Katie Compton (KFC Racing-Trek-Knight Composites) overcame a season plagued with difficulties to dominate the women’s elite nationals at Louisville Sunday. She rode to a solo victory with a winning margin of over two minutes.
“This was a hard season and so to win today feels really good. It’s been emotional,” said Compton.
Racing started out fast, with Ellen Noble (Trek Factory Racing) making her usual strong start to take the holeshot, with Kaitie Keough (Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com) close behind. Compton had a slower start, coming out of the holeshot in around 10th.
Noble’s fast start gave her a five-second advantage at the start of the lap. However, Compton’s aggressive riding through the heavy, rutted course allowed her to catch and drop Noble half way on a daring downhill pass that was testament to her handling and confidence.
As the first lap progressed, Compton continued to grow in strength and confidence, while Noble lost ground. Any signs of the leg pains and breathing troubles that Compton struggled with in the season were absent. Behind the lead pair, Rebecca Fahringer (Kona Maxxis Shimano) fought hard in third place.
As the laps progressed, the gap at the front of the race widened, Compton looking comfortable and smooth throughout.
Back in the field, the wet mud was causing such issues that riders were stopping to pull mud from their bikes and out of their shoes. With all the racing that had gone on through the weekend, mud was now six inches deep.
As the riders entered the third lap, third place Fahringer chose not to pit, feeling the presence of Sunny Gilbert (Van Dessel Factory Team) close behind, who had been slowly bridging the gap to the leaders.
As the race entered the penultimate lap, Fahringer’s bullish riding allowed her to catch Noble through the flatter sections of the course. Gilbert battled gamely behind, frequently opting to run while the other two rode through heavier patches. In front, Compton continued to stretch her lead.
Gilbert’s running speed allowed her to pass Noble through the hilly middle section of the course, while Fahringer started to fade slightly, losing a few seconds on the pair.
As the race entered the final lap, Compton had an advantage of over one minute.
In the fight for second, Noble came back into contention when Gilbert got caught up in course tape. However, she soon distanced Noble again, her running giving her a clear advantage in the boggy mud. Fahringer continued to slip back from the battle for second, around 10 seconds off the podium. After the big efforts she made at the middle of the race, she looked to be tiring, losing form.
As the race entered the final lap, Regina Legge (Trek Cyclocross Collective) was in fifth, with Courtenay McFadden (Pivot-Maxxis) in sixth.
Midway through the final lap, Gilbert came down in an off-camber section, allowing Noble to regain some time, though Gilbert’s hold of second position stayed at around 15 seconds. With Noble looking to be fatiguing and her clear advantage when running through the heavy mud, Gilbert was soon able to reassert the lead she lost in her earlier slip.
At the close of the race, Compton continued to extend her lead in what was a dominant and faultless performance, peaking and overcoming a season of issues at the vital time. She crossed the line to take her fifteenth consecutive national championship in 52:23, having ridden much of the race solo. Her strength was evident in her 2:12 winning margin.
Gilbert continued to ride away from Noble at the close of the lap, finishing comfortably in second, 26 seconds ahead.
Noble crossed the line looking disappointed with her third place. Fahringer held on for fourth, with Keough taking fifth.
“I hoped that the conditions weren’t going to be like this,” said Noble. “Where we lose all sorts of technical aspects and it just turns into running, that’s the worst race for me. I rely heavily on my technical ability, so I lost my strength.”
Gilbert stated she was “shocked to my core” with her second place, before adding: “I never saw Katie [Compton]. She’s an amazing racer. I love it that she’s just killing it.”
Chris Case contributed to this report from Louisville, Kentucky.