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SAN MARCOS, California (VN) — Katerina Nash made the most of her Belgian Waffle Ride debut.
Nash (Clif Bar), the celebrated cyclocross racer and long-time mountain-bike pro, won Sunday’s Belgian Waffle Ride after attacking former teammate Hannah Finchamp near the summit of the Double Peak climb and descending to downtown San Marcos alone.
Nash cracked a beer at the finish line and soaked up the victory celebration in front of fans and participants alike. After toweling off, Nash said the win was all the more enjoyable, as it bookended the longest period of her professional career without racing.
“I haven’t raced forever it seems like it. I didn’t race during COVID-19 and then had the first significant injury of my career this spring,” Nash said. “It’s pretty cool just to be back at a bike race. And crossing that finish line is a neat feeling. I didn’t get to do it for quite some time, and sometimes you wonder if it still ever happen again.”
Indeed Nash crashed during a road ride this March and broke her collarbone, and spent the next six weeks on the sidelines. Other than a round of California’s Grasshopper Series, she had not raced her bicycle since 2019.
Nash was on the short list of favorites coming into the women’s race, with her storied career in mountain bike racing, cyclocross, and cross-country skiing. Still, Nash had never raced her bicycle longer than 100 miles, and she had reservations about the race’s distance (135 miles), elevation gain, and heat.
Indeed, Southern California served up plenty of sunshine and heat throughout the day. Despite an early-morning downpour, the route’s trails dried out early and became hot and dusty as the day wore on.
At Belgian Waffle Ride the women’s race starts in its own wave, separate from the men, and Nash powered into the opening dirt section alongside a group of mountain bike pros. Finchamp and Savilia Blunk (Orange Seal) rode at the front, alongside Crystal Anthony and Casey Armstrong (Liv Cycling), as well as U.S. road champion Lauren Stephens (Tibco-Silicon Valley Bank).
The group saw attacks and regroupings throughout the day.
Nash, Finchamp, Blunk, Anthony, and Armstrong got a gap heading into the day’s longest climb, and eventually Finchamp attacked off the front with Moriah Wilson. Nash bridged up to the two along a stretch of dusty trail near Lake Hodges.
After Wilson lost pace on a sandy stretch of trail, the stage was set for a battle between Finchamp and Nash. The two were previously teammates on the Luna women’s mountain-bike team, and Finchamp told VeloNews that her goal heading into the final climb up Double Peak was to simply hang on.
“I had been really strong on the climbs all day, so I had hope that I could outlast her even if I didn’t have any attacks left,” Finchamp said. “She put in this blazing attack on the final climb and I couldn’t respond. It was 400 meters to the top — it was the longest part of the whole day.”
Nash crested the steep climb solo and descended down to San Marcos, where she navigated the few twists and turns to the finish.
In her first stab at a 135-mile gravel race, Nash came out on top.
“I am not an expert on these long distances,” Nash said. “I think I have the legs but my mind says, ‘Do you?’ I’m not the youngest one out there so I should have the endurance, and it’s nice confirmation that I can do it.”
Belgian Waffle Ride
Elite Women (unofficial)
- Katerina Nash, Clif Bar
- Hannah Finchamp, Orange Seal
- Moriah Wilson, Specialized
- Isabelle King, Canyon
- Savilia Blunk, Orange Seal