2014 cyclocross nationals at Valmont Bike Park will go down as one of the best races ever for many of the elite women athletes, regardless of where they placed.
Meredith Miller catches Crystal Anthony, her breath, and the crowd’s energy
After stalking third on course Crystal Anthony (Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies) for most of the race, Meredith Miller (California Giant Berry Farms/Specialized) finally lassoed her quarry in the bell lap. Miller sprinted to the finish line to gain the last podium place and stopped just past the clutch of photographers. Anthony followed close behind for fourth place.
Someone trying to catch her breath can only utter a few words between exhales.
“Oh shit. Oh my God. Holy crap,” Miller said, as she leaned over the handlebars. “Crystal definitely made me work every bit for that.”
When asked how she felt, Miller looked up and replied, “Like I’m gonna throw up. Good, I feel really good. I’m having a hard time breathing. I’ve been a little under the weather for the last week so catching my breath today was a challenge.”
Miller spoke later with Dirtwire.tv about vibes from the spectators. ”I couldn’t have done it without all the crowd here, my family being here. And they gave me that little extra bit that I needed to catch and pass Crystal. This is going to go down as one of my absolute all time favorite races for sure.”
Anthony, who took the holeshot, may remember this year as the podium spot that got away or as her best result in the last five years of competing at cyclocross nationals. Since 2009 she has improved her result every year, coming in fifth in 2013.
“I feel like I rode a pretty consistent race, was just riding right at my limit the whole time. Meredith, she rode a really smart race, kind of getting stronger as the race went on and I tried my best to hold her off, but she was just super strong at the end,” the Optum rider said. ”It’s a little disappointing not to hold onto third but I’m still happy.”
Nicole Duke kept her eyes and ears open
Nicole Duke (Marin/Spy) shared thoughts about her overall performance after finishing eighth: “…I just tried to hold my own and stay consistent and when somebody passed me, not freak out or anything…”
“I have never heard my name called more in a race in my life. It was like every second somebody said my name,” Duke said. ”It was so cool and there was so much encouragement. Even if I didn’t do as well as I wanted to and get on the podium it was like one of the best races of my life. Just hearing everyone out here was awesome.
“I just wanted to have a solid race and not be disappointed.” And she wasn’t. From Duke’s point of view, attendance at Valmont ranked among the biggest spectator showings she’s experienced at a nationals event.
Georgia Gould enjoys the feeling of winning while finishing fifth
Georgia Gould (Luna Pro Team) lined up behind Katie Compton (Trek Cyclocross Collective), hoping for a fast start from the nine-time champion. Compton – who told Gould her potential for a good start based recent performance was about 50/50 – missed her pedal. Gould rode in about ninth position early in the race and worked her way up to a fifth place finish.
“The crowd was – I felt like I was winning the race the whole time,” Gould said in a dirtwire.tv video post-race. “It was awesome. People were going bazooka out there. It was so fun. I wish I had the legs to ride the way I wanted to for everyone out there…”
Katie Compton deals with the pressure of going for nationals win number ten
The national champion took a start position in the middle of the front row. She appeared calm and confident, arriving with superb late-season fitness.
Missing a pedal at the start didn’t cost her much. Sitting in about eighth position into the first turn, she flew up the ensuing long hill and was the first of the women to greet the top section of the course. Only Cal Giant’s Elle Anderson could try to hang onto Compton’s pace. She soon succumbed and Compton won her tenth US championship.
“It feels pretty good,” Compton told the media about extending her winning streak. “It was hard today with everyone talking about number ten. It was a little more pressure. It builds every year. It was amazing, everyone was so loud and cheering. It was pretty special, that last lap, I took some time to take it all in and appreciate it.”
Kristen Peterson celebrates racing in a robust women’s field
This Evol Foods rider is relatively new to cyclocross and comes from a triathlon background. She competed well during the 2013/14 local Colorado racing scene.
How did she describe racing nationals, in one word? “Awesome.” Then she added, “You can’t ask for anything more, having nationals in your backyard and on a course that we train on every week. Yea, it’s just so cool to be out here with all the women. I mean 115 women were on the start line, so you just love to see the progress in the sport.”
Peterson finished forty-fifth among the sixty finishers on the lead lap.
One thing remains the same no matter where Logan Owen races. And it will doubtless hold true tomorrow in Hoogerheide at the 2014 cyclocross U23 world championships.
Sometime before he joins the field in the staging area prior to the start, his mom will text him or otherwise find a way to send him this message: GFWSB. It stands for “Go Fast Win Seabiscuit.”
