Culture

Meredith Miller Journal: The road to winning CrossVegas

Meredith Miller writes about what she calls the "crowning achievement" of her career

Rewind to August 2013 for a moment — after a 15-year career, I announced my retirement from road racing at the Tour of Elk Grove in Chicago. Although I was sad to say goodbye to so many women who had been my teammates, friends, and competitors over the years, at the same time I was excited about the upcoming cyclocross season. Although I had announced my retirement from road, retirement from ’cross was still in the distant future.

In May of this year, I still hadn’t landed a full-time “real” job. I knew that if I wanted to race ’cross on an elite team outside of Colorado, I had to put the job search on hold and commit to racing full-time. With California Giant Berry Farms taking a different approach to the season, it was time for me to move on to another team after a successful and gratifying six years with the program.

I started putting feelers out but wasn’t getting any real bites when I ran into Allen Krughoff, who also happened to be in the same boat as me. The idea of starting our own team was born out of shared circumstances and combined resources.

By mid-June we had a promising lead from Noosa Yoghurt to become our title sponsor and had landed several major product sponsors including Focus Bikes, Enve Composites, and SRAM. The idea of starting our own team had become real and intense. We were committed to not just building a new team that would scrape by, but we were determined to establish a legitimate program that did not cut corners.

Rewind nine days to September 10 — the debut of the Noosa Professional Cyclocross Team at CrossVegas. After countless, exhausting hours of phone calls, e-mails, and meetings, we had fulfilled our mission of building a top-notch program from scratch, and it was time to showcase the team’s new colors in front of a massive crowd. We couldn’t have been more proud to launch the team in front of the biggest crowd on the ’cross circuit and with most of our sponsors watching. Little did we know just how big the night would turn out for our new team.

Last year in Vegas, I had my best result to date. I won the sprint for fourth behind Katerina Nash, Lea Davison, and Catharine Pendrel. The trio are all mountain bikers who had just peaked for the MTB World Championships a week or so prior — and they were flying.

When I saw their names on the startlist (minus Lea) again this year, I significantly downplayed my chances of stepping onto the podium. Catharine had just become the MTB world champion four days before lining up in Vegas, so there was no question about her form. Add Katie Compton into the mix, who typically skips CrossVegas, and the chances of a podium seemed to get significantly smaller still.

I knew from the start exactly who to keep my eyes on. It didn’t take long before I found myself bridging across to the two frontrunners — Katie and Katerina. Soon, Catharine bridged solo to our little group as we rode clear of the rest of the field.

With Catharine and Katerina both riding for Luna, Katie and I let them take charge — it was their race to win. It was the first time I had ever been in the winning move at CrossVegas, and I knew I had to be smart to be one of the three to step onto the podium. I didn’t have the confidence that I could simply outride them, so I started to hedge my bets on the sprint.

On the penultimate lap, Catharine slipped out on a sidewalk section and took herself out of the running. Selfishly I was a little relieved knowing I had locked up my first podium finish in Vegas. On the final lap, I sat behind Katerina and Katie watching and waiting for any last efforts to really turn the screws. Nothing big happened and we came to the final twisty section all together.

I had wanted to lead through this last section because I thought the first person through would have the best chance in the sprint. But it didn’t happen that way. Instead, I brought up the rear as we wound our way through the tight turns. At one point I tried to pass Katie but only succeeded in almost taking myself out. Luckily I had enough time to recompose myself and set up for the sprint.

Coming out of the final turn, it was Katerina, Katie, and then me spread wide through the turn. I put my head down to open my sprint for the final 200-meter dash to the line. First I came around Katerina and I thought to myself: “Second is awesome!” And then I realized I still had about 50 meters to come around Katie. About five feet before the line I knew I had just won CrossVegas.

Elated was an understatement. I surprised myself and probably many other ’cross followers and fans, too. I’d never experienced the scrum that followed me around with cameras and microphones in my face — not even after winning road nationals in 2009. This was bigger — way bigger. I get to wear the stars and stripes on my sleeves forever, but winning CrossVegas undoubtedly goes down as the crowning achievement of my career.

Over a week later, it’s still hard for me to believe that I won CrossVegas over Katerina Nash, Katie Compton, and the rest of the stacked women’s field. I have raced against Katie and Katerina many, many times without ever having finished in front of either of them. To do it on a night when just about all of our team’s sponsors, friends, and family were watching was a dream come true. And then to watch Allen top it off with an amazing ride in the men’s race only added to the fulfilling and unforgettable moments from CrossVegas.

What could top that triumphant moment? Winning ’cross nationals.