So many words come to mind when thinking about the Elite races on the final day of the US Cyclocross National Championships: domination, wall of people, noise, drums, technical course, duels, light and shadows, triumph and heartbreak.
In the end, Planet Bike’s Katie Compton won her sixth consecutive National Championship and Tim Johnson (Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com) his third.
Wall of noise. The crowds were amazing in Bend, Oregon as they lined almost the entire course, sometimes five deep cheering on every rider as they went by. Add to that the drum corps, sasquatch, multiple Santa Claus and it was a party out there. Oh and beer.
“Oh man, the crowd was amazing, they were cheering all the way around.” said Compton. “I can’t believe how just many people came out to support this year. It was really exciting. I think that there’s a lot more people here than they have been in a long time.”
Well done Bend.
Domination. Compton continued to dominate the US cross scene as she went to the front from the gun and quickly established a gap to the chasing field. The battles were taking place behind her for the silver medal between Meredith Miller (CalGiant-Specialized) and Amy Dombroski (Schlamm-Clement-Primus Mootry) and between Alison Dunlap (Luna) and Laura Van Gilder (C3 Athletes) for fourth.
Following her M.O., Compton went to the front from the gun and quickly established a gap to the chasing field. Behind her, shuffling and re-shuffling as riders were trying to move up on the technical, tough-to-pass course.
“It didn’t go as I wanted it to go, I wanted to have a much better start than that, but going into this first corner I was pretty far back so I had to chase up through and at that point Compton already had a gap on everyone. But you know I made it through okay and I was in the spot that I wanted to be, I had her not too too far ahead” said Dombroski.
“I started second row which wasn’t ideal but I went into this in fourth so that wasn’t too bad but Sue Butler and Maureen just weren’t cornering as well. It was hard to get around people. So finally I got around them, at that point Katie was, you know. So I was chasing in second for awhile then Amy caught me, she’s really riding well, she’s just explosive out of the turns and so she rode away from me. Meredith caught up to me and that’s when I went down, the u-turn after the barriers, I just slid it wasn’t a big deal but Meredith got around me. ” said Dunlap.
“I always have such bad start, I had a good start position but I’ve got to practice my starts. I probably came into the hole, the first turn, maybe seventh or eighth wheel and so then the gap started opening up. I caught Van Gilder and then I was catching Dunlap and Dunlap went down on a slippery turn.” said Miller
By the second lap the chase order was established: Dombroski, Miller, Dunlap, Van Gilder. Then another group that included Kelli Emmett (Giant MTB), Sue Butler (Monavie-Cannondale), Andrea Smith (Minuteman), Mary McConneloug (Kenda/Seven/NoTubes) and Maureen Bruno-Roy (MM Racing/Seven).
Compton continued to power at the front, never truly relaxing. “The thing is with this course if you mess up you can lose so much time so there’s only so much relaxing time that you can do because you start kind of easing back, I get my timing off and then I crash so I just want to keep going and keep the speed and try to stay consistent.”
Duels. Miller vs Dombroski.
“I was feeling stronger and stronger and then I went down on an icy corner and kind of lost focused. Then Meredith attacked me and I tried to stay on her wheel but then I was just riding stupid lines and stuff because I was kind of in a panic.” said Dombroski.
Using her power, US Road Champion Miller got enough of a gap to to win the silver. “I was chasing Amy and then I finally caught Amy when she went down on the ice right before the runup and then passed her and just kept the pressure on. My technical skills carried me, I was good enough today to get through it.”
Miller had been fighting nerves before the start of the race. “The question for me was I had all week to sit around to relax and recover, I’m used to always having something going on or having a race the day before too so it was like wow, I haven’t done a whole lot this week, is that going to be good or bad?”
“Starting about two o’clock yesterday afternoon, I felt like I was going to throw up.” laughed Miller. “I was so ready to get on the start line today and just race, get it out of the way.”
