Mid-way through the USA Cyclocross National Championships, it looked like Kris Walker (Conender) had another Masters Women 50-54 title in the bag. The defending champion had a substantial gap hovering around 30 second on a lone chaser until two things happened, Walker – as did her chaser – had to contend with traffic on the course, and the lone chaser was Catherine Wahlberg (Kenda).
“There was a group of I think four or five of us that got off the line ahead of everybody, and Cathering Wahlberg was leading it out and then up the hill, three of us got away and Catherine was leading down. And then we got to the stairs and I think I was a little bit faster than her and got a teeny, tiny gap and then I built on that gap for the first half of the race. But then I got up in the 45 riders, and I was just having a lot of trouble, I kept getting forced off the course and having to get off my bike trying to get around them, it was just a mess.” Walker explained after the race.
The 50-54 field was on course at the same time as the 45-49 field.
“We went through clumps of people. I wish they’d had a minute in between, we both had traffic in the beginning. So you went from clump of traffic, it wasn’t awful, it was okay. I honestly, I thought well I’ll just hold on to second and then all of a sudden I realized that she was there.” Wahlberg commented.
For three laps, Wahlberg chased hard, improving as she went on and as the course conditions changed. the warmer than usual temperatures and the shining sun was slowly melting the top layer, leading to some greasy spots on the course. Spots in the descents especially.
“Actually for me it got better, the turns got more predictable but still just as slippery.” Wahlberg said about the course. “I’m not sure if I got better or Kris started going backwards, I can’t tell you. I think I just started taking better lines, a little more tight turns and so on, and then I guess we really were fighting it at the end. I saw her, of course that’s always motivating.”
Wahlberg was also remembering what Steve Tilford had told her as they pre-rode the course together. “I was crazy motivated. Steve is the best, I can’t even tell you enough about him. Coming down those really fast descents, ‘Catherine no breaks’, and in the race, your guts are there so that comes back to you and you let off. Of all the places he helped me with, I think that’s where I made the time up. ”
“But, I just made a few mistakes and Catherine got back in it. Catherine, she is so tough, you cannot make mistakes if she’s in the same race as you.” Walker said.
The catch was made halfway through the final lap before the barriers, and the duel was on for the Stars and Stripes.
“So she caught back up and just really surprised me and I was like ‘oh my gosh’. So I hurried up and she passed me, I hurried up and passed her back and then I made a couple of other little mistakes in the sand and we were pretty even, I was just right there but she was right on my wheel, up the little hill, I had a little bit of a gap, but then she caught back up. ” explained Walker.
“Honestly what I should have done, I could tell I was better through the twisty turn stuff but she knew it so she jumped me and she got me, we both came off in the sand, and kind of fisticuffed a litte there.” laughed Wahlberg, “But she got the lead into that next group of trees. I just couldn’t get passed her, we ran into one girl and I don’t think she realized we were going for first and second, she got in between us, it wasn’t her fault, Kris got by her, I got by her a little later.”
Walker hit the pavement first, with 500 meters to go to the finish line and a small gap of 10 seconds.
“Coming onto the pavement, all I could hear was just Steve Tilford yelling at her ‘sprint for all your worth, you can get her’. But of course, then I sprinted for all I was worth (laughs) and luckily for me she didn’t get me. It was very exciting and scary, it was good. She’s so tough, it’s so fun to race with her.” smiled Walker.
“That’s the thing about cross, it’s not like a road race or a mountain bike race, ten seconds is miles. She got to the pavement first and hats off to her.” concluded Wahlberg.
With that, Walker won her fourth consecutive Cyclocross National title. “In fact Catherine is the only who’s ever beat me. The first two that I ever did, she won, and then I’ve won the next four in a row.”
“They’re all really special but anytime I beat Catherine, it’s really special.” Walker added with a laugh. “I just really respect her, she just is a tough, tough competitor. And she’s good, technically she’s amazing.”
Top 5 Masters Women 50-54
1. Kris Walker (Pocatello, Idaho/Conender) 42:58
2. Catherine Walberg (Topeka, Kan.) 43:02
3. Karen Tripp (Deerfield, NH/Blue Steel Cyclery) 46:28
4. Deirdre Garvey (Boulder, Colo./BRAC) 46:48
5. Susan Prieto (Boulder, Colo.) 47:14