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Clash of the masters: Jake Wells vs. Russell Stevenson at cyclocross nationals

Russell Stevenson and Jake Wells sprint for the win

Russell Stevenson and Jake Wells sprint for the win

“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.

Jake Wells & Russell Stevenson after the 35-39 race finish

Jake Wells & Russell Stevenson after the 35-39 race finish

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.”

2012 world champion Rebecca Gross adds a national title to her cyclocross resume

Rebecca Gross becomes the new women's 30 - 34 national champion, in Valmont Bike Park

Rebecca Gross becomes the new women’s 30 – 34 national champion, in Valmont Bike Park

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.”

Rebecca Blatt leaves the off-camber "Pete's Plunge" and heads to the Glades section of Valmont Bike Park

Rebecca Blatt leaves the off-camber “Pete’s Plunge” and heads to the Glades section of Valmont Bike Park

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.”

BethAnn Orton leads in lap one on the 5280 stairs

BethAnn Orton leads in lap one on the 5280 stairs

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.

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Future faces of American elite cyclocross contest national championship in Boulder

Peter Goguen, the new 17-18 U.S. cyclocross champ

Peter Goguen, the new 17-18 U.S. cyclocross champ

[updated 1/14/2014]

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.

Maxx Chance makes 'cross fun for the fans

Maxx Chance makes ‘cross fun for the fans

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.

Just before diving into the first corner, Peter Goguen leads the pack

Just before diving into the first corner, Peter Goguen leads the pack

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).

Cooper Willsey ahead of Brannan Fix, Grant Ellwood, and Ethan Reynolds going into lap three

Cooper Willsey ahead of Brannan Fix, Grant Ellwood, and Ethan Reynolds going into lap three

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.

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Lessons from the mud: women’s 40 – 44 cyclocross national championship

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.

Nina Baum becomes a ‘cross national champion

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.”

Kristin Weber passes Lauren Costantini at 2014 cyclocross nationals, 40 - 44 race

Kristin Weber passes Lauren Costantini at 2014 cyclocross nationals, 40 – 44 race

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.

Kristin Weber's son, Will, had a question for mom after the race

Kristin Weber’s son, Will, had a question for mom after the race

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.

Nina Baum's winning Cannondale

Nina Baum’s winning Cannondale

 

[Video to come]

Tim Allen, the likely unlikely 2014 single speed cyclocross national champion

Tim Allen, 2014 single speed cyclocross national champion

Tim Allen, 2014 single speed cyclocross national champion

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.

Tim Allen's single speed set-up

Tim Allen’s single speed set-up

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.”

Race action

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.”

Corey Stelljes & Brady Kappius (l - r) on the steep off-camber section nicknamed "Pete's Plunge" after course designer Pete Webber

Corey Stelljes & Brady Kappius (l – r) on the steep off-camber section nicknamed “Pete’s Plunge” after course designer Pete Webber

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.

Men's 2014 national championship single speed podium

Men’s 2014 national championship single speed podium

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.

Jesse Swift's post nationals bike

Jesse Swift’s post nationals bike

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.”

Brady Kappius holds onto second at the single speed national championship finish

Brady Kappius holds onto second at the single speed national championship finish

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…”

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Gallery

Single speed medals and mayhem at cyclocross nationals

Single speed Gates Carbon Drive setup

[updated 1/8/2014]

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.

Brady Kappius

Brady Kappius

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.”

Colby Pearce likes to race single speed and elite races in one day

Colby Pearce likes to race single speed and elite races in one day

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.

Tim Allen wins Altitude Adjustment Cross single speed race

Tim Allen wins Altitude Adjustment Cross single speed race

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.

Will Iaia in Colorado state championship sand, Nic Handy (right) and Jesse Swift (left)

Will Iaia in Colorado state championship sand, Nic Handy (right) and Jesse Swift (left)

Georgia Gould’s late season cyclocross start — so far, smooth as silk

Georgia Gould wins day one of Altitude Adjustment Cross in heavy snow

Georgia Gould wins day one of Altitude Adjustment Cross in heavy snow

[updated with new content 1/7/2014]

She’s back.

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.”

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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.

Elite ladies start, Altitude Adjustment Cross day one

Elite ladies start, Altitude Adjustment Cross day one

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.

Kristal Boni descends from the Longmont course's high point

Kristal Boni descends from the Longmont course’s high point

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.

Julie Lockhart, legend in Longmont

Julie Lockhart, legend in Longmont

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]

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