IOWA CITY, Iowa (VN) _ Meredith Miller (Cal Giant-Specialized) took a tough win under the lights in Iowa City, Iowa, Friday night, attacking Nicole Duke (Hudz-Subaru) on a long climb in the final lap. Miller held off Duke, who bombed the steep, technical descent but could not close the gap in the Jingle Cross Rock opener. Duke’s teammate Amanda Miller came back from a mid-race crash for third.
The three-day Jingle Cross Rock festival opened Friday at the Johnson County Fairgrounds on the south side of Iowa City. The venue’s significant feature, Mt. Krumpit, is a beast of a hill, rising more than 200 vertical feet over the course of a 1,000-foot doubletrack climb. A grass criterium section makes up the majority of the course and the technical, two-corner descent of Krumpit carries riders near the finish.
Temperatures were near 30 at start time and the ground was dry and frozen.
Don’t lose it on the first lap
It was the tale of two first laps Friday night as Duke, who is extremely aggressive in the openers faced off with Miller, who has had trouble off the startline this season. Just as she did on day two at the USGP of Cyclocross New Belgium Cup earlier this month, Duke jumped away from the field immediately. The former elite downhill and dual slalom mountain biker took the lead to the top of Mt. Krumpit and used her superb descending skills to push her advantage to almost 20 seconds.
“I knew that if I could get a gap in the very beginning and get out on these turns that would give me a big advantage,” said Duke. “I didn’t realize how big of an advantage I would have on this hill and after I saw that, I knew that I just had to keep it going to keep my advantage.”
Behind Duke, Amanda Miller sat on the front of the first chase group, feathering the accelerator just enough to keep her companions behind her. Meredith Miller hung tight, rolling a clean opening lap before coming around and drilling the pace a lap later. The effort dropped Kaitlyn Antonneau (Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com), Ashley James (Kenda) and Teal Stetson-Lee (Cal Giant).
“She’s got such a good start and I don’t,” said Miller, who saw the toll the Mt. Krumpit climb takes at Jingle Cross in 2009. “I knew I just had to be patient and calm and not let that gap get too big.”
Miller dug deep to close on Duke, making at least 10 seconds on each climb of Mt. Krumpit and matching the leader’s pace on the high-speed grass criterium section. With three laps to go, the Millers made contact with Duke when she was called into the service pit by the official and forced to wait for her chasers after riding through the pit lane and not taking a bike a lap earlier.
“I thought I had a flat tire and when I went in, they didn’t have my bike,” said Duke. “They held me until these two caught me. That was my penalty for not touching down and I about cried. I was so disappointed… I felt like a small child being put in the corner.”
The gap was gone and the three-way battle for top spot was on, but not for long. Shortly after the catch, Amanda Miller slid out on a gravelly corner near the start/finish, dropped a chain and lost 20 seconds on the group.
“By the time I started they were up the road,” said Miller. “Once they were together they started attacking each other and that made the gap go back up.”
Miller climbs away and lets it run
Up front, the leaders began really punching each other on the penultimate lap and Duke put in two near-lethal surges on the grass. She could not unhitch Miller, however, and when they arrived to the climb for the final time, the Cal Giant rider attacked early and took a 12-second gap over the top.
“I said, ‘OK, either you win it here or you don’t,’” said Miller. “I’d been feeling fairly confident on it for myself, relatively speaking, so I knew that on that last lap I just needed to lay off that brake a little bit and let the speed carry me through.”
Duke flew through the corners but was unable to close the gap. Two minutes later Miller came through the finish arms raised to take her prize. The win came two weeks after a somewhat disappointing New Belgium Cup where she crashed early on the first day in front of the hometown crowd before mustering a fourth-place result on day two.
“Hopefully the rest of the weekend goes as well,” said Miller.
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.