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U23s suffer and benefit from the cruelty of cyclocross

Maxx Chance on a tear in Hartfod

Maxx Chance on a tear in Hartford

For over 50 minutes his heart, the conductor of his ride, pumped so hard it nearly rapped on his rib cage. He balanced on a thin line between gutsy risk and a hospital bed, trusting the tenuous grip of rubber on icy ground. He relied on athletic instincts honed for more than a decade to drive the bicycle that had become a natural extension of his body. A thin layer of lycra and sweat was all that stood between his skin and Hartford’s sub-freezing cold in the U23 race at 2017 cyclocross national championships.

This is Maxx Chance of EVOL DevoElite Racing.

It looked like he’d become a national champion in just three short turns and soon wear a new jersey featuring American flag stars and stripes to replace the dark gray and pink he raced in now. That cherished payoff redeemed much more than 50 minutes of flat-out effort. It made up for innumerable instances of bad luck and disappointing days when body, mind or bike refused to cooperate. Countless hours of stamping feet and flexing fingers to return them to warm and pink. Lost time waiting in airports for delayed flights. And most recently, an elbow that pushed him off a flyover into a throng of beer-toting Belgian cyclocross fans.

Then in a surrealistic second those three short turns stretched into infinity after a slip on the slick track dislodged his chain, rendering Chance powerless and nullifying every ounce of effort and preparation.

Lance Haidet stayed at the front despite two flats

Lance Haidet stayed at the front despite two flats

Close behind a rival on course inched closer. Hours earlier he had told a teammate that he had never felt better on a cyclocross national championship day. He believed he could win. Spurred on by confidence and memories of how cyclocross cruelty denied him a shot at those stars and stripes two years before, he maintained contact with Chance through two flats and related bike changes.

This is Lance Haidet (Clement).

Haidet flashed by Chance as the latter dismounted to lift the chain to its rightful place. Three turns later, Haidet raised his arms in victory as cameras captured his win forever.

Back on his bike, Chance’s view of the victory scene ahead punctured his heart. A flood of disappointment and frustration mixed with an ocean of dammed up hope poured out and soaked him from head to toe as he rolled into the post finish line area, head bowed.

Then Chance turned around, shook off the leavings of ‘cross cruelty and faced a microphone.

“I rode really strong and I’m really happy with it but it’s just really hard to work all season and have it right there, like two corners away and have a mechanical,” Chance later said. “But that’s how it goes.”

Turn 1 after the start of the U23 race in Hartford

Turn 1 after the start of the Under 23 race in Hartford

Just like Gage Hecht (Alpha Bicycle Company – Vista Subaru) and Grant Ellwood (Boulder Cycle Sport / YogaGlow) predicted, the U23 riders at the 2017 cyclocross national championships delivered a dynamic and wild race, the most thrilling of a day of elite racing. The rider in front changed numerous times over the initial four of seven laps. Then Chance took charge and held the lead until that chain drop just seconds away from the finish line.

Peter Goguen slips on the first past up Bonk Breaker Hill

Peter Goguen slips on the first past up Bonk Breaker Hill

In lap one riders attacked Bonk Breaker Hill aggressively. Peter Goguen (Race CF), a pre-race favorite named by Curtis White (Cannondale p/b Cyclocrossworld.com) took the race lead there in the first lap then fell back after slipping at least twice.

Gage Hecht led the field on the first descent off Bonk Breaker Hill

Gage Hecht led the field on the first descent off Bonk Breaker Hill

The first descent down Bonk Breaker Hill passed smoothly for the front-runners. Hecht, White and Chance had already separated themselves a bit from those behind. Goguen, Jonathan Anderson (Fort Lewis College), Haidet, Brannan Fix (Alpha Bicycle Company – Vista Subaru) and Ellwood kept them in sight.

Cooper Willsey takes the lead in lap 2

Cooper Willsey takes the lead in lap 2

Cooper Willsey (Cannondale p/b Cyclocrossworld.com) blazed the trail in lap two on the hill. By now the main contenders had already established a decent gap to the rest of the field.

Gage Hecht flew down the hill in lap 2 and passed Cooper Willsey

Gage Hecht flew down the hill in lap 2 and passed Cooper Willsey

The track headed into the woods after the descent off Bonk Breaker Hill. The ruts and icy ground between trees made it one of the most treacherous parts of the course.

The Gage Hecht and Maxx Chance show looks just like a local Colorado elite race

The Gage Hecht and Maxx Chance show in lap four resembled the scene at local Colorado elite races. Chance: “Gage and I race each other all the time and we’re stoked with whoever does well.”

On the hill in lap three Chance pedaled ahead of his rivals. One lap later he and Hecht rode together with twelve seconds back to White and Fix. Willsey, Ellwood and Haidet followed another twelve seconds behind.

“I was riding all these corners super quick,” Chance later said. “Curtis and Gage were crashing a little bit and so I knew if I could ride it smoothly and not go down I was going to have a good result out there.”

