Race Report – Cyclocross National Championships

Justin and I made the journey to Louisville, Kentucky for what we expected to be a wet and muddy battle against the nation’s fastest cyclocross riders. Our first events were on Thursday with Justin racing the collegiate race in the morning with me in the afternoon for the 50-54 event. Justin then finished off the racing with the Under23 men’s event on Sunday.

Men 50-54

The sun was out and temperatures were in the 50’s as I made it to the staging area.  Luckily I had a front row call-up based on my 2nd place from last year since otherwise I would have been the last rider as cyclocross races in California are not sanctioned by USA Cycling and I had no ranking points.  The pressure was on for a fast start so that I could stay ahead of the chaos from the large field of seventy riders.  But the long starting sprint did not go my way and I got through the first turns in about 15th spot and then had to commit to moving up as quickly as possible.

I spent the entire race trying to get to the front group of five riders, and was barely able to catch on a couple of times before being distanced again by another acceleration.  Going into the last lap I could see the 5th place rider just in front of me and was able to pass him with about a third of a lap to go.   I led through the final turns and hoped to open up a small gap before the long pavement sprint.  But I was passed just before the line and had to settle for 6th just 17 seconds back from the winner.  More sprint workouts and some USA Cycling ranking points are on the list for next year which will also be in Louisville!

Justin’s writes about his races below:

Collegiate Club Men

My first event of the week was the collegiate club race early on Thursday morning. The course was dry and fast, similar to all of the cyclocross races in California. The temperatures were not as nice, and were in the 30s for my race. I warmed up in layers and managed to stay warm up until the start. This year I had a front row call up thanks to the points I earned for UC Berkeley with 4th place at cross nationals in Hartford last year. 

I clipped in quickly and had a good initial sprint, but a train of riders sprinted up the right side of the start straight and I ended up around 10th or so in the hole shot. I tried to hold my position, but a couple other riders sprinted around me in the pit section before the course narrowed down to single file turns. Unfortunately some of the riders that had gone out so hard were not as good technically, and I found myself held up in the technical sections of the course as I watched the leaders open a gap. They were only a few seconds ahead but pulling away quickly, and there was not much I could do as it was nearly impossible to pass. 

Once the course opened up I put in a good effort to move forward, and made it up to 5th by the second lap. I worked with another rider in an attempt to close the gap to the lead group of four, and we were making progress until they accelerated again. We caught one other rides who had a mechanical, but the top three stayed away and it was a battle for the wide angle podium. I let the other rider lead the straightaways, and then put in a full speed last half lap to open a few seconds that I held all the way to the finish for 4th place. While I had hoped to be up with the lead group, I was happy with another podium finish and it was good to get some fast laps in on the course ahead of the U23 race.

U23 Men

On Sunday I competed in the U23 race in totally different conditions. It had rained almost an inch during the junior races on Saturday, and the course was deteriorating rapidly. Luckily I was able to do a few laps the morning of the race to get a feel for corning with low pressure tubulars (19,20 psi) in the slippery mud. I went straight from pre-ride to warm-up, and before I knew it it was time to race. I don’t have any UCI or USAC points because I haven’t done any national level cyclocross races this season, so I was lined up on the 7th row in a field of 50 u23 riders. 

After a terrible sprint where I couldn’t clip in, I was nearly last at the end of the start straight. However, I took some wide lines in the first few corners and managed to avoid the bottlenecks and pass several riders right away. I continued to sprint past riders in the straightaways and take creative lines in the corners, trying to make up as many spots as possible before the race strung out. I managed to ride some of the muddy climbs on the course, barely making it past people who had to hop off and run. I was making good progress, but then I put down too much power on a slightly off camber section and did a full 180º spinout. It was a small mistake but by the time I got going again 5 riders had passed me back and I lost a lot of my momentum. 

I ended up going through the first lap in 30th, over a minute behind the leader. I went into the pits on the second lap to switch to a clean bike and continued to pit every lap after that, thanks to my dad who was able to wash the mud and grass out of the drivetrain in just a few minutes. The bike changes slowed me down slightly, but I tried not to let other riders ahead to avoid being held up in the muddy descents and climbs on the backside of the course. I was determined to make it up as far as I could, and continued to pass riders wherever possible as I continued to close the gap. It was an all out effort for most parts of lap, but some sections required you to ride intentionally to be as fast as possible. Other than struggling to clip in with my mud-clogged shoes and pedals, I avoided making any more significant mistakes throughout the race. 

I finished with a last lap battle with the riders around me, and sprinted in for 16th. I was just 3 minutes back from the winner, and only 30 seconds outside of the top 10. While I know that I am capable of a better result, I am proud of this effort given that I started in the back and had to contend with traffic throughout the entire race. Next year I will try to earn a few UCI points earlier in the season so I have a better call up for my last u23 nationals back in Louisville!

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