Most people don’t go to a cyclocross race to be reminded that life is unpredictable. But that’s at least one of the lessons spectators received from watching the women’s 40 to 44 age group race Thursday at the cyclocross national championships in Boulder.
After winning the race Nina Baum (Stan’s NoTubes Women’s Elite Mountain Bike Team), a really good mountain biker, described herself as “terrible” on the ‘cross bike. She called her result “unexpected.”
Kristin Weber (Boulder Cycle Sport) only races cyclocross. The USA Cycling ranking system, whose outcomes some would treat lightly, predicted a win for Weber in this race. And with good reason. She enjoyed a fantastic season, winning multiple local races and the Colorado Cross Cup competition.
For most that kind of momentum can lead to high hopes. Weber, who lives in Boulder, wanted to win “really badly, because I have not had a good nats yet. I’ve been fifth two years ago, fourth last year, and I was like – of all of the years, this is the year.”
Baum produced the winning ride while Weber placed sixth. Each came to Thursday’s race with the best they could offer at the time. “She was off and I couldn’t even respond. I was like, whoa, she’s flying,” Weber said about the Stan’s NoTubes rider. “Mostly I just didn’t have the legs today. I just knew it pretty much from the gun. What are you going to do with that? So I just tried to do my best and minimize the damage I guess.”
So much goes into a successful forty minutes of racing – fitness, skills, and curveballs that arrive in the week leading into the big day.
For example, Weber’s children were sick. “…it’s stressful – usually I can roll with that I’m so used to it. That’s not the first time I’ve had two ER visits in one day,” she said, reflecting upon the previous weekend’s family events.
Then she crashed warming up on Wednesday. Before Thursday’s race she rubbed embro all over her neck and back to ease discomfort there.
“It can be so many variables that make it all come together when you have this caliber of women; the best in the country are here…I’m bummed but sometimes it happens and sometimes it doesn’t,” Weber said on Thursday. “I had an awesome season and this was just a mediocre day.”
While they achieved different results, both women held one additional thing in common aside from an unexpected outcome on the bike: their kids matter the most.
For Weber, it’s her young two daughters and son. “I just have perspective. I have three kids that are way more important than bike racing [which] is my hobby…”
For Baum, it’s the kids on a cycling team she coaches called Get Out! New Mexico.
Winning a cyclocross national championship, she said “is nice because I feel like I’m representing the kids that I coach which is great…I just think of them when I race ‘cross. Mountain biking is more for me. But this is, I do it with them, I do it for them. I would probably not be racing ‘cross at all if I wasn’t coaching a kid’s team…”
Several of her kids raced on Friday. Two got top five results. They showed up and gave their best. And likely they’ll try again. Because you never know what can happen next.
[Video to come]
Before now Tim Allen (Feedback Sports) wasn’t the first name that came to mind for most when ticking off the country’s top single speed cyclocross riders. His results list includes just one single speed ‘cross race. It took place five days ago. He only procured a bike with one gear a few days prior to that, stripping the gears off one of his Foundry steeds to create it.
So he snuck into the one gear national championship race on Wednesday under the radar, but not for those who have raced Allen at the elite level in Colorado or seen him race.
He’s got a fast ‘cross start, a mountain biking background that includes single speed competition, and fitness and bike handling skills that produced multiple local wins this season.
Why single speed ‘cross now? He wanted to preview the Valmont Bike Park course before the elite race on Sunday. “Also, since I have two Foundrys I decided one of them should become a ss!” he told ProVéloPassion. The guy likes to play with his bikes.
He arrived for the single speed championships hopeful, though without thinking he’d leave Valmont with a gold medal. But he did. “There was so much competition…I didn’t really know what to expect,” he said.
“I’m super excited, couldn’t be happier,” Allen said about his nationals victory. “Home course. The bike was awesome and the course was a perfect mountain biker’s course. It really catered to my riding style.”
The intensity of the start probably didn’t surprise Allen. One of the local favorites, Will Iaia (Groove Subaru Excel Sports), described the two hundred meters or so after the whistle at Valmont.
“The start’s always good here with that long stretch,” Iaia said. “You can definitely get those single speeds up the highest you can get ‘em…Brady Kappius got out how he always does – super super fast, and I was just trying to hold his wheel…I think that’s kind of where the race was decided. Whoever hit that [first] corner in the top 5 or 6, that was going to be your top 5 or 6.”