By lap four White had crashed pretty hard and appeared less comfortable on the bike. The fall ripped through his leg warmer, exposing a bloody left knee.

Curtis White's crash between lap three and four grazed his left knee

Curtis White’s crash between lap three and four grazed his left knee

Hecht also took a spill, in lap four going into the trees from the descent. It took him another lap to regain his composure, he said.

“I just lost the front wheel on an ice patch and knocked the shifter in a little bit. I think all that combined knocked me out of the rhythm a little bit,” Hecht said post-race. “You kind of lose your focus and when that happens you start holding on the bars too much and let the ruts steer you. It’s just a downward spiral. I realized that a lap later and kind of got back on top of it. I’m pretty happy with how I came out of that and how I finished.”

Chance regains lead in lap 5 after Hecht's spill in the tree area

Chance regained the lead in lap 5 after Hecht’s spill in the tree area

Hecht’s crash helped Chance fly off the front going into lap five. He had a small gap to Fix, who was chased by Hecht and Haidet. Ellwood hung in there in fifth position. The top five would come from this group. Willsey rode in sixth and Curtis had tailed off his teammate’s wheel.

Lance Haidet

Lance Haidet, effort showing on his face

In lap six Chance still set the pace as Fix tried to limit his lead and Hecht and Haidet worked to move up. Willsey and White now dangled off the back of the top five.

Spencer Petrov (left) and Nathaniel Morse on the last lap.

Spencer Petrov (left) and Nathaniel Morse on the last lap.

Meanwhile, Spencer Petrov (Cyclocross Alliance), a race favorite, had a bad start, was caught behind a crash and experienced mechanical problems. “So coming back from like forty-fifth to eighth was a good day,” Petrov said after finishing. “Stuff happens. I’m just really happy with keeping it all together and being able to keep my head on straight to go ride. It’s very unfortunate because I felt so good. But that’s bike racing.”

Gage Hecht hunts down Maxx Chance in the final lap

Gage Hecht hunts down Maxx Chance in the final lap. Afterwards he summed up his race: “That was so much fun. That was a blast.”

At the end it looked like Chance would have the win. Then it all changed two to three turns from the finish line. “I was able to keep it up but then dropped a chain in the last two corners and lost it all,” Chance said. “But I’m happy to finish on the podium. I’m going to look back in two hours and be like, holy shit, that was the best ride of my life, even though it could have been a national title and a jersey for next year. You have to look on the bright side.”

The impromptu 2017 U23 national championship podium

The impromptu 2017 U23 national championship podium

Katie Clouse wins cyclocross title and teaches us a lesson for the ages

Katie Clouse wins 15-16 cyclocross championship in Hartford

Katie Clouse wins 15-16 cyclocross championship in Hartford

Behind every cycling win there’s a story no one’s privy to aside from the athlete. It could be a struggle with depression, the likes of which Kaitie Antonneau recently revealed. Or an athlete might need to figure out how to put out of mind an ongoing dilemma outside his control that could significantly affect his short term career.

Likewise, every win—indeed, every result—delivers a lesson. Katie Clouse’s women’s 15-16 national cyclocross championship win in freezing, snowy Hartford highlighted one that’s especially learned through cyclocross and that demonstrates why ‘cross racing builds resiliency in kids.

Especially slippery corner and descent in Hartford

Especially slippery corner and descent in Hartford

It’s the ability to adjust to the unexpected on the fly. The unexpected occurs frequently in ‘cross due to changing weather conditions, problems with equipment or getting stuck behind lapped riders. For Clouse it came in the shape of a snowstorm that appeared after she toured the Hartford circuit that morning. Snow quickly blanketed the course, adding a slick coating to already frozen ground that forced the Alpha Bicycle Company – Vista Subaru rider to make adjustments.

“It’s so icy out there. I didn’t realize how icy it was until I started falling all over the place,” she said after the race. “It was not really what I expected, because earlier when I was riding it wasn’t as slippery.

“After slipping and sliding myself, and all the other girls doing that too, I thought: this is just how it’s going to be. I just have to be careful and go as fast as I can when I can. I just have to take the cleanest lines and hope not to fall.”

Clouse adjusted in the moment to an unexpected challenge by accepting the situation, deciding how to deal with it and putting her plan into action. That’s resiliency and one reason why she’s such a successful ‘cross competitor.

Women's 15-16 field approaches Bonk Breaker Hill in lap one. Clouse slipped a pedal at the start.

Women’s 15-16 field approaches Bonk Breaker Hill in lap one. Clouse slipped a pedal at the start.

Gallery

Younger U23 riders need perfect rides to derail Curtis White’s ‘cross nationals ambitions

Curtis White at Austin’s 2015 cyclocross national championships

[updated 1/7/2016 with comments from Gage Hecht and Grant Ellwood]

In three years as an under 23 rider Curtis White has charted a symmetrical climb to the top step of the cyclocross national championships podium. In 2014 as a newbie U23 he finished fourth, then third in 2015 followed by second in 2016. If he carries that trend to its logical conclusion on Sunday in Hartford, the Cannondale p/b Cyclocrossworld.com rider will at last go home with a cyclocross national champion’s jersey.

