FORT COLLINS, Colo. (VN) _ Katerina Nash (Luna) outsprinted Katie Compton (Planet Bike) to take top honors on day 1 of the New Belgium Cup in Fort Collins, Colorado. Nash caught Compton late in the race when the U.S. national champion suffered a botched bike change, which she attributed to a mental error on the part of husband/mechanic Mark Legg-Compton. Local resident Georgia Gould (Luna) finished third to maintain her series lead in the U.S. Gran Prix of Cyclocross.
The temperature crept into the low 40s by race time and the dry soil of the technical, hilly course became glass. Three climbs between 600 and 1,000 feet long carried riders up 150 vertical feet per lap. A number of high-speed, slick corners dropped the field at the base of the open field each lap, while tricky, off-camber weaving sections sent rear wheels sliding and feet to the ground.
The race exploded at the first corner when Laura Van Gilder (C3-Athletes Serving Athletes), currently third in the UCI world rankings, and Meredith Miller (Cal Giant-Specialized) were among the riders to go down hard. The opening stretch of asphalt gave way to glassy mud around a long left-hand bend, and when the pileup clogged the course, Compton, Nash and Gould slipped away.
The three leaders battled for a lap and a half, swapping leads constantly as they each touched down in the slop. Compton took the lead into the winding downhill early in the second lap and when she attacked on the two-track climb, Gould was gone.
“She and I were just exchanging leads based on who rode a section better,” said Compton. “She was making mistakes. I was making mistakes.”
“I wrapped myself around a few poles out there, I went down a couple times, but I’m really getting super fast at getting up,” Nash joked afterward. “I was definitely riding different lines than Katie here and there and not always was it best.”
A botched bike change
From there, Compton and Nash traded leads until the U.S. champion again put in a big dig on the two-track ascent. Nash stood on the pedals in her red-white-and-blue Czech national champ’s kit, but Compton took 10 seconds on her quickly. Compton looked to be on autopilot, cleanly navigating the tough course conditions, but when she entered the pit for a bike change late in the race, things fell apart.
“I was on the wrong side of the pit,” said Mark Compton-Legg, who runs his wife’s pit crew. “I’m looking down thinking, ‘Where the hell is she?’ and I hear her calling for me.”
Compton-Legg quickly made his way across the two-sided pit and handed his wife the new bike.
“It was just enough for Katerina to catch and accelerate,” said Compton, who acknowledged that the mistake cost her the race. “It was a crucial 10 seconds I really needed. I don’t have the fitness to close that down right now.”
Compton-Legg was candid after the race about the botched hand-up.
“I’m still in shock,” he said as his wife stood on the second step of the podium after the finish. “I’m still trying to figure out what happened. Sometimes the most idiotic mistakes are the hardest to figure out.”
A little dab will do you
Nash saw the confusion up ahead and surged onto Compton’s wheel, erasing her advantage when Compton dabbed on a tight, 90-degree corner exiting the pit.
“I was fairly close behind her at that point and it helped me to close the gap,” said Nash.
In a possible prelude to the Koksijde World Cup later this month, the two leaders ripped through the mud heading into the last lap. When the Luna rider surged on the same climb where she’d been dropped a two laps earlier, she gapped Compton by three seconds. Compton clawed back, cleanly riding a series of technical turns 1km from the finish.
Nash arrived to the 100-meter finishing straight with Compton in tow. When the Czech rider opened her sprint, Compton was spent and could not match her pace, trailing in a bike length behind.
“I just didn’t have anything left to sprint,” said Compton. “She rode it really well and I just didn’t have the legs to come around.”
Tomorrow is another day
Legg-Compton, who is in the running for the series overall in the men’s 35-plus category, was candid about his mistake after the race.
“I was bonked from my race and still dizzy. I had some guys helping me and I was just out of sync. I’m going to have to reconsider what I’m going to do for racing tomorrow, because I need to look after Katie. I made a crucial mistake that cost her the win.”
Saturday was only the second time this season that Compton and Nash have faced off. In their first go-round at the October World Cup in Aigle, Switzerland, Compton won, while Nash finished third. The first day of the New Belgium Cup showcased two of the sport’s top women’s competitors and gave a look at what to expect on the front of the race in Koksijde when Compton and Nash return to Europe next week.
Nash was quietly satisfied with the win as she shivered near her team’s tent following the podium presentation.
“I was just trying to focus on not making mistakes. I’d made many, so it was good to slow down a little bit and try to ride smooth and it worked out today,” she said. “I could sense little gaps here and there, but then she’s back. I’m just trying to go forward and focus on my lines.”
Compton and Nash will face off again Sunday. The course will largely be identical to Saturday’s, with the only major change coming in the addition of the three-timber run-up midway through the lap.
Editor’s Note: Brian Holcombe is a reporter with VeloNews. He covers all things racing in the U.S. and has been accused of attacking too much on the VN lunch ride.