“It wasn’t the race that I wanted to ride, I should have been more relaxed but all year I didn’t have any crashes or anything so it’s bound to happen in some race.” said Dombroski who finished third. “I’m very happy with it, it’s just that it’s frustrating when you don’t ride the race that you want to ride, and when you make stupid mistakes and stuff.”
Dunlap vs Van Gilder.
“It was a close race between me and Laura Van Gilder, she was never more than 5 seconds behind me, it was just like gah, until the last lap then I opened it up.” said Dunlap who finished fourth.
“I got a little bit anxious, I had a pretty big fall at the end,” said Van Gilder, “it was going to be a tough shot to close it to Alison Dunlap as it was and that took it out of it but it did jeopardize my fifth spot so I rallied on.”
“Super-psyched, can’t complain about the podium.” said Dunlap who came out of retirement at the start of the cross season.
“I’m very happy, it’s been a long season on the road and a different one for me, and cross continues to be a highlight for me, I’m really happy to end it with this result.” said Van Gilder. “I have a great team behind me and I think that’s imperative.”
A great course, technical and tricky if maybe a bit short as the riders were flying around the corners and u-turns, on the off-camber slippery grass, and over the barriers and up and down.
“I think it’s probably the most technical course [in the US],” replied Compton, “I know the first day in Cincinnati was pretty tacky and pretty muddy but this is different because it’s a really fast course but there’s all the ice underneath the mud and with the ruts and thawing out halfway through, it was kind of tricky to pick a line.”
Dunlap agreed. “It’s crazy, it’s a hard, hard course, every turn is different. It’s still frozen in a lot of places but then there’s this thin layer of mud, a little bit of water. Every corner was different every lap, the same turn would change every lap. It was a full-on bike handler’s course.”
For Johnson, it was all about consequences. “I like the course where’s there is consequence. There’s consequence in making the wrong choice, there’s consequence for being aggressive, there’s consequence for not trying hard enough. I like the course when you crash you’re going to feel it for the rest of the race.”
“The only section where I could really pedal hard was this uphill section here and then it was so much coasting.” said 6’6″ defending champion Ryan Trebon (KONA-FSA). “Those guys they’re short little dudes, tiny little off camber corners, definitely a couple of pucker factors there a couple of times, it was a good course.”
Compton went with a tire pressure of 25. ” It was tricky with pressure because of the ice and the ruts you don’t want to go too low but I think for the grass I would have liked a little bit less pressure but what do you do?” she added with a laugh.
Dunlap went really low for tire pressure, 20 and 22. “I bottomed out all the time, it’s nerve wracking. You get better traction but then there’s a ton of rocks on this course especially that descent of the far side, you come to the bottom of it and you’re just kink, kakunk. I didn’t flat so it worked.”
Triumph and heartbreak, all in the same team in Sunday’s final race. Johnson won his third title, soloing away from the lone rider on his wheel with three laps to go while his teammate Jeremy Powers slid out of the lead after blowing up the race with his blazing start.
Kaboom. The men’s race exploded from the start when Powers lit the fuse on the first lap. After getting the holeshot, Powers kept on going.
“That was the race that I wanted, I wanted to be at the front and I knew I could win that way. It’s a hard way to win but I knew that was the way to win it, this race is going to be hard no matter what way you win it. ” said Powers.
Powers was off the front, with a gap to the chase group with all the heavy hitters, Trebon, Jonathan Page (Planet Bike), Johnson and his teammate Jamey Driscoll. Behind them, the field was shattered by Powers’ speed.
Missing from the group was heavy favorite Todd Wells (Specialized). “For me I was dying from the start. You always suffer but sometimes it’s a kind of controlled pain, it’s not enjoyable but not too bad you feel like you’re going pretty good. And other days, it’s just painful and today was one of those days where it’s just painful. For the first half of the race I was cross-eyed.”
Then on the second lap Page pitted. “I didn’t have a mechanical, it was all my fault. I just wanted a different tire pressure.”
Johnson took full advantage and bridged up to Powers. “Anytime somebody does that you have to keep the pressure to try to get away as fast as possible.”