“The cyclocross national title is something that has always eluded me,” White wrote by email. “I’ve come close several times at ‘cross nationals, but I’ve never been able to seal the deal.”

The steady progress he’s realized since 2014 accelerated this past season. That giant step up consisted of eight domestic elite UCI C2 wins, his best collection of results in Europe and the U23 Pan American Continental Cyclocross Championship.

Those performances leave him poised to take yet another leap, and it’s one he’s very hungry for. “I feel like I’m coming into this year’s national championships better than I ever have.

“I’ve been working with my coach David Wenger for the past six years, and have relied on Frank McCormack the past couple years for ‘cross specific advice. Together, we’ve made a very formidable team,” White wrote. “I missed a few markers in the first month of the season, but we nailed the majority of the season both domestically and abroad. Those guys have helped me get to where I am.

“I’m going into Sunday knowing what I’m capable of, and I plan on leaving it all out on the course.”

Maxx Chance on a rise, off the front with Gage Hecht at state championships

Maxx Chance on a rise, off the front with Gage Hecht at state championships

A posse-sized set of competitors with national titles or UCI wins in their pockets plans on doing the same. America’s recent crop of talented juniors has been aging into the U23 category as White has approached graduation from its ranks. Among them are Maxx Chance (EVOL DevoElite Racing), Grant Ellwood (Boulder Cycle Sport / YogaGlow), Brannan Fix (Alpha Bicycle Company – Vista Subaru), Lance Haidet (Raleigh Clement) and White’s devo teammate Cooper Willsey. Spencer Petrov (Cyclocross Alliance), Gage Hecht (Alpha Bicycle Company – Vista Subaru) and Eric Brunner (EVOL DevoElite Racing) just turned U23.

“A lot of the young guys have certainly proved themselves this season. Spencer Petrov and Gage Hecht have been strong every time I’ve raced them. I also think Peter Goguen and Cooper Willsey can be factors in the race,” White noted. “The course is difficult and the conditions will add to it.”

A frozen course under super cold temperatures, for example, should bring out the best in Hecht who’s been nailing hole shots in Europe.

Brannan Fix races for Colorado Mesa University

Brannan Fix races for Colorado Mesa University

White’s younger rivals agree with his assessment of the circuit. ProVeloPassion asked them for their thoughts regarding how the race might play out and what it would take to get the better of the formidable White.

“The frozen conditions should make for an interesting race,” Chance commented. “I think it will be a small group or a solo win on Sunday with such a hard track.

“Everyone is riding super well right now and I think you have almost 10 guys who all have a very realistic possibility of winning this race. I think that I’ll have to be aggressive on laps one and two to make all the splits and be up near the front, but I feel like I have the added confidence of having won a race already on the course and hopefully added insight into what I need to do to have the best race I can.” Chance won the collegiate club men’s title earlier this week.

Fix came away with a men’s collegiate win as well, in the varsity programs category. He too believes 10 strong riders could make a go of it. “I think that is the biggest thing that I will have to look out for on Sunday, the fact that any one of us could be right up in the mix and that could change the race entirely.”

These young men know they’ll have to pull off a flawless race to unseat White.

“During the Christmas trip this year, Curtis stood out as the strongest American,” Hecht wrote. “I think everyone is going to try to keep on his wheel…I think that due to the conditions, there will be a lot of separations between racers. Despite this, it will be dynamic while people make mistakes.”

The newer U23s are up for the challenge of facing off against White. Hecht indicated he feels strong, saying, “The style of racing in Europe gives you power you can’t get here.”

Chance should perform especially well in gnarly conditions that demand excellent bike handling skills. “I’m super happy with how I’ve been riding this season and plan on going out swinging!” he commented.

“Curtis is on an entirely different level this season,” Fix wrote. “For anyone to even get close to Curtis, they’ll have to have a perfect race. You never know though, and that’s what every rider in the U23 field will be looking to do on Sunday.”

White similarly sized up the field. “Everyone is bringing their best; I think we’re guaranteed an epic race.”

The field will tackle Bonk Breaker Hill among other challenges in Hartford

The field will tackle Bonk Breaker Hill among other challenges in Hartford

Post Script: check these comments from Ellwood which arrived late today and so are noted below as a Q&A. They reflect course conditions which changed today as about six inches of snow fell in Hartford.

Q: How do you think the race is going to go down on Sunday?

Ellwood: Sunday’s race will be wild and with all of the snow a very hard race to predict. Curtis is definitely one of the strongest riders, but like we saw last year mistakes can be made causing others to win.

Q: Given the strength of the USA men’s U23 field, what will you have to watch out for in the competition (strengths, weaknesses, etc.)?

Ellwood: The U23 men’s field is super stacked this year and it’s hard to say who will finish where with how much change there always is and how competitive the entire field is, especially the top guys.

Q: What will you have to do to get the better of Curtis, who’s been going really well?

Ellwood: To get the better of Curtis I would have to have some of the best legs I have ever had and no mistakes along with Curtis making some mistakes. Curtis is not impossible to beat but it would take something special from anyone who does. I can see Gage Hecht, Spencer Petrov, Cooper Willsey or any of the other top guys possibly rivaling Curtis. Looking forward to the race in these awesome conditions!

Barker and Weber spar for second in the wake of a gutsy Texan at cyclocross national championships

Christina Gokey-Smith (top) passed Melissa Barker and Kristin Weber on a descent that carried her to first place

Christina Gokey-Smith (top) passed Melissa Barker and Kristin Weber on a descent that carried her to first place

[updated 1/18/2017 with video]

A bold rider from Texas ended the winning streak of a pair of Coloradoans in the women’s 40-44 category at the USA Cycling Cyclo-cross National Championships in Hartford, Connecticut.

Regular rivals in Colorado local racing, Kristin Weber (Boulder Cycle Sport / YogaGlow) and Melissa Barker (Evol DevoElite Racing) won the title in 2015 and 2016 respectively and entered this year’s race fit and ready.

Melissa Barker scales Bonk Breaker Hill

Melissa Barker scales Bonk Breaker Hill

The Coloradoans looked as if they might be off in search of another win as the Texan, Christina Gokey-Smith, fell at the turn onto the approach to Bonk Breaker Hill in lap one.

“She wiped out big time in the corner,” Barker later said about Gokey-Smith’s spill. “So we all had to slow up and go around her.”

But Gokey-Smith soon surprised Weber and Barker by bombing the long descent off that hill, passing them in a stretch of deep ruts.

“She was really strong. She was flying,” Barker said.

Gokey-Smith (Matrix/RBM) padded that lead with each subsequent lap to win by 57 seconds.

Behind her, Weber and Barker settled into the battle for next best.

When asked if the pair were working together in the second lap, they described their efforts.

Barker said, “She [Weber] set a good pace.”

Kristin Weber gets last lap encouragement

Kristin Weber gets last lap encouragement

“We definitely traded back and forth a couple of times and I think I had Melissa through this technical section,” Weber said, pointing to turns through the trees. Then she recalled one of her challenging moments: “I bobbled one time there and you came by me,” she explained to Barker.

Barker responded, “You came be me again over there. So it was back and forth and then I messed it up [in the trees].”

“But you know,” Weber pointed out, “when you enter the mud there you almost don’t have a chance to pass until the finish line, it’s so technical. So I was just like, ride it clean, get those lines.”

Their challenge lasted until lap three when Weber gained some ground which carried her into second place. Barker finished third. All in all, the two women were satisfied with their results.

Post-race embrace recognition for a well-fought race

Post-race embrace recognition for a well-fought race

“Melissa and I went back and forth a lot this year [in local racing], instead of last year when she pretty solidly won most of the races,” Weber said. “So I felt pretty good coming in to nationals this year. I just came into the day thinking I really want to have fun. I love this kind of course. It’s super technical and my kind of thing, so I told myself just don’t screw it up and get all heady about it.

“I’m really happy. The young whippersnapper [Gokey-Smith] came in and she was pretty balls to the wall coming down that hill–and I was not. I was like, I have a job and three kids…so I just wanted to ride it smooth.”  [According to the USA Cycling website, Gokey-Smith’s racing age is 44. –Ed.]

With all the ruts, a smooth ride was hard to find.

Colorado's Lisa Hudson does ruts

Colorado’s Lisa Hudson does ruts

“The parts that I found to be the most challenging were the frozen ruts and the technical turning sections with the ruts,” Barker said. “If you got out of the line it was really hard to get back in, so I had a little trouble in the last lap. I had to jump off and jump back on.

“All around, it was really fun. I’m psyched—it wasn’t a win, but I know how hard it is to repeat. I feel great about third, I really do. I feel like I rode as hard as I could in the conditions today and I’m pleased with my ride.”

The Coloradoans will resume their competition next season in local cyclocross races. But they won’t face off at nationals because Weber will move into the 45-49 age group. Just maybe, she’ll miss lining up in the same row as Barker.

“Melissa [Barker] has just pushed me so much, it’s been such an awesome competition to go back and forth,” Weber said. “It makes both of us better riders.”

Gallery

Video

48 Tips from Hartford’s Locals to Stay Well-fed, Warm and Happy at Cyclocross Nationals

Katie Compton aims for a 13th title in Hartford

Katie Compton aims for a 13th title in Hartford

As you prepare to head to cyclocross nationals next week, check out this story for locals’ insights into how to enjoy a great trip.

How non-racing juniors played during the 2013 cyclocross nationals on Saturday

Will we see Madison 2013 nationals mud in Hartford?

“From January 3 through 8 in Hartford, Connecticut we’ll revel in the thrill of competition, the clang of cowbells and hopefully the many joys of mud. The 2017 USA Cycling Cyclo-cross National Championships are also a time for catching up with friends and family and discovering a slice of America. So pack your bags and plan for a week to remember with these ideas and tips supplied by area locals. Check ahead for availability as some locations may modify schedules during the event.”

See the rest of the story on USA Cycling’s website.

For a peek at the lay of the land at the venue, including access to the park, view this video. Online registration closes on December 31, 2016, at 11:59 p.m. PST.

ProVéloPassion can’t wait to see you in Hartford!

 

Elite women’s Colorado cyclocross field reflects Katie Compton’s 12 years of constancy

Katie Clouse aims for the holeshot at the elite women’s 2016 Colorado cyclocross championships

The Sunday December 11 Colorado cyclocross championship races delivered interesting takeaways about the state of the elite fields. While the message from the men’s field was all about change, the women’s story speaks of endurance and constancy.

A core group of local women riders finished in the top ten, continuing their consistency over the past five years. This group includes Kristin Weber (Boulder Cycle Sport / YogaGlo), Melissa Barker (Evol Racing), Kristal Boni (Rapid Racing) and Lisa Hudson (Feedback Sports). Count Caitlyn Vestal (Feedback Sports) in that group also. Sixteen year-old Katie Clouse (Alpha Bicycle Company – Vista Subaru) fits in this pack too in a special way; she’s been a regular in the elite field since 2012 or earlier.

Katie Clouse on a tricky section with Meredith Miller

Katie Clouse on a tricky section with Meredith Miller

Clouse was excited to compete for the first time in the same field as Katie Compton (KFC Racing p/b Trek, Panache). Both started fast and rode wheel to wheel onto a hillside where Clouse slid out on an uphill corner. Compton peeled away and stayed off the front the entire race. Clouse wrestled for and landed second place ahead of Meredith Miller, the 2014 state champion who’s been appearing locally from time to time post-retirement.

The win by U.S. cyclocross champion Compton reinforced the women’s field’s constancy theme, as the victory called to mind her last and first women’s elite ‘cross states outing when she won the race.* That was in 2004, the year she began to collect a now 12-year string of national cyclocross titles. By winning the 2016 state championship Compton effectively came full circle, tracing a line back to the start of a career of extra-extraordinary domestic and international cycling achievements.

For a rider of Compton’s stature the 2016 state title sits lower on the ladder of prestigious events. Nevertheless, Compton’s laser focus was in play that Sunday. After the race she mentioned not feeling her best, but for a good reason: she’d been resting at home the past week and enjoying a bit of fun recovery time.

“I’m ready to get back on it,” she added, as she looked ahead to what’s next.

Katie Compton in a familiar position: awaiting call-up to the top step

Katie Compton in a familiar position: awaiting call-up to the top step

She’ll train until ‘cross nationals in early January. The last World Cup in Hoogerheide is on her schedule, and then world championships in Bieles, Luxembourg on January 28. Assuming she can sort out some details, she’s aiming to stay in Belgium for February racing.

“It’s some racing I’ve been wanting to do every year but never had the energy for,” Compton said regarding the February contests.

“This year I have the energy. I feel pretty good from the travel. We’ll see.”

Based on those comments many fans will cross arms, legs, fingers, toes and eyes in hopes that February racing will follow another first in 2017, one that would inscribe a rainbow over her incredible career to date.

* Compton didn’t earn the title in 2004, due to a license issue. The title went to the second place finisher.

Katie Compton sets up her line

Katie Compton sets up her line at 2016 Colorado cyclocross championships

Gallery

They’re under 21 and ruling the men’s elite Colorado cyclocross field

Grant Ellwood, Gage Hecht and Maxx Chance lead the men's elite field off the line at 2016 Colorado cyclocross championships

Grant Ellwood, Gage Hecht and Maxx Chance lead the men’s elite field off the line at 2016 Colorado cyclocross championships

[updated 12/21/2016]

Sunday’s Colorado cyclocross championship races delivered interesting statements about the men’s and women’s elite fields.

In the men’s race a lead group of six or so riders formed almost immediately. That’s not unusual. The noteworthy bit is this pack consisted entirely of riders under 21 years-old: Gage Hecht, Maxx Chance, Grant and Ross Ellwood, Brannan Fix and Eric Brunner. The top four finishers emerged from this group. They were, in order, Hecht, Chance, Fix and Grant Ellwood. See full results on the BRAC website.

Tim Allen and Brannan Fix crawl out of a muddy ditch

Tim Allen and Brannan Fix crawl out of a muddy ditch

Five years ago the lead group drew from guys in their late 20s and a few around age 40. Tim Allen, now 30, was making his way into the favorites back then. After coming in sixth Sunday, he shared his reason for eventually trailing the front-runners: he simply couldn’t keep up with the youngsters.

