On one side, the savvy sprinter with over 300 victories on the road, Laura Van Gilder and on the other side, the mudder, the technical racer, Maureen Bruno Roy; both have claimed multiple podiums at cross races over the years. The two engaged in a tactical battle for the victory on Ellison Cross earlier today. Ultimately, Van Gilder was able to drop Bruno-Roy on the final lap of the very hilly course held at Ellison Park in Rochester, NY to take the win.
In the elite men’s race, Zach McDonald set the pace at the front of the lead group, shedding riders lap after lap, going from 11 to five to three until only two were in the front group, McDonald and Raphaël Gagné. Canadian Gagné bided his time, shadowing McDonald and putting in a few surges until he made his move on the final lap to take the win.
Held in Rochester, NY, the Ellison Cross is the only UCI cyclocross event this weekend in the United States. Put under pressure by Van Gilder (Mellow Mushroom), the elite women’s field exploded early, the veteran had a plan, especially as she thought that Bruno Roy Bob’s Red Mill p/b Seven Cycles) knew the course.
“The first lap of the race, it was Laura van Gilder and I and she jumped right on the front which was great. She’s well known being a tactical racer and a good sprinter. She hasn’t won all the races she’s won by not being super smart so I can learn a ton from her so any time I can follow her lead that is a good thing. When she’s willing to take the front, I know that she’s up to something and so she definitely was today and she pulled the race apart pretty quickly.” Bruno Roy told the race announcer after the race.
Van Gilder explained her tactics. “This was my first year here at Ellison Park in Rochester and I knew that Mo had been here before so I figured that she had a little advantage and it’s very climby which is going to suit her so I just took the bull by the horns and let the first lap, got comfortable with some of the corners. Oddly enough we did a pretty long event and after two laps in we saw four to go and I thought ‘man, it’s really going to be a sufferfest’. At that point, we had three riders and there were definitely some tricky sections and the hill was taking it out of us and you need to be careful on the corner at the top of the descent. “
Located in an area of the park carved by glaciers, each lap of the 3-km course included approximately 200 feet of vertical climbing. And what goes up must come down.
Two laps in, three riders were in the lead group, Van Gilder, Bruno roy and young Emma White (cyclocrossworld.com). Bruno Roy continued, “This is my first year here and I kept hearing ‘it’s kind of hilly, it’s kind of hilly’. Before my start, Adam Myerson said good luck with the hill climb event,” she laughed, “so he really spoke to how hilly it really is. There are some sustained climbing and that’s where the fatigue sort of wears out people and pulls apart even small group. You saw it was one, two, three with Emma and I could see that there were a few sections where she was struggling so I went to the front, gave her a little drill and she came off there.”
And then there were two. “With two to go, I actually went down and it gave Mo a bit of an advantage. I knew she was going to try and capitalize on that and I just had to bid my time, keep something in reserve, reel her back in which I was able to do without making more mistakes. I planned an attack on a certain place, got a gap which felt comfortable and capitalized on it so I could ride conservatively into the finish.” added Van Gilder who raced the bell lap cautiously after getting a small gap on Bruno Roy.
“I do like to sprint but I don’t like to leave it to the sprint, I knew that it would be foolish to go to the last corner with Me because anything could happen, you could get overzealous and lose your front wheel so we’re both calculating as competitors where we’re going to make our moves, how we’re going to try and distance our competitor and most people would think ‘oh get rid of Laura before the line’, but I was thinking ‘I want to get rid of Mo’ so that I can just re-compose and get it back together. We’re out there, we’re competing, we’re trying our hardest and we want to put on a good show for the spectators as well as really test ourselves because we have big races with really fantastic competitors coming on and we’re hoping to grow this event here in Rochester, the Ellison Park event, so that’s why we’re here.”
Canadian Natasha Elliott (Rare Vos Racing/Stevens) surged up to take third place.
The elite men’s field also split up early, with an early crash accelerating the fracture. Three laps into the race , the lead group was down to five riders, McDonald (Rapha-Focus), Gagné (Rocky Mountain), Evan McNeely (Norco) and JAM Fund/NCC teammates Anthony Clark and Stephen Hyde. For the next three laps, McDonald did most of the pace making, often getting a small gap on the descent but the group would come back together on the flatter sections. Gagné would sit in fourth or fifth place, moving up when he saw other riders faltering. McNeely and Hyde were gone with three laps and Gagné put in a massive acceleration when he saw Clarke was in trouble.
Through Clarke gave chase and almost made junction a lap later, he never quite connected and took third. The fight for the win was between McDonald and Gagné. With two laps to go, both took turns at the front and then it seemed that the Canadian was in trouble on the bell lap when McDonald took over. But, with half a lap to go, Gagné put in a massive dig on the climb and held it to the finish line.
After the race, Gagné said, “I’m usually stronger on day two so we’ll see, I’ll try to live up to that statement.”
Racing continues on Sunday where the course will go in reverse direction. To make it ever more interesting, there is a chance of rain.
Van Gilder concluded, “It was a little soggy today from the rain overnight, it would be a different course yet. My only hope is that it’s always rideable because it’s always difficult when there’s a lot of running but Mo would disagree, Mo enjoys the running. Tomorrow could be another day if we have some rain overnight or even rain throughout the morning. Even as a relatively dry course, it’s very challenging and tomorrow we’re going to go in the opposite direction so we’re going to have our hands full again.”
Complete results not available at time of posting.