One of the less-familiar and possible dark horse candidates to win the 2022 Elite Women's cyclocross World Championship in Fayetteville is Hungarian rider Blanka Kata Vas. As a U23, she's a surprise entry into the Elite field. Her primary U23 competitors, van Anrooij, Pieterse, and van Empel, in contrast, all entered the U23 race, making the Elite race more wide open.
Vas is already well-known among serious cycling fans, but may not be a household name among casual watchers in a sport typically dominated by Dutch and Belgians. Let's take a look at her background, and why she's got an outside shot at the Elite Women's title today.
How to pronounce Blanka Kata Vas
Let's get that out of the way first. With Marianne Vos and Blanka Kata Vas in the same race, things can get confusing. Vos (rhymes with "Boss"), and Vas will toe the same start line. "Vas" rhymes with "Wash" in English - pronounce it like "Vash" for an approximation of what it might sound like in Hungarian. The Boss vs. The Wash.
Coached by Lars Boom
This year, the SD Worx team was joined by Lars Boom in a coaching role. Boom, himself a former Elite Men's cyclocross world champion, now provides guidance and experience to Vas. This creates an interesting dynamic, as Lucinda Brand is mentored by Sven Nys, fierce competitor to Boom.
What to expect at cyclocross worlds
Despite being only 20 years old, and having several years of U23 eligibility remaining, Vas has elected to skip the U23 and enter the Elite Women category instead. In a race in which Lucinda Brand and Marianne Vos are the favorites, Vas has a chance for an Elite rainbow jersey. Vas finished 6th at this course last Fall, so she's already proved to be competitive here, and has won outright at the Elite level previously this season.
This tactic was used with success by Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado (amazingly, Alvarado herself is still only 23 at the time of this writing!) to "race up" and win the Elite world title at Dubendorf 2020, so there is precedent for a very young rider to shine.
Blanka Kata Vas palmares
Despite her age, racing with Elites is nothing new for Vas; she already has a history in the Elite category, finishing 4th overall as part of SD Worx at road worlds, as well as a smattering of other Elite, Junior, and U23 results, and in multiple disciplines:
- the Overijse cyclocross World Cup
- Hungarian national cyclocross champion
- Hungarian national time trial and road race champion
- 4th Olympic XCO mountain bike
- as well as bronze and silver medals at prior cyclocross worlds as a U23
Where have I heard that name?
Vas may have popped up in your social media feed after making some unusual strategy decisions at the 2021 Ostende cyclocross world championship. In the U23 Women race, Vas was taking an odd route around the course that was very different from her competitors (future stars Fem van Empel, Anna Kay, Aniek van Alphen). During the heavy beach sand section, Vas was riding much further along the water line, then making a sharp right angle turn to get back on track - at times, leaving her so far away from her competitors, she wasn't even in the same camera shot!
It was unclear whether this was actually a time save or loss (Vas was the only one taking this unusual route) but was interesting to watch nonetheless - you can see it about halfway through this highlight video and judge for yourself: