirms this, who had just expressed her happiness with her silver medal. "I'm so happy. It was my dream to someday be on the podium at an international championship, and I'm glad I've achieved that. This feels like a victory."

Why such joy for second place? Simple: Zoë Backstedt. "When you're beaten by Zoë, you can't be disappointed. One of the hardest things to do is beat her at a championship," says Schreiber, laughing along with the Brit. "I've been racing against Zoë for the last three seasons and on some level, that's beautiful because we push each other. But when you show up at the start and see that she's participating, it can sometimes feel like, damn."

In short: being born in the same era as Backstedt is not a godsend. Schreiber also enjoyed other aspects on Sunday. "Today wasn't a 'close battle', but it was a fun race. I was surprised that we had such a gap so early on, considering we weren't even going that fast. From there, we kept going and eventually rode our own race."

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