Clif Bar’s Brady Kappius shot through the initial right-hander first. Iaia flew after him, followed by Allen, Craig Etheridge (Raleigh-Clement), Edwin Bull (Van Dessel Factory Team) and the rest of the field in single file with Colby Pearce (Trek Cyclocross Collective) ninth in line.
That right turn brought the field uphill to Valmont’s high point. The course design milked that ridge for all it’s worth, sending the riders down a steep descent, back up to a sandy section, down again, and then back to the top via the 5280 run-up. Riders next negotiated a wide off-camber section that dropped sharply down the hill.
Then the pack swung into the lower section of the course where a shallow set of stairs, barriers, and the pit are located. Allen stole the lead there from Kappius about half-way into the opening lap. One circuit later, six seconds separated Allen from Kappius, then a large gap stretched to the next set of chasers – Iaia, Pearce, and Corey Stelljes (Racers Against Childhood Cancer).
These five riders would make up the podium. The remaining guys behind them aimed for their best races. Of the 107 registered, 88 started.
By lap three Allen had extended his lead to upwards of twenty seconds. The chase group raced aggressively, trying to catch Kappius and shake each other. Pearce made a go for it but couldn’t hold the effort and fell back. His push excited the race announcers, whom Allen heard.
“I was a little nervous because I kept hearing them say Colby was coming on really strong and I knew he was riding really well,” Allen said. “But I also knew it was a short race, only being 40 minutes. I’m used to racing 60 minutes. So I had that too. Once I got a gap I knew I had to stay smooth, ride smart and hope for the best.”
With Allen gone, and two laps to go, Stelljes, Kappius, and Iaia fought for position and second place. Stelljes, who is from Madison Wisconsin, said his RACC team which includes mountain bikers, cyclocrossers, and triathletes, is a charity based in the Milwaukee area.
The RACC rider raced for a bit in second position on course. Kappius squeaked by him coming past the steep off-camber descent.
More mud accumulated on frames, pedals, and shoes as the race went on. “On the run-up you can usually ride really fast into it and carry momentum up,” Gates Carbon Drive’s Jesse Swift explained, “but it was all day long you were just dragging. You could feel the weight of the bikes on the run-ups.” Pearce later estimated he carried an extra eight pounds of frozen mud on his bike into the finish.
Stelljes experienced trouble clipping into his pedals.
“My mind just kept saying go, go go. I felt like I had a ton of energy, a ton of power out there, but I had to be clipped in to use it so it was kind of a surging race for me,” Stelljes said. “I think Brady got clipped in a couple of times a little quicker than me and he rode a really good tactical race, stayed in front of me coming into the finish and held me off.”
With first gone, it appeared the Clif Bar rider poured everything he had into claiming second. In the three-way sprint to the finish line, neither Iaia nor Stelljes could pry it away from him. All three received the same time. Stelljes placed third and Iaia fourth. Pearce arrived 19 seconds later for fifth.
Wednesday’s result was Kappius’ best in three years, but a win would have been better. “Tim was just too strong,” he said. Kappius is scheduled to race in the elite contest on Sunday, as will Allen and the other top five single speed finishers.
Allen is a first time single speed cross racer, but not a first time national champion. In 2005 he won a junior mountain bike championship.
Looking ahead, Wednesday’s national title may not be his last. “I’m definitely going to keep riding sscx!” he wrote after the championship race. “I really enjoy not thinking about shifting…”
Between the absence of Adam Craig, the presence of mountain biking legend Travis Brown, and conditions which should be muddy but with Colorado weather can change quickly, the men’s single speed cyclocross national championship race on Wednesday will be one of the highlights of five days of racing for stars and stripes at Valmont Bike Park.
Craig (Giant Factory Off-Road Team) is effectively boycotting 2014 nationals to make a statement; he believes December is a better month for the event. Last year he easily rode away from the single speed field and won in street-style fashion riding with cut-off jeans over his skinsuit. The loss of Craig puts a gold medal within reach for many talented riders in the huge field of 106 (in 2013 the field numbered 58).
They’ll confront a course that locals are calling the hardest ever design for the venue; it includes a steep off-camber downhill right after the 5280 run-up stairs which in muddy conditions could turn into a crash-fest for less experienced bike handlers.
After pre-riding the course Tuesday, Clif Bar’s Brady Kappius wrote, “Going to be a hard one. The course is great and the conditions will just add to it. The strongest rider will win for sure.”
