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BOULDER, Colo. (VN) — Belgian Ben Berden and U.S. national champion Katie Compton emerged as winners Sunday at the C1 Victory Circle Graphix Boulder Cup cyclocross race, the inaugural UCI event held at Boulder’s new Valmont Bike Park.
On a course layout noteworthy for its hilly profile, twisting descents and long, deep staircase, it was a 100-meter straight, muddy section on the backside of the course that proved most decisive. Though weather was sunny and in the 60s, an early-season snowfall days earlier had left sections of the course wet, and in one section, churned into a thick, sticky goo.
Berden (Ops-Ale-Clement) counterattacked Rocky Mountain-Maxxis rider Geoff Kabush through the mud on the final lap to outfox a lead group of seven riders for the win; Saturday’s Colorado Cyclocross Classic winner Ryan Trebon (LTS-Felt) took the bunch sprint ahead of Tim Johnson (Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com), who came from behind and threw his bike at the line to edge Kabush off the podium.
In the women’s race, Compton (Rabobank) attacked on the first lap and never looked back, stretching her lead to over a minute, and finishing 45 seconds ahead of Luna’s Georgia Gould. French national champion Caroline Mani (SRAM) finished third, another 15 seconds behind Gould.
Compton — again
Compton rolled to the start line at Valmont Bike Park the overwhelming favorite, and she didn’t disappoint. In front of a crowd that easily topped 1,000 spectators amassed in warm, sunny conditions, Compton proved why she’s won World Cup cyclocross events over each of the past five seasons.
From the gun Boulder local Nicole Duke (Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com) took the holeshot and Compton followed.
“Nicole got off to a good start, I was just following her, and on the stair section, I made myself push there, and that’s where I got the gap,” Compton said. “It wasn’t so much a planned attack — I just wanted to attack the stairs today.”
Gould had an uncharacteristically poor start and was forced to work her way back from mid-pack to the front. But by the time she’d made her way back Compton was gone, and instead, the battle was between Mani and Gould for second.
“Katie was really fast. I tried to follow her, but on the first lap she pushed really hard and we weren’t able to follow,” Mani said. “I raced with Georgia, but on the stairs, she was really fast and I was just dying. I made a small mistake on the muddy section and Georgia just went. There was a small gap and I wasn’t able to catch her, so I’m happy with my race, with finishing third.”
Though she rated her performance “three out of five stars,” Gould had nothing but positive words for the Valmont Bike Park course. “There were more places today that could make a difference — if you messed up in the sand you could lose a few seconds, or if you had a bad line in the mud… there were more defining sections. The stair section was long enough where … you can kind of fake a run-up if it’s five steps long, but when it’s 30 of those giant stairs, and you’re not good at running up them … there were sections where I was a little stronger, and that helped me today.”
Compton said her win Sunday was harder earned than at the Boulder Reservoir on Saturday.
“The mud was unforgiving,” Compton said. “The uphill section, the stairs, there’s no place to recover and settle in. There’s a lot of seated, power accelerations. I had to work hard today, and Caroline and Georgia are riding better than yesterday, which made it tougher.”
Berden, the Belgian, best in the mud
Within two laps from the starting gun, a select 12-rider group formed at the front men’s race.
In that group were the top-four finishers — Berden, Trebon, Johnson and Kabush — as well as Todd Wells (Specialized), Jamey Driscoll (Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com), Danny Summerhill (Chipotle Development Team), Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski (Subaru-Trek), Allen Krughoff (Boulder Cycle Sport), Tristan Schouten (Mafia-Felt), Yannick Eckmann (Pearl Izumi) and Mitch Hoke (Clif Bar).
That group whittled down lap after lap, until with three to go just Trebon, Johnson, Kabush, Driscoll, Schouten, Berden and Wells remained.
The pivotal moment of the race came as the group of seven crossed the start/finish line with one lap remaining. With Wells about 50 meters ahead, Kabush laid down a fierce attack heading into the course’s main climb. Berden followed while Trebon led the chase, slowly reeling in the leaders.
“I hit it as hard as I could on the drag through the start/finish on the last lap and didn’t look back, just drilled it as hard as I could,” Kabush said. “I wanted to go for the win.”
