Katie Compton (Rabobank) churned through the sticky Wisconsin mud en route to her eighth elite national title, beating 19-year-old Kaitlin Antonneau (Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld) by two minutes, as she rode to her second U23 title.
Compton made the slippery USA Cycling National Cyclocross Championships course outside Madison, Wisconsin look easy. Below-freezing overnight temperatures and a partially rolled-flat course made for a very fast, frozen course for the collegiate men in the morning, who posted the fastest lap times of the week. But by the time the women went at noon, the course was warmed up and rutted into a criss-cross of muddy trenches that sent most of America’s best to the ground at least once.
Merideth Miller (Gal Giant-Specialized) got the holeshot with Compton on her wheel. But Compton came around after only two corners and started opening the gap immediately, riding cleanly through the course’s early off-camber U-turn that jammed up the racers as rider after rider took the single decent line.
By the time Compton hit the course’s long, early climb, she was putting daylight between herself and the rest of the women’s field, and she didn’t stop adding to her gap until the finish.
“I figured, shit, I’m in the front. I might as well keep it going. With the ruts and with the conditions, it’s really hard to follow.”
The Race For Second Place
Racing against Compton in a national championship has traditionally been a race for second place — and what a race it was!
The protagonists in the battle for second were Cannondale teammates Antonneau and Nicole Duke and Specialized teammates Teal Stetson-Lee and Merideth Miller.
Duke and Antonneau were together for most of the first lap, as Stetson-Lee made contact with her teammate a few seconds behind. The stage looked set for a Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld vs. Cal Giant-Specialized battle. But Miller crashed out of contention, leaving the young breakout rider to the task of bringing back the Cannondale duo.
Duke and Antonneau weren’t so much working together as pushing each other.
“[Antonneau] would pass me and then I would pass her back,” Duke said.
“We were pushing each other,” Antonneau said. “I was pretty good on the hill and she was pretty good on the technical” Antonneau said of her former-downhill racer teammate.
Stetson-Lee dangled ten seconds behind the Cannondale women until the penultimate lap, when Antonneau shot ahead of Duke on the final climb and Stetson-Lee clawed her way up and past Duke.
Antonneau had already practically secured the U23 national title, but she didn’t have time to think about that. She had a silver medal in the elites to hold onto.
The Colorado Girls Battle for Third
Duke and Stetson-Lee, both mountain bikers from Colorado, and both enjoying breakout pro seasons, never strayed too far from one-another in the second half of the race.
“When Teal came around, I stayed calm,” Duke recounted. “I told myself to be patient.” Duke was able to hold Stetson-Lee’s gap to ten seconds as she rode one of the few crash-free races.
“Some of my strength came back. We came into this road section and I could just feel myself creeping up a little every few hundred meters. I knew that I had her the last lap.”
Stetson-Lee was on fire during her ride up to Duke, but her flame fizzled a bit toward the end.
“I think I blew out some of that extra energy as I was chasing [Duke] and [Antonneau] down for the first half of the race. I could see them right up there. So you work extra hard to close that gap. And once I did close it, I held it for a lap. Then on the final lap my legs started cramping up a bit on the climbs … I was dreading her going by me, because I could feel my legs starting to cramp … She rode a smart race.”
Duke made the move on the final lap and cruised in comfortably for the bronze.
New Girls on the Block
Duke and Stetson-Lee improved dramatically over their performances last year, as did Antonneau. Apart from Compton, none of the podium bore any resemblance to nationals podiums past.
Compton, Antonneau’s coach, was gushing with pride about her protégé at the finish.
“I think I’m more happy for [Antonneau] than for me,” Compton said. It’s such a huge jump she made from last year. She’s better now than I was at her age. So if that’s any indication of how well she’s gonna be riding in ten years, it’s scary.”
Coryn Rivera, a criterium racer, and Antonneau’s roommate at Marion College, picked her way through a group of elite women including Merideth Miller and Sue Butler and rode to fifth place in the elites and second in the U23s.
“I had no idea I had that in me,” Rivera said. “I had a good start, a lot of luck on my side and just kept trucking.”