Kappius hopes to put an end to two years of bad luck. In 2013 his chain tensioner broke and he didn’t finish. In 2012 he finished fifth after course tape delayed him. This year he’ll ride a single speed frame, which should reduce the chance of mechanical problems.
Last year’s muddy conditions resemble the type of track that may face tomorrow’s contestants. “Looks like it’s going to be pretty muddy out there and I’m happy with that,” Kappius wrote earlier today. ”The dirt at Valmont sheds pretty well so I’m not too worried about bike exchanges especially with a single speed.”
About fifty percent of the registered field are listed as Colorado residents. The state’s single speed ‘cross champion Colby Pearce (Trek Cyclocross Collective) is among them. When asked about the conditions and how that might affect the racing, Pearce wrote early on Tuesday, “It will be very challenging to ride SS tomorrow in these conditions.” Racers, he thought, would be unrecognizable by the time they cross the finish line in their mud-splattered kits.
Later, Pearce added, “There was often only one rideable line in many places today. Hopefully as more riders race and do laps this will improve but we won’t know for sure until tomorrow.
“One thing we do know is this won’t be a pretty boy So Cal style race – we will be grimey! It could have easily been bone dry…but we got some authentic ‘cross weather instead.”
Coloradoans Tim Allen (Feedback Sports), Will Iaia (Groove Subaru Excel Sports), and Gates Carbon Drive riders such as Jesse Swift and Mitch Westall should be counted among the favorites as well. Alpha Bicycle Co’s Nic Handy could pull off a great ride too.
Allen rode and won his first single speed ‘cross race last weekend at Altitude Adjustment Cross, but he’s no stranger to racing on a single gear. He’s laid down tracks at mountain bike single speed world championships. Iaia dominated the early season local races; he placed sixth in 2013.
Last year’s podium after Craig in first included Aaron Bradford (Bicycle Bluebook), Isaac Neff (Trek Cyclocross Collective), Jared Neiters (SEAVS/Haymarket), and Adam Myerson (Team SmartStop p/b Mountain Khakis) in fifth. Neiters and Myerson are registered to race in Boulder.
Together with Raleigh-Clement’s Craig Etheridge, who has pocketed a nice collection of UCI wins this season, and Durango’s former mountain bike single speed world champion Brown, spectators can expect a scintillating battle up and down the hill and across the undulating flats of Valmont.
[updated with new content 1/7/2014]
And Georgia Gould’s not surprised – as a seasoned and accomplished cyclist why should she be – that she’s racing like her cyclocross season began in September even though it started just three weeks ago at the Colorado state cyclocross championships.
She had taken a three month break from competition, but her wheels didn’t collect dust in the garage.
“I haven’t been training and racing for ‘cross but I’ve been riding my bike a lot,” Gould said on Saturday after racing again. “So it wasn’t just like, ‘Oh I think I’ll race state championships this weekend,’ like, off the couch.”
Luna Pro Team’s Gould became the new state champion with Meredith Miller (California Giant Berry Farms/Specialized) and Marin-Sky’s Nicole Duke in the mix for the podium.
On Saturday she enjoyed victory again at day one of Altitude Adjustment Cross in Longmont, Colorado. Gould crossed the finish line with a wave and smile as a course worker waited to sweep the line clear of rapidly falling snow.
“I had such a rough end of the mountain bike season that right now I just want to feel good in a race,” Gould said. “I had fun today. It was a good course.”
Gould looked smooth again on Sunday when she won day two of the Longmont event. Now that she’s three for three, she wouldn’t mind extending that streak.
Speaking on Saturday about the upcoming cyclocross national championships in Boulder, Gould sounded optimistic. And realistic. While Colorado locals Miller and Duke were registered for the Longmont event, they didn’t start. So three weeks have passed since Gould’s only outing this season versus some of the country’s top women and she hasn’t faced juggernauts like Katie Compton (Trek Cyclocross Collective) or Cal Giant’s Elle Anderson, for example.
“But I’m feeling good. Really my biggest goal is to just – obviously I want to win, but that’s kind of a tall order for not doing a whole cyclocross season,” she said regarding her chances at nationals. “I’m going to just go out and just give it my best shot and hope that I feel good and soak up the awesome Colorado crowd that I’m sure will be out there.”
Altitude Adjustment Cross Day 1
The juniors came out to play on Saturday. Katie Clouse (Canyon Bicycles) and Laurel Rathbun, riding in a Hammer kit, lined up in the first row. When Gould rolled up to the second row, she chose Clouse’s wheel.
