Wow! What a cold and messy ride – for racers and spectators alike. The week of the Cyclocross National Championships included some upsets, some sure bets, freezing temps, lots of mud and spectacular racing all around. All in all, it proved to be another successful cycling event hosted by our neighbors up in Madtown.
Earlier in the week, Higher Gear’s own Nancy Heymann muscled her way to seventh place in her Womens Masters race. Catherine Watkins raced Higher Gear colors on Friday as an opportunity to practice before her big event Saturday. Riding for her current grad school, Catherine took 10th in the Collegiate Cyclocross Nationals for Womens Division II for Loyola University of Chicago. Earlier on Saturday, former Gearhead Tommy Mosby (ToMo) suffered a disappointment in his last race as a Junior, having to pull out after a nasty crash early on. We’re proud of each of you for getting out there to challenge yourself against the elements, the tough course and other nationally ranked cyclists!
Number One Competitor: The Course
A week ago, the entire course was covered in a couple feet of snow. When the races began, there was still snow on half the course. But rain and days of racers plowing their way through the course took their toll. Race organizers were kept busy flattening out the course and re-staking it, widening it a bit to give racers options for new lines.
The course would vary each day, throughout the day and even throughout a race. A rider taking an inside turn could have a completely separate set of struggles than a rider taking the outside turn, depending on how the shadows were hitting the mud. The texture of the mud was likened at different times to peanut butter, fudge and thick frosting, always with a hard layer of ice just below. Just how thick and tacky the mud on top of the ice was, depended on the day, the time and the cloud cover.
The difference between the two elite races on Sunday was drastic. The sunlight broke through the first layers of mud to create a sticky, sloppy mess for the 1:00pm Women’s race. By the Men’s race at 2:15pm, the sun hid behind the clouds to aid the freezing temps in solidifying most of the mud once again into hardened trenches. This left the men notably less muddy than the women.
Both races were decided fairly early. There was very little group riding, at least at the front – which was fortunate, as the conditions left a lot of the course with only one line. The challenges that this course provided meant that experienced veterans would have the upper hand here.
Nine Lives of Katie Compton
In the Elite Women’s race, Katie Compton (Colorado Springs, CO/Trek Cyclocross Collective) dominated from the start. She and second place Jade Wilcoxson (Talent, OR/UCI CT/WPT: Team Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies) got in the front early. By the time they reached the stairs in the first lap, Katie had solidified her lead and managed to keep it for the entire four-lap race, finishing 1:20 in front of Jade. In doing so, Katie secured her ninth consecutive championship title.
Rounding out the podium was Nicole Duke (Boulder, CO/Cyclocrossworld) with a solid ride after some mechanical issues.
Local girl Kaitlin Antonneau (Racine, WI/Cannondale Cyclocrossworld), who came in at 9th overall, was the National Champion U23 rider for the second year in a row.
The Page is (Re)Turned
Just like in the Women’s race, the eventual winners of the Elite Men’s race were determined early on. There were six riders who broke from the field early on and kept their lead. Notably absent from that leading group was last year’s National Champ, Jeremy Powers (Easthampton, MA/Team Rapha-FOCUS) who fought hard to claw his way back to sixth place – not enough to podium nor to provide assistance to his young teammate McDonald, who had to fend for himself at the front.
Zach McDonald (Bainbridge Island, WA/Team Rapha-Focus) proved he made the right decision to forgo the U23 race Saturday. McDonald battled it out with Jonathon Page (Northfield, NH/ENGVT) but could never quite take the lead from Page. With two laps to go, McDonald was able to narrow the gap to under ten seconds. But Page surged in those last two laps to take the lead. McDonald placed second, less than 20 seconds behind Page. In third place was James Driscoll (Sandy, UT/Cannondale Cyclocrossworld).
So Page reclaims his throne after eight years. This win brings Johnathan Page his fourth national title in eleven years. His previous wins were in 2002, 2003 and 2004. Since 2002, Page has consistently captured one of the top three podium slots in all but one (2010) of the National Championship races.
Hardest Course of All
The race announcers pointed out that the people working the hardest out there, even more than the racers, were those in the pit. The week had pit crews working hard to do more than clean muddy bikes and find the brakes. Bent and broken derailleur hangars were as ubiquitous as cowbell. One stellar mechanic made a complete shifter change to Nicole Duke’s bike in only six minutes, ensuring her podium slot.
In an interview, Katie Compton said of this race, in comparison with her previous eight titles, “I think this was the hardest course of all… My mechanics had to work hard in the pit trying to get everything to work right. I think they struggled more than I did just because the conditions were so brutal. I’m really happy with this one.”