An airy three inches of snow fell on Prachatice, Czech Republic overnight Monday, adding a hint of slip-and-slide to Katerina Nash’s training spin. The legs are good, she says. Confidence is high. Pressure is low. The UCI world cyclocross championship course in Tabor suits her well. And a bit of snow, for a veteran of both the summer and winter Olympics, for a rider with handling skills honed by a decade on the mountain bike circuit, only improves her odds.
This weekend, the world’s best cyclocrossers better watch out for the local girl.
Nash (Luna) will line up on the front row of the cyclocross worlds, her bright smile beaming out at aunts and uncles, friends, even grandma, all lining the course an hour from her old hometown. Tabor, for Nash, is a home race; this worlds will be tackled with a home-field advantage.
“I’m really excited. It’s nice to be here, so nice to be finally here,” Nash said, walking home from dinner Wednesday night. “I’ve been thinking about it for a while. I grew up only an hour away from here; part of my family is here.”
Tabor has a habit of smiling on its locals. Last time the world championships were held here, in 2010, Czech rider Zdenek Stybar rode away from the men’s field in slick, wintery conditions. Nash, second at the final World Cup in Hoogerheide just a week ago, is hoping for similar fortune this weekend.
“I traveled back [from the U.S.] last week for the final World Cup. I wasn’t quite sharp there, but I had a great ride. So I’m going into the last week before worlds pretty positive,” she said.
The course, which was snow-covered in 2010, has been staked out and pre-ridden. But with fresh snow on the ground and temperatures just above freezing forecast for the weekend, it’s guaranteed to change.
“I’ll wake up and see what it looks like, I’m not checking the weather because I don’t want to think about it,” Nash said. “Cyclocross is so unpredictable, you could start in a snowstorm and end in mud. I’m preparing myself for everything. Had a good fun bike ride yesterday in my hometown in three inches of fresh snow, and I’m prepared for anything.”
The list of rivals has only grown as this season has progressed. To unseat a long-dominant Marianne Vos (Rabo-Liv), or a strong and healthy Katie Compton (Trek Factory Racing), or Pauline Ferrand-Prevot (Rabo) and her technical skills, or Sanne Cant (Enertherm-BKCP) and her finishing kick, will take a phenomenal day. But Nash has beaten each already this season; she crossed the line ahead of them all in Namur, Belgium in December, and defeated all but Vos in Zolder a week later. A second place at last week’s final World Cup confirmed her form has been well-timed.
“There’s a large group of women that have been really fun and competitive. Vos is the biggest favorite, along with anyone on the podium from last weekend,” Nash said. “Cant is always unpredictable. I think Katie can also have a good ride here, so it’s just … I don’t know, there are probably five to 10 people who are players. And maybe somebody else will show up. It’s best not to count anybody out.”
A front-row call-up will help Nash’s chances, too. Unlike past years, she raced enough World Cups, and earned enough points, to earn a starting slot next to the other favorites.
“I’m not saying you can’t make it up there from second or third row, I’ve done it many times, but it’s that risk of someone in front of you not going as fast, it’s just another element that could play a role,” she said. “From the front row, you have nobody to blame but yourself.”