His grandparents, uncles, parents – pretty much everyone in his family – and he sat down to watch the movie Seabiscuit when it was first released about ten years ago, which would have been before Owen’s first cyclocross national championship victory. The thoroughbred’s comeback story transformed into the motivational mantra GFWSB that fuels Owen when he races.
After winning his ninth straight ‘cross national championship in January, Owen explained that he’s had to comeback in the past to win nationals. Sharing the mantra between mom and son has become a tradition, one could even say a part of his pre-race preparation.
Every year at ‘cross nationals his mom holds a sign inked with GFWSB. This year the back side of the sign read, “Nine is fine.”
Tomorrow in Holland Owen’s targeting a top ten from his first go in the U23 category at worlds. He said in January that he believes the course suits him well. One strong favorite to beat is Holland’s Mathieu van der Poel, Owen’s major nemesis last year in the 17 – 18 worlds race.
“Last year I was on such good form that I think if I didn’t have all the mechanicals and the crash at the beginning, if I rode a clean race, I think I would have gave [van der Poel] a run for his money. I had really good legs that day,” Owen said. “I haven’t really felt that great at all this season, except for maybe in Italy for road worlds…Hopefully I’m on great form again [in Hoogerheide] and I can challenge him again and maybe that would be my ticket to a top five, having that good of legs again.”
Perhaps the thought of GFWSB will give him the legs he needs.
Owen will be joined by the other men on the U.S. U23 team, Curtis White, Cody Kaiser, Tobin Ortenblad, and Yannick Eckmann. Eckmann is also targeting a top ten result in Hoogerheide.
They surrounded the 5280 Stairs like fans swarm l’Alpe d’Huez switchbacks during the Tour de France. They took up position at the ditch, the sand hill, the uphill barriers, and by the blue course tape in-between. Along the start-finish straight they pressed shoulder to shoulder, five deep in places.
The hometown crowds came out in droves for cyclocross nationals at Valmont Bike Park, especially for the elite races. And the athletes noticed.
Here’s what three elite men from Colorado had to say about the crowds and their rides.
Allen Krughoff (Raleigh-Clement)
Among 105 starters, Krughoff made it around the initial two turns and up the first climb in sixth position.
“I missed four crashes at the start,” he said. “I felt like that scene in Star Wars where they’re going into the Death Star.”
Never had he sped past and soaked in the cheers of that many supporters in the crowd.
“So great. I made these goofy tee-shirts I bought from the thrift store. It’s just awesome.”
Always one to note the performance of his equipment, Krughoff added, ”We had these Clement MXP tires and they’re just insane. It was awesome all around.” The MXP is an all-conditions model.
Krughoff finished fifth with a show of strength that helped earn him a discretionary slot for the world championships.
Speaking about his nationals result, he said, “I consider this a win. That was my top goal - fifth, legitimate goal. I was like, ‘If I get fifth, you can dump the champagne on me.’ So here we are.’”
Brady Kappius (Clif Bar)
“It was good. I had a good start and then I might have faded a bit. My stomach was giving me issues half-way through,” Kappius said. “Russell [Finsterwald] dropped me like a rock.” Kappius gives his elite mountain bike friend, Finsterwald, pointers on cyclocross skills.
“When I came through with two to go I figured out I was the last person who wasn’t pulled so the last two laps were just like a joy ride. It was fun.” Only one-fifth of the starters, 22 riders, finished on the lead lap.
Where did the Clif Bar rider find the most fun? “The 5280 Stairs were sweet – there were so many people there – and all the technical spots. I was hearing my name every two seconds. It was pretty awesome.”
Hours before the elite race, Maxx Chance (Clif Bar Devo) placed second in the 17 – 18 race. He had plenty of time to change and return to watch his elite counterparts compete. He cheered on Kappius with a poster. “Oh yea, I saw my poster,” Kappius said. “He was trying to hit me with it.”
Danny Summerhill (K-Edge/Felt)
“It’s always nice to race in front of a hometown crowd,” Summerhill told Dirtwire.tv. I would have liked to race a little bit better in front of them, but…”
Summerhill started fast. He placed seventh. In the finish zone he leaned on his Felt bike, quiet and with a heavy face that lacked his warm smile. Clearly he wouldn’t count Valmont among his best ‘cross nationals outings. ”I’m not too happy with [my race]. Not the day I was hoping for by any stretch of the imagination,” Summerhill said.
When asked what happened he offered that he was “just trying to get my hands back together from Bend and they’re not really there. Yea, that’s all I got.” One month earlier on December 7, riders raced in windy, snowy conditions and near zero degree Fahrenheit cold at the Deschutes Brewery Cup in Bend, Oregon. Some later reported frostbike and lack of feeling in their fingers.