If Sunday’s race is any indicator, he’ll have to start looking behind him on course for more young competition. Two 17-18 category juniors finished on the same lap as the winner. A pair of 15-16 riders came in one lap behind Hecht and, bringing up the rear but still crossing the finish line, two 13-14 juniors.

This “changing of the guard” didn’t happen overnight. Hecht and Chance have been racing in the elite field for years. But the number of young challengers has grown and this season they’ve captured a number of top five results in the elite category.

While those placings may be attributed in part to the departure—temporary or otherwise— of a handful of elite cyclists, the rise of young talent in the Colorado cyclocross community is real. A few days ago USA Cycling released the final points ranking from the now completed 2016 Pro CX Calendar. Of the top five—which number six due to a tie in points for fifth place—five are Coloradoans:

  1. Maxx Chance
  2. W. Grant Ellwood
  3. Garrett Gerchar (another Boulderite)
  4. Lance Haidet
  5. Brannan Fix and Spencer Downing (another Boulderite)

Next up: the message from the women’s field.

Maxx Chance on a rise, off the front with Gage Hecht

Maxx Chance on a rise, off the front with Gage Hecht

Gallery

Katie Clouse wins first cyclocross race this season after mixed program in Europe

Sprint in full throttle at Valmont Bike Park (l-r: Weber, Clouse, Barker)

Sprint in full throttle at Valmont Bike Park (l-r: Weber, Clouse, Barker)

Katie Clouse (Alpha Bicycle Company – Vista Subaru) appears to have turbo-charged an already swift sprint to cyclocross finish lines thanks to special summer training: road racing against boys in Belgium.

On Saturday the 15 year-old outsprinted Melissa Barker (Evol Racing) and Kristin Weber (Boulder Cycle Sport / YogaGlo)—current and former masters national champions, respectively—for the women’s elite win at Valmont Bike Park in the second race of the Cyclo X series.

The threesome shadowed each other from just after the start. In the final dash to the line Weber dropped back, leaving Clouse and Barker neck and neck to contest the win. Clouse had a bit more in the tank at the end, outpacing Barker in the final meters for the victory.

It was Clouse’s first ‘cross race this season. Three weeks ago she returned from just over a month in Europe where she competed in six races with the 15 to 18 year-old girls and four races with the 15 to 16 boys.

The trip was her first visit to the center of international cycling. She took away four wins from the contests against her gender mates.

She took a beating against the boys, but she’s glad she lined up with them.

“I liked racing with the boys more because I didn’t have to worry about placing high,” Clouse said on Saturday. “I just had to worry about working my guts out trying to stay with them.”

The four-time national junior cyclocross champion said the average speed in the boys’ 90 kilometer kermesses—local circuit races with longer laps than a standard American criterium—clocked in about 60 k per hour on flat courses. That’s 37 miles per hour.

Speed magnified the challenge, but the boys’ approach to tackling the corners on course presented the primary test. And there were lots of corners.

“These guys would come to a complete stop and then sprint out of the corners. That’s what tired me out, braking, sprinting, braking, sprinting. All that acceleration, it kept on. It just killed me,” she said.

“But I think Europe is really going to help my form this ‘cross season.”

It seems it already has.

Katie Clouse wins 2016 Cyclo X Valmont women's elite race

Katie Clouse wins 2016 Cyclo X Valmont women’s elite race

The greater meaning of Evelyn Stevens’ UCI Hour Record

Neal Henderson's last words of encouragement to Evelyn Stevens, before the UCI Hour Record attempt

Neal Henderson’s last words of encouragement to Evelyn Stevens, before the UCI Hour Record attempt

[updated 2/29/2016]

It wasn’t all about inking her name in the world record books.

Absolutely, becoming the fastest woman on Earth mattered to Evelyn Stevens as she turned over the pedals on a concrete track with her first-time aim of breaking the women’s elite UCI Hour Record today in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The extreme exertion, focus and mental toughness merited the prize.

For the first 45 minutes, all she could think about was staying present. Pedal, push, pedal, push, she thought. Repeat.

During the last 15 minutes she squeezed every ounce of energy from her small frame, weaving slightly in the final laps.

“At one moment I thought about what [Eddy] Merckx had said,” Stevens recalled, “about it being the worst feeling ever. He was right.” That was how Merckx had described his one-time hour record trial.

Her bid, however, signified much more than slotting her name at the top of a list. It meant something larger than herself. Grander, even, than the apex of athletic triumph.

“It was a great chance to showcase women’s cycling in the U.S.,” Stevens said during the press conference following her successful effort.

Neal Henderson signals three laps to go

Neal Henderson signals three laps to go

The choice of venue brought home her point: USA Cycling’s headquarters occupies a slice of property a handful of miles from the U.S. Olympic Training Center Velodrome where Stevens ticked off 47.980 kilometers in an hour. That distance outdoes by about 1.1 km the most recent record, which Bridie O’Donnell set in January in Australia. O’Donnell had bested Molly Shaffer Van Houweling’s world record of 46.274 km, accomplished in Mexico last September.

