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Preview: Worlds looms large as Compton, Powers return to Wisconsin to defend titles

Elite Women

2012 podium: 1. Katie Compton 2. Kaitlin Antonneau 3. Nicole Duke

No one will be surprised if reigning U.S. champion Katie Compton takes another title this Sunday; it’ll be news only if she doesn’t. Last year she dropped all comers on the first lap and soloed for the win, two minutes ahead of her protégé, Kaitlin Antonneau (Cannondale). Stateside, Compton has won eight national titles in a row, and in Europe she’s racked up 16 World Cup victories, including four this season. On Sunday in Rome she finished second to reigning world champion Marianne Vos (Rabobank) and secured her first World Cup overall title.

Compton’s motivation never seems to wane and she excels on just about any type of course. It’s hard to see anyone knocking the most successful American ’cross racer off her throne. But after all, that’s why they have the race.

As for Antonneau, the surprise runner-up last year, she’s proved that she’s capable of big rides on the national stage. In addition to her elite silver medal in 2012, she won U23 and collegiate honors. A Wisconsin native, Antonneau will be keen to repeat with another podium-worthy performance in front of home fans. But she’s had mixed results this season, both here and abroad. Though she is the only American woman other than Compton to auto-qualify for the worlds team — by way of a World Cup to 10 in Tabor, Czech Republic, in October — since last year’s nationals she has yet to follow through with a big win. If she can put together another podium ride, it will re-confirm that at 20 she’s still the most talented up-and-comer in U.S. women’s ’cross.

Georgia Gould (Luna Chix) didn’t race nationals last year, but has stood on the podium there four times and has been one of the biggest threats to Compton on the U.S. circuit. The reigning cross-country mountain bike national champion, Gould won a bronze medal at the London Olympics on the mountain bike, and in December she took her fourth overall title in the USGP. She’s enjoying another great season, but again has found herself playing second fiddle to Compton. Gould has opted to skip European racing this season and while she is a top favorite for a discretionary selection for the worlds team, a podium ride in Madison would go even further to assure her place in Louisville.

“While I have amassed quite a few second-place finishes at nationals in the past, I’m going to see if I can do myself one better and just win that sucker,” Gould wrote on her blog recently. To do that, she’ll need a perfect ride — and hope that Compton has an off day.

With Amy Dombroski (Telenet-Fidea) absent, Meredith Miller (Cal Giant–Specialized) is a favorite for a podium appearance on Sunday. Last year the 2009 national road champion crashed heavily, but managed to hold on for sixth. A week ago she cracked the top 10 in a European cyclocross race for the first time. She has said that she’ll need to be at her best to finish top three come Sunday, and after hanging tough against the world’s best the past few weeks in Europe, she looks ready to do just that.

“Georgia will be my main rival because she’s both technically and physically strong and she goes into every race she does wanting to win as well,” Compton told VeloNews on Monday. “I never discount any of the other women, either — anything can happen and I have to ride a smart, clean race.”

Those other women include Mo Bruno-Roy (Bob’s Red Mill-Seven), Nicole Duke (Alchemy), Crystal Anthony (Cyclocrossworld.com) and Elle Anderson (LadiesFirst).

Barring disaster, expect Compton to take her ninth title handily. The race for silver and bronze should be more interesting, with Gould likely making things difficult for other podium hopefuls.

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