The outcome was never really in doubt at the Elite/u23 women’s race at the USA Cyclocross National Championships earlier today. Katie Compton (Rabobank-Giant) powered away on the first lap and rode smoothly to claim her eighth national championship in a row. The big story of the day was the great ride put in by her protégée Kaitie Antonneau (Cannondale-cyclocrossworld.com). After dropping her teammate Nicole Duke, Antonneau claimed a very strong second place and the U23 national championship for the second year in a row.
Duke battled it out with a surging Teal Stetson-Lee (CalGiant) in the final laps until she was able to pull away to take third.
“It felt really good to win the eighth one. That course was hard, it was hard from the first lap to the last lap, the mud was changing every lap, the ruts were changing. Went down a couple of times but it was so hard you had to keep your focus, you couldn’t ease up and change your game face, it was hard.” Compton said after the race.
For Compton, it was all about finesse and tire pressure. “It’s tough in mud because you want to push, push, push but sometimes you have to back it off a little bit and keep it smooth, get through it and then power. I made some mistakes out there but I think we all were.”
Her plan for the pit was simple, to change every lap to clean the tires, and a planned bike exchange after the first lap. “We started at a higher tire pressure just to account for the frozen ruts, also you’re hitting corners at a lot higher pace.” explained Compton’s mechanic and husband Mark Legg. “We planned to make a change to a lower tire pressure which we did and stayed on that pressure.”
Compton stated that each of her national championships were special. “I do remember each of them because they’re all so different and none of them are easy. Because the conditions are always really challenging, that and the competition is different every year, it’s always special. I like winning National Championships and it’s a good feeling.”
But she does admit that this one was extra special because of Antonneau’s great ride. “I’m actually a bit more excited for Kaitie because she made such a huge step up this year. She’s just such a great rider, super fun to coach and I just love seeing talent like that get developed.”
The protégée shines. “Everything.” replied an emotional Antonneau when asked what it meant to stand on the podium next to Compton. “It’s unreal almost and I’m really happy.”
Once Compton was off the front, Antonneau was battling with her teammate Duke, each taking turns at the front and each closing the door on the other.
“We rode together for half the race and we kept on pushing each other which I think is good because we saw Teal behind us. We kept going back and forth, taking turns, it wasn’t spoken but that’s what we were doing.” Antonneau said of the fight with Duke.
“That was an amazing race. Kaitie and I went back and forth a few times and I think there was some sections that I was faster, others where she was faster. And then, she just got stronger as the race went on. When she passed me that last time, she just took off and I was happy that it was her at least. ” Duke commented.
And then, Antonneau took the front one more time, and was off. “I felt good on the hills and that’s where I pushed, and I accelerated over the top of them really hard each time so I think that’s where I got away. I don’t know, I tried to not look behind me very much.” Antonneau laughed.
Antonneau continued solo to claim the silver and her second consecutive U23 national jersey. Though she admits to being nervous before the race, you couldn’t tell by watching her handle the ruts.
“Last night, I had a little five minute mental breakdown and I just had to breathe. This morning when I woke up, I was really nervous and then once the gun went off, I was fine.” Antonneau said. Part of her nerves came because she race, and won, the Collegiate D1 race on Saturday. “I was nervous that it would be a disadvantage because none of them were racing and I was worried that it would make me tired but I think it helped. I think that it was only in my head that it was going to make me tired, but I feel like it was alright.”
The 20-year said that everything her coach Compton teaches her is important. “I don’t think I can pinpoint one thing but just always wants me to have fun and reminds me that it’s the most important thing and then everything she teaches me, I put that in my head and keep it there. She’s amazing, I couldn’t have asked for a better coach.”
Battle for third. While Antonneau and Duke were battling it out, Stetson-Lee was putting in a strong chase.
“I was chasing the majority of that race, it was hard because I had a second row start, I started behind Nicole because she’s always a fire cracker off the line which was good but really the first half of the lap, I was trying to get to where the race was happening and by the time I got up there, it was already getting strung out. I could see Kaitie and Nicole and I was just chasing them down for a long and they were just out of reach. ” Stetson-Lee explained.
Then, the catch was made and another battle started, one that Stetson-Lee seemed to have the advantage.
“I finally passed Nicole on the climb, and I was like ‘alright I got here, I’m feeling strong’. And I was able to maintain that for that second to last lap, and then on that final lap, my quad started cramping up on the climbs, I didn’t have enough left in the tank as I thought I would, and she did.” Stetson-Lee said.
“In the second to last lap, I found my legs again, I felt strong and I think she started to slow down a little bit because she had been chasing for so long. And then, I knew when we passed through here (finishing straight) on the last lap, I knew I had her, I just had to time it right. Soo I timed it, right after the downhill into one of the technical sections and I took off in a few of those turns and that’s where I gapped her. I was relieved at that point, I at least have to get third.” Duke said.
Duke added with a smile, “But it was funny, when Kaitie and then Teal were ahead of me, the thought that was going through my mind was ‘oh my god, that’s the future of the sport right there’, and I was proud of them. It was cool.”
Worlds. Now all eyes turn to the Cyclocross World Championships held in Koksijde at the end of January. While Team USA has not been announced, Compton is an automatic nomination and has made no bones about it, she wants the rainbow jersey.
“I’m still on the way up.” Compton said about her form. “Still training and making sure I get the preparation right for the World Championships, that’s my goal. Coming into that feeling good and being recovered, have a good day because yeah, that’s near and dear to my heart. I want to win it.”
Antonneau should also be a shoe-in for the team after a top 10 result at a World Cup and her second-place in Madison.
Top 5 Elite Women
1. Katie Compton (Colorado Springs, Colo./Rabobank-Giant Off Road Team) 46:42
2. Kaitlin Antonneau (Racine, Wisc./Cannondale Cyclocrossworld) 48:41
3. Nicole Duke (Boulder, Colo./Cannondale Cyclocrossworld) 48:59
4. Teal Stetson-Lee (Durango, Colo./Califonia Giant Cycling) 49:14
5. Coryn Rivera (Tustin, Calif./Exergy Twenty12) 50:21
1. Kaitlin Antonneau (Racine, Wisc./Cannondale Cyclocrossworld) 48:41