Seated in the velodrome, Stevens acknowledged both women. “I want to thank Molly and Bridie for doing it first,” she said. Taking on the challenge takes buckets of courage, she added. Lots could go wrong. They risked not setting new records after investing many, many hours of training and preparation, as well as – at least in Van Houweling’s case – significant expenses for travel and equipment. Brit Sarah Storey gave it a go seven months before Van Houweling, and missed the mark by 563 meters.

Following several U.S. women’s elite hour records, Van Houweling became the first in 12 years to write a new chapter for the women’s elite UCI Hour Record by beating Leontin van Moorsel’s 2003 distance of 46.065 km. Basically, Van Houweling got the sixty-minute contest ball rolling again for women. She brought attention to the challenge’s demands and idiosyncrasies.

Ladies of the hour: Molly Shaffer Van Houweling gets Evelyn Stevens' autograph

Ladies of the hour: Molly Shaffer Van Houweling gets Evelyn Stevens’ autograph

Without her attempt, maybe Stevens would have been riding with her Boels Dolmans Cycling Team in Europe today instead of tracing 140-plus circles on a concrete track and demonstrating that women and juniors can achieve greatness when they set a goal, work toward it and show up for it.

Van Houweling attended the event as a live blogger for VeloNews. With the sting of losing the top spot now muted, she found herself excited for what Stevens might accomplish. The law school professor in her early 40’s couldn’t help absorbing ideas for improvement; she’d like to try again for what she called “at least a personal best.”

When it was suggested that she played an important role in stimulating women’s hour record endeavors, Van Houweling appeared modest, saying her early start under the new rules had its advantages. “In some ways that was part of the logistics of my attempt – getting everything lined up that I needed to while doing it soon enough that I didn’t have to compete with the likes of Evelyn Stevens’ record to set my record,” she said, chuckling.

Then she recognized the meaning of her accomplishment as an elite amateur. “To be in the record books with these stars of professional women’s cycling – being in their virtual company in that way, that’s pretty exciting.”

Van Houweling can’t wait to see who’s going to take a shot at becoming another fastest woman in the world.

Stevens looks forward to it as well. “I hope this kicks off more women trying for the hour record,” she said. “I have a feeling more women will come out and go for it.”

As a result of the well-marketed and viewed event today, quite possibly more women will go for it for the first time — for the majority, on a smaller scale, but still significant personally. Appearing in public wearing body-hugging bike shorts. Joining a group ride. Learning how to ride single track.

They will know Stevens, Van Houweling and O’Donnell are cheering for them.

A guess at the cause of Evelyn Stevens' reaction after one hour of suffering: just 200 meters off Jeannie Longo's all-time record!

A guess at the cause of Evelyn Stevens’ reaction after one hour of suffering: just 200 meters off Jeannie Longo’s all-time record!

For insight into Steven’s mental and physical preparation and motivation, see this VeloNews piece.

Three Colorado juniors among six Americans will tackle fitness challenge at Heusden-Zolder cyclocross world championships

Head of the junior men's race at worlds a few hundred meters after the start

Head of the junior men’s race at 2015 worlds a few hundred meters after the start

[updated January 29, 2016]

With course preview by Pete Webber

One year ago the juniors racing for cyclocross world championship stripes faced an icy, slick course. Either those conditions or the pressure of starting as overall favorite appeared to rattle then junior World Cup leader Eli Iserbyt from Belgian. He started fast, catching the hole shot, then lost ground as Denmark’s Simon Andreassen took off at the end of lap one and stayed away for the win. A Belgian photographer later said Iserbyt was upset about his tire choice and the Belgian team hadn’t stocked the pits with wheels sporting the tires he wanted. The photographer added that Andreassen had started on the same tires as Iserbyt.

The Americans had arrived with a strong team. As Iserbyt struggled Gage Hecht – who enjoys an icy challenge – took over second place on course. For two laps the threesome of Hecht, Iserbyt, and Max Gulickx from the Netherlands were locked in a nail-biting contest for the silver and bronze medals. As the racing reached the final lap Iserbyt attacked and gained second position. Just behind him Hecht and Gulickx approached the last turn together, a little over 100 meters from the finishing truss. The American’s gears skipped as he sought one for the sprint. It cost three seconds and possibly the bronze prize.

Gage Hecht on the post-barriers uphill

Gage Hecht on the post-barriers uphill at Tabor

Team USA still came away with one of its best overall results ever: three riders in the top 15 and third best in the nation’s ranking – ahead of the Belgians.