Rathbun won the holeshot. Katherine Santos (Red Zone Cycling) and Clouse started fast as well.
Gould decided to lay back a bit and slotted in about fifth wheel. Given the slippery conditions in the snow and sub-freezing cold, she knew a silky ride would count. “That’s the biggest thing for me, is staying within myself. The smoother you can be the better,” she explained post-race. “So I just kind of was patient at the beginning, because it tends to be kind of mayhem at any start; everyone’s jockeying. I just bided my time and tried to stay smooth and have fun.”
She moved up in the first lap, pulled into the lead by lap two, and carefully carried it home to the win with a nearly two minute gap.
Rapid Racing’s Kristal Boni started well and steadily advanced past Rathbun and Clouse by mid-race. Twelve year-old Clouse, who had traveled from Park City for pre-nationals training, held third on course until she broke her chain and pulled out. Rathbun’s efforts earned her third.
Boni finished second after a smart and strong race.
“I felt really good and this course was so fun. I think the snow really suits me,” the masters world champion said later. “I just had a blast and tried to keep it nice and smooth, definitely slipped out a few times…I think a lot of it was go slow to go fast, you know, through the corners. Some of the corners especially on the pavement have gotten really slippery.”
Saturday’s experience set Boni up well for the single speed, 40 – 44, and elite races she will contest this week at nationals. “I’m super excited,” she said. “It’s a great result to have before next week.”
Altitude Adjustment Cross Day 2
Sunday dawned colder than Saturday, with temperatures barely reaching 20 Fahrenheit and a shy sun that alternately peeked out then returned behind the low clouds. A smaller ladies field started and Gould dominated from the get-go.
Katie Jay Melena (Bicycle Blue Book), Emma Dunn (Feedback Sports), and Rebecca Gross (Raleigh-Clement)] chased the Luna rider in search of second. Gross emerged the strongest of the group to finish next best after Gould. Dunn placed third with Melena fourth.
Among those at the back of the field, one competitor in particular drew the most attention. Seventy-four years-young national champion Julie Lockhart trailed the elite field as she raced the women’s 55+ category for the second consecutive day. When Gould passed Lockhart on course the Luna rider cheered on the legend. “Awesome, awesome,” she said.
See the Bicycle Racing Association of Colorado website for full results from Altitude Adjustment Cross.
Gallery [more to come]
Altitude seems to suit Jeremy Powers (Rapha-Focus).
He won Saturday in Longmont – elevation 4,979 feet – at day one of Altitude Adjustment Cross, a primer of sorts for cyclocross national championships which rolls out next week in nearby Boulder. That’s his second consecutive win during three outings in Colorado this season. He won the Boulder Cup in October and claimed a come-from-behind second place at the Colorado Cross Classic.
The Longmont race began under light snow which supplemented the inches of white that had fallen earlier in the day. Yannick Eckmann took the holeshot. His California Giant Berry Farms/Specialized teammate Logan Owen followed with Powers third wheel and junior Spencer Petrov (Sophisticated Living p/b Bob’s Red Mill) fourth as the field exited the pavement and turned onto turf.
Cal Giant’s U23 duo controlled the race for two laps. They’ve both enjoyed successful seasons to date versus more senior American elite riders, finishing pretty regularly in the top five or ten against guys like Powers and Tim Johnson and Ryan Trebon of Cannondale p/b Cyclocrossworld.com.
On Saturday they once again demonstrated their strength. But Powers’ consistency on the increasingly glacial course with multiple off-camber sections helped him move from third on course into a lead he held until the end.
As the second lap concluded Eckmann went down near the finish line. Powers took the opportunity to advance into second position. At the head of the race, Owen gained on Powers but his gap evaporated when he crashed in a corner.
“I had a good gap on him for a while,” Owen later said. “I was holding it, holding it. Once he got back up there he definitely had the better legs. I just made a mistake and all of a sudden he is gone and I can’t close it down.”
While Powers worked on building distance to Owen, Raleigh-Clement’s Jamey Driscoll gradually moved up from tenth at the first turn to fifth, riding near teammate Allen Krughoff. In the second half of the race Driscoll pulled into third and finished there just 15 seconds behind Owen. Krughoff came in fourth just after Driscoll. Eckmann placed fifth.