At nationals in Boulder, the K-Edge/Felt rider’s supporters weren’t shy. Alex Howes, now a roadie with Garmin-Sharp, blasted an airhorn when Summerhill swung by. The two shared the ‘cross nationals 17 – 18 podium in 2005 when Summerhill earned gold and Howes silver.
“One thing I learned quite quickly is that pressure and race anxiety is felt by the unprepared. When you are as well prepared as anybody out there, there is no point in being stressed out; just control what you can control.” — Erin Hartwell, U.S. Olympian track cyclist
Jeremy Powers (Rapha-Focus) took back the stars and stripes at the 2014 cyclocross national championships by riding a completely different race from his last outing with the nationals favorites at Valmont Bike Park and carrying out pre-event preparation that left almost nothing to chance.
Three months ago Powers approached the Boulder Cup at Valmont conservatively, attacking only on the final lap and taking advantage of others’ mistakes to win. He said then that he didn’t want to risk going too hard at altitude. So he carefully measured out his efforts.
At nationals on Sunday he turned that plan upside down, scoring the holeshot and then driving into first position at the top of the circuit’s initial hill. His speed took Ryan Trebon (Cannondale – Cyclocrossworld.com) by surprise. “I thought it would be a hard final twenty minutes, but Jeremy went from the start, and I had to suffer,” Trebon told the media.
The elevation in Boulder hadn’t changed. But it appeared something had changed in Powers.
He arrived in Boulder the day after Christmas, sixteen days prior to the nationals elite race. Powers, who is from Massachusetts, indicated he felt stronger for his time at 5,400 feet (1,646 meters).
“Today was a great day. I had great legs,” he said after becoming champion again. “Colorado treated me right. Being here early was the right decision. I was able to push and push and push. I never felt like I was out of oxygen.”
Possibly Powers developed increased oxygen efficiency over two weeks at altitude. But if, as research indicates, that wasn’t enough time to create a real physiological boost, how is it Powers appeared and felt more effortless on course than the others?
Perhaps he breathed easily because he gained a psychological edge from dedicating himself to two weeks of pre-race preparation. An edge that reinforced his mental game. Training on Boulder roads and pre-riding the nationals course from the earliest opportunity signified a commitment to produce his best race which translated into performance. When he got to the start line he could fire it up from the gun and push even harder on the first hill because he believed he could dig deeper. Because he was ready.
Probably Powers’ preparation for nationals extends back to the evening of last year’s championship event where passed on the laurels to Jonathan Page. Powers wanted to reclaim the title this year “Pretty bad,” he told ProVéloPassion on Sunday. “I felt like last year I definitely came up short on my own expectations…”
In 2013 he came to Madison tired. He rode like he towed a mechanic’s toolbox off the back of his bike, finishing sixth and three minutes off the winning pace.
This season he adjusted his game plan to arrive at his best later in the season for nationals. And it worked.
But he’s not taking full credit for pulling on a kit next season that includes red, white, and blue on more than just the collar.
“…I feel like, any time you are able to win a national championship there are so many things that go into it,” he said on Sunday. “So to win today, it’s not just my win. It’s for a lot of people. Every single one of my family members is here and to be able to do that in front of them, it’s a lifetime of work.”
Stay tuned for more nationals photos and comments from Colorado-based riders Danny Summerhill, Allen Krughoff, and Brady Kappius.
“Middle-aged” isn’t a very friendly label. It typically gives rise to undesirable connotations like going soft or past the prime of energetic youth. Once middle-age arrives, a woman falling into that category noted, people look through you like you don’t exist.
Masters bike racing, where riders aged 30 or 35 years or more compete, might be described that way. Aside from family and friends, most fans typically look past it to the pro/elite races for excitement.
That would have been a mistake at this year’s cyclocross national championships.
The battle between Jake Wells (Stan’s NoTubes) and Russell Stevenson (Voler) in the masters 35 – 39 age group provided more thrills than the men’s elite race. In the final lap the two traded first and second position multiple times. Sprinting to the line Wells and Stevenson rocked their bikes side by side, the winner decided by millimeters as they threw their bikes forward.
Wells’ cyclocross racing age is 36; Stevenson’s, 38. They fought each other. They also fought mother nature. During 45 minutes of racing they faced some of the event’s harshest weather conditions; wind gusts tossed riders a foot or more off their lines, forcing them into course tape tangos as they negotiated turns.
After the finish spectators held their breath as the officials examined the photo finish. Their decision brought elation for Stephenson and disappointment for Wells who led for much of the race until the final lap.