At this year’s contest tomorrow a frosty track seems unlikely. Tonight’s temperature is predicted to hover around 47 degrees Fahrenheit with a high of 49 and a chance of showers on Saturday. Course designer, cyclocross masters national champion and Boulder Junior Cycling coach Pete Webber, now at the championship venue in Heusden-Zolder, shared his assessment of Belgian track. At 3.2 km it’s one of longest riders will ever tackle.

“The soil is a sandy loamy mix that gives great traction and drains well so it won’t get extremely muddy even if it is raining,” Webber wrote by email. “A few sections will get moderately muddy in the rain, but it won’t get heavy and there won’t be any tractor pull sections. A lot of sections won’t be muddy even if it rains all day because the dirt is so sandy. Some loose sand sections will actually get faster with rain.”

That’s good news for one of Webber’s Boulder Junior Cycling protégés, Eric Brunner, one of the six young men representing the U.S. Cross fans outside of Colorado will know Hecht better than Brunner and his BJC and worlds teammate Denzel Stephenson. All three live in the Rocky Mountain State.

BJC 17-18 squad, Eric Brunner foreground left

BJC 17-18 squad, Eric Brunner foreground left

“Eric excels on any type of course except very heavy courses. He is a smaller lighter rider and he does best on fast courses,” Webber noted. “He also has really good technical skills. Zolder is a great course for him because it won’t ever get really heavy and is usually a fast track.” Brunner is a second year junior rider who has raced ‘cross in Europe this year alongside Hecht.

Denzel Stephenson rides well in the mud

Denzel Stephenson rides well in the mud

Webber also detailed Stephenson’s strengths. “Denzel is an all-rounder who has really good technical skills and can ride anything on any course. He’s also aggressive and strong and doesn’t get pushed around. Most importantly he’s the only rider on the team who is race age 17 and will still be a junior next season so he’s gaining experience and learning the tricks of racing at this level.”

In the recent Heusden-Zolder World Cup, the two Boulder juniors finished 26th and 38th. Tomorrow at their first worlds rodeo they could better those results.

Hecht returns to ‘cross worlds competition after fourth place at last week’s muddy Hoogerheide World Cup and fifth at the Namur World Cup in late December.

Gage Hecht photo bombs portrait of this father Bruce (left) and Matthew Fix

Gage Hecht warming-up at Tabor near his father Bruce (left) and Matthew Fix

“Zolder is a great course,” Hecht wrote to ProVéloPassion. “I have raced here twice already. Both of these races have been some of my best results of the year. I think this will be a good race.” He placed fifth at both the 2015 and 2016 Heusden-Zolder World Cup events .

“It’s super exciting to be able to race [worlds] a second time as a junior,” he added. “Of course there is a little bit of pressure to try to top last year’s fourth place, but I still look forward to racing hard.”

Hecht should be able to rely on the peace of mind that carries him through any conditions and intense competition, the likes of which can be expected tomorrow from Dutchman Jens Dekker and Jappe Jaspers of Belgium. Dekker leads the UCI standings. Jaspers is second and Hecht third.

Spencer Petrov using all tools at 2015 U.S. national championships

Spencer Petrov using all tools at 2015 U.S. national championships

American Spencer Petrov, who is the Pan American cyclocross champion and ranked sixth by the UCI, takes on worlds as a second year junior. He’s fared fabulously this season in Europe, with fourth at Namur, third at the Diegem Superprestige, and second at Azencross.

Cameron Beard and Michael Owens complete the American junior team. Beard competed in ‘cross worlds last year.

This year’s course, according to Webber, “is an all-rounder type of track that doesn’t favor one particular type of rider. It is very physical and hard. On a range of technical vs. fitness, it is definitely a fitness course due to the hard climbs.”

Webber described the circuit, which consists basically of two connected loops.

“The first loop is fun and flowy and lots of twists and turns with short hills. From Pit 2 to the finish is much harder, and includes two mega hard climbs that will be the crux of the race. The first climb begins up the iconic sidehill with the upper and lower split lines, and then continues to climb up pavement and then kicks up over a new flyover that is a serious sting in the tail of that climb. It makes it significantly harder than at the World Cup [at the same venue].

“Then the track descends all the way down to the race track before it hits the super steep sandy run up topped by a short flat stretch just long enough to clip in before a brutal steep climb straight thru up the hillside that requires strong legs and an out of the saddle whole-body contortions to make it up. For sure the hardest feature on the course,” Webber wrote.

“…A good bike handler will be able to go faster and will save energy, but you don’t need to be a super skilled handler to still ride the whole course well. There is only one dismount per lap during practice, and that section won’t really affect the race because it’s just a super steep wall that everyone can do more or less the same. A couple steep climbs may become runs in the rain however.”

See the UCI’s website for a link to live coverage of the junior race which begins at 3 a.m. MST tomorrow. Don’t go to sleep tonight (some of us will be tweeting in anticipation), or set the timers on your alarm clock and coffee maker for a very early giddy-up.

Team USA power-pack rides to the 2015 Tabor start

Team USA power-pack rides to the 2015 Tabor start

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