“Jeremy was riding really well and he had a nice little gap, I just tried to get up to him as smooth as I could without anyone on my wheel. Ryan wasn’t there so it wound up being perfect.” said Johnson.
But Trebon also made the junction as he followed Johnson up to Powers.
In a familiar story, the two Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com riders were at the front together with Trebon a few seconds back on purpose.
“I was just trying to keep those guys close, I didn’t want to ride right on their wheel because it was hard to see the course, a lot of hidden rocks, If you’re not seeing where you’re going there’s a lot of embedded rocks on the back section of the course, I just wanted to keep them within distance and play a hand in the end if I had it.” said Trebon.
“That was really the best case scenario, when we started the race we wanted to have good starts, we wanted to be able to control the race from the front, not make any big moves to catch back up to the lead. The two of us riding together like that, Ryan just dangling off the back, Jonathan had a bike change it was a perfect scenario.” said Johnson.
Behind them Page was leading the chase with Wells and Driscoll behind him.
Heartbreak. I didn’t see Powers crash but I sure heard it, as the crowd erupted in a heartfelt groan as he slid out, hard by all accounts, on the slippery grass just after the stairs. His daring attack from the start had the crowd energized and screaming, and then in one second he was out of the lead.
“I definitely am disappointed, I felt that when I had my problem that opened up a door and a lot of confidence for the other guys that were behind me and I had a hard time getting back into a rhythm. I had to switch bikes because I had bent my bars, I don’t know, I hit it pretty hard.” said Powers.
Johnson went around to move solo at the front. Trebon was a few seconds back.
“Once Jeremy made that mistake, Tim was kind of gone and that was it, I couldn’t catch back up to him, he was going good out there.” said Trebon.
With four laps to go, Johnson kept on going with a gap of 10 seconds on Trebon.
“Smooth is fast, smooth is fast, that’s really the only thing I was thinking about.” said Johnson about his final laps. “I broke the race down into chunks every time, every couple of corners would make one segment, I just tried to have a trouble free last lap or last few laps. I wasn’t trying to gain any I was just trying to go as fast as I could.”
“That’s one thing I was looking for, just keep it steady and not make any mistakes.” said Trebon. “The pits weren’t good today, it was really to your detriment if you had to pit because they were so fast so I really wanted not have to pit, super steady.”
After a bike change, Powers was back with the chase group of Page, Wells and Driscoll. Behind them, Adam Craig (Giant MTB) was chasing solo.
Page went to the pit one more time. “I wasnt happy with the pressure I had, I knew I wasn’t closing so I switched again hopefully to get a bike where I could go faster. I could only go so fast.”
Triumph. Johnson soloed to victory with 25 seconds on Trebon.
“A finish like this, I can’t imagine finishing any better.” said Johnson.
Bend-local Trebon got the silver in front of a hugely appreciative crowd. “I had a good day. It was a good course, definitely the strongest rider won because it wasn’t just Tim’s bike handling that won, he had good fitness today he was on it.”
Page won the bronze. “No excuses, they rode fast and I never got going today. When I could put the power down, I was okay, there’s a lot of snap here and a lot of speed.”
“They’re just a bike racers and I race against the best in the world, I don’t find it a disadvantage.” replied Page when asked if it was a disadvantage to not have raced against the others that often. “I find it a disadvantage when it gets all dry and nice” he added with a laugh.
Wells finished fourth.
“No, more excitement because I had a good race,” replied Wells when asked if the pressure of being named a favorite after his USGP performance got to him. “the form was there and I just needed to have a good day and I’d have a shot to win but like I said, I didn’t have any problems out there, it’s just one of those things as cross here is very competitive and you need everything to go right which did today but you also need to be at the very top of your game and I just didn’t have it out there today.”
Powers gave it everything to win the sprint against Driscoll for fifth. “It was disappointing, you can’t express the amount of disappointment I have, just pissed, but that’s how it played out for me, just one lapse of focus and I ate it and that was the extent of it.’
Complete results here
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