Pete Webber (Boulder Cycle Sport) rode well and finished sixth. The current Washington state elite champion, Kevin Bradford-Parish, started fast and maintained a steady pace to net seventh.
Looking ahead to national championships
For the youngest juniors in the race, Petrov and Gage Hecht (Team Specialized Racing), Saturday presented an opportunity to compare themselves ahead of the championship 15 – 16 race this coming Friday. Hecht finished tenth. While Petrov drifted back in the second half of the race and came in 32nd that’s an anomaly of sorts given his strong season; Friday still promises an exciting contest between the two.
The U23 contest for stars and stripes at Valmont Bike Park should prove a nail-biter as well. Speaking about the forthcoming battle between the Cal Giant strongmen, Owen said on Saturday, “It’s going to be fun and it’s cool to see that the U23’s are so strong, being able to stay with the big guys. I think it will be a close race.”
And when it comes to the big guys’ national championship showdown next Sunday, Powers is looking hard to beat at Valmont Bike Park.
Read on for more local Colorado riders to watch when the cyclocross national championships comes to Boulder’s Valmont Bike Park in less than one week. This collection expands on the elite riders mentioned in the Elevation Outdoors guide to top talents and local heroes.
Krughoff became the new Colorado state champion two weeks ago. The state championship course in Castle Rock suited riders with all-around skills; the nationals course should as well, although it will run faster if it’s entirely dry. The Raleigh-Clement rider placed seventh at October’s Boulder Cup which took place in Valmont.
Also a Boulderite, Mitch Hoke (Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies) finished eighth at the 2013 Boulder Cup. Hoke’s ‘cross schedule this season hasn’t been as packed at Krughoff’s. But this tough and popular guy can’t be overlooked; in December he raced and finished in Bend’s sub-freezing temperatures and snow at the Deschutes Brewery Cup and he’ll benefit from a sizeable cheering section.
Additional strong local riders in the men’s elite field include Brady Kappius (Clif Bar) – watch for his fast start as well as Tim Allen’s (Feedback Sports), Evol Foods’ Spencer Powlison and Ken Benesh, and Chris Case (Boulder Cycle Sport). Based on registration at this time it appears Case’s teammate Pete Webber is dedicating his nationals efforts to the masters 40 – 44 race.
Fort Collins will be represented by First City Cycling Team’s Steven Stefko. Jake Wells (Stan’s NoTubes) and Troy Wells (Clif Bar) should put in good rides too.
Of special note is John Klish (Feedback Sports) from Grand Junction. Klish is deaf and this year won cycling gold in the Deaflympics.
The Elevation Outdoors piece left out Luna Pro Team’s Georgia Gould because she was on a sabbatical from cyclocross racing.
But she surfaced to compete for the first time in three months at December’s state championships and won over a field including Meredith Miller (California Giant Berry Farms/Specialized) and Nicole Duke (Marin/Spy). She’s registered for this weekend’s two-day Altitude Adjustment ‘Cross event as well as nationals.
Gould’s freshness could supply a significant advantage; she’ll need it to overcome the disadvantage of a near-back-row starting position and the momentum of top-ranked in the world Katie Compton (Trek Cyclocross Collective). Gould has won at Valmont before, in the 2012 Boulder Cup.
Duke typically benefits from a more technical course. But she can pull out something special even when she doesn’t expect it. That includes third place in cyclocross nationals last year after a challenging up-and-down season which included a team change in November. Sketchy conditions at Valmont would highlight her bike handling skills and fearlessness.
Boulder’s Kristin Weber (Boulder Cycle Sport) will thrive if the course is messy. A dry, sunny day will stoke Raleigh-Clement’s Rebecca Gross. Crankbrothers Race Club rider Judy Freeman should be a podium threat as well as potentially teammate Chloe Woodruff; the latter isn’t listed as registered but indicated in October that she planned to race nationals. Also look for Denver resident Rebecca Blatt (Van Dessel) and Team Kappius’ Karen Hogan, who at 48 years-old can leave most of the field struggling behind her.
At least two Colorado juniors are entered in the women’s elite race: Laurel Rathbun (Exergy Twenty16) and Ksenia Lepikhina (Tokyo Joe’s).
Cyclocross nationals in Boulder will bring out nearly every local rider who races ‘cross. Who’s likely to do well? Check out a few in a story I wrote for Elevation Outdoors.
Due to space limitations, that story mentions only some of the many talented Front Range riders. A subsequent post will include more stand-outs to keep on your radar.