“It’s a bummer to not win; I definitely would have liked to win,” Wells said after the results were announced. “But you can’t ask for much better than that, just a bike throw.”
Rebecca Gross (Raleigh-Clement) out-paced BethAnn Orton (Team S&M) and then held off a charging Rebecca Blatt (Van Dessel Sports) to win her first national cyclocross championship on Friday.
“Typically it’s a little nerve-wracking to be at the front of the race,” Gross said after her masters 30 – 34 victory. “So that wasn’t really my game plan but it worked out.”
Gross joined the Raleigh-Clement team and traveled to more UCI races this season after riding previously with the Colorado-based Tough Girls. She’s a former masters cyclocross world champion, winner of the 30 – 34 category in Louisville in 2012. Friday provided an opportunity for her to honor that title with another championship result.
“I’m really stoked,” she said on Friday. “I think last year I was the only masters world champion who did not win their national championship – I had a little incident at the front, the very start of the race and bent my derailleur, which kind of kept me off pace the whole race. So I was really hoping for a good result today.”
From the start Gross kept an eye out for Orton and Blatt. The rutty course with icy patches played to Gross’ strengths as a mountain biker. This is her third full ‘cross season. Before racing in the U.S., Gross lived overseas as a member of the military service.
“I felt really strong yesterday. I was really excited about the course and I just kind of sat smart and watched what was going on,” she explained. “And then when I saw the opportunity – I think I was riding a couple of the off-camber things a little bit stronger so I took it. I went with it.”
Blatt went for it as well. She passed Orton for second, leaving the latter with third place. Melinda McCutcheon (Canyon Bicycles – Shimano) and BrittLee Bowman (Connecticut Yankee BC) completed the five-deep podium with fourth and fifth.
It’s hard to imagine American cyclocross without superstars Katie Compton and Jeremy Powers. But U.S. cycling fans need not worry. If either rider retires by five years from now, fans will still have a lot to cheer about. Perhaps even more so.
By then the elite ranks will be packed with today’s 17 to 18 year-old juniors. Together with the younger riders coming up behind them, the depth of this junior talent treasure trove promises an increased American presence on the future cyclocross scene.
Cyclocross national championships in Boulder presented an opportunity yesterday to witness fifty-seven 17 to 18 men lean over their handlebars at the start line, speed into one of the fastest opening laps at the five day event, and then pour a season’s worth of preparation and hopes into 40 minutes of hard racing.
Peter Goguen (Race CF) from Massachusetts was fastest down the Valmont Bike Park start/finish straightaway. While others reached the first turn with mouths open and tense shoulders, Goguen appeared loose and at ease, as if he rode alone on a training ride.
Maxx Chance (Clif Bar Devo) knew Goguen was the rider to beat and tailed him around the corner and up the first hill. Goguen soon separated himself from the field while Chance remained in second. “Peter drilled it from the gun,” Chance later said. “I held on as long as I could. He got a gap and I just tried to keep it consistent each lap.”
Nearly all of the chasers had recently returned from a stint in Belgium either with EuroCrossCamp or the Clif Bar clan. Austin Vincent (Race CF), Lance Haidet (Bear Devo Team), Cooper Willsey (Cannondale p/b Cyclocross World.com), Boo’s Brannan Fix, Grant Ellwood (Boulder Cycle Sport/Junior Cycling), and Ethan Reynolds (Hot Tubes) made up the early first group behind Chance. The second group included Clif Bar’s Garrett Gerchar, Nolan Brady (RAD Racing), Javier Colton (Bend Endurance Academy), Gavin Haley (Red Zone), and Ian McShane (Sophisticated Living p/b Bob’s Red Mill).
In the initial laps Ellwood quickly moved up. Together with Vincent and Haidet they pursued Chance but wouldn’t catch him.
Vincent defended third place to the finish. Reynolds surged into fourth while Haidet slid back for sixth.
Ellwood rode consistently and finished fifth, a significant result for the mountain biker and alpine ski racer in his first cyclocross season.
Willsey, who said at the finish that he found it hard to breathe and recover after a hard effort he put in during the third lap, got seventh. Brady, Gerchar, and Fix rounded out the top ten.
Those results mattered a lot; they factor into USA Cycling’s selection of the five juniors who will take part in world championships. Goguen, Chance, Willsey, Vincent, and Haley made the selection. They’ll represent the U.S. faces of the future in Hoogerheide, Netherlands during the first two days of February.
Listen to comments from Maxx Chance, Cooper Willsey, Grant Ellwood, and Liam and Cormac Dunn in this video.