The Belgian made contact with Kabush on the downhill section of the course, sat on the Canadian until the backside mud bog, and then removed any chance of a two-man sprint when he accelerated through the mud, comfortably winning by more than 30 meters ahead of a hard-charging Trebon.
“You could see earlier in the race that Ben definitely had some legs, and he was the one that dragged me back,” Kabush said. “On the mud pit on the backside, it was kind of peanut butter there, and you really had to nail your lines. If you messed up once, there would be big gaps, and Ben just nailed it there on the last lap and came by me.”
With Johnson sitting on, Trebon admitted he’d tried to split the difference, driving the chase just short of making contact and delivering Johnson to the leaders. Trebon said he’d planned on making his move through the mud pit near the finish line, but when push came to shove, he didn’t have the legs to follow through.
“I put a big effort up the climb and bridged across, and my plan was to just surf about 20 feet behind them and then make a big effort in the mud section, but I was already at my limit,” Trebon said. “I had nothing left. Ben had a great line through that mud bog, he was able to get a gap there and hold it to the finish… I could have raced a little smarter today, but Ben was aggressive, and riding well, and I just didn’t have enough on that last lap to bridge up to him and try to sprint with him. I burned a few too many matches, left me lacking a little on that last half lap.”
After Trebon surged across the line in second, Johnson came around Kabush at the line to take the final podium spot. Kabush was philosophical after his go-for-broke attack fell short. “I would have liked hang on for the finish, but that effort took a bit of the snap, and I got pipped on the line,” he said. “It was definitely an interesting race, and probably a good show, how close it all came down at the finish.”
Johnson admitted that he had placed all his hopes of racing for the win on Trebon catching Berden and Kabush during the final half lap.
“The last lap today I waited all on Ryan,” Johnson said. “Ryan let a gap go to Ben. I was just expecting Trebon to do his last-lap acceleration to catch Ben, and then we’d be fighting for the win. And he did it, but he just couldn’t catch Ben. I put my race on Ryan, and he put his race on his best super-fast last lap, and it didn’t work. When you do go slow in the beginning, like we did today, it makes it easier for things to happen. Ben was riding well, he did attack a few times, and got a legitimate gap. He had the best line through the mud. He’s ridden in the mud his entire career. “
The win was a long time coming for Berden, whose career spans two decades and has seen its share of ups and downs. The heavily tattooed Belgian took a bronze medal at the world junior cyclocross championship in 1994, at the sandy course in Koksijde, and was the Belgian U23 national champion in 1996. After a string of top results at the World Cup level, Berden tested positive for EPO in 2004. He admitted to doping, and served out a two-year suspension.
Now 36, Berden considers himself a spokesperson for clean racing. This fall he’s been racing in the U.S. for the first time, since CrossVegas, and the win in Boulder was his first at a UCI-sanctioned cyclocross race since the 2004-05 season.
“Tim was following Trebon all day — whenever he went left, Tim went left,” Berden said. “I did one attack and Trebon closed the gap, I did a second attack and a third attack, and the third attack was on the last lap. Kabush went on the hill after the finish line on the last lap, that’s a really difficult part. I followed him and I waited until the sand pit and the mud. I knew that I was better than Kabush there. I went full there, got 20 or 30 meters, and it was enough.
“It’s my biggest win in five years,” Berden said. “I was here (in the U.S.) for some victories, and now I finally have one. I’m 36 years old, and I had some bad years, five, six years ago. But I love cycling, and that’s where my heart is.”
Race Note: Racers give Valmont Bike Park the thumbs up
Ben Berden: “There was mud, there was sand, there were climbs, and descents, there were a few technical parts. Finally we’ve had some real cyclocross, I think.”
Tim Johnson: “Racing here at Valmont, seeing all the people, going up that run-up where it was absolutely insane, every single lap, this place has really got something going. If we get nationals here, or more big races here, it’s just going to be insane. This is going to be a new stop in the U.S.”
Geoff Kabush: “You had sand pits, a run-up, it’s a great spectator venue, and with the weather, a few extra features with the mud pit. The course challenged everyone with a little bit of everything.”
Georgia Gould: “It was really fun. It’s the first time I’ve ridden here, and kudos to everyone who worked on this. It’s an awesome area. There are tons of possibilities. They did a great job on the course.”
Check back soon for full results.