A course dotted with snow and melting into thick pudding-like mud turned the elite women's USGP in Fort Collins into a gruelling test of power and finesse. Luna's Katerina Nash proved to be the best at both, getting the better of US champion Katie Compton. Nash's teammate Georgia Gould took third to maintain the series lead.
"It feels great," said Nash, whose last domestic race was in September when she won CrossVegas in much different conditions. "I'm really happy to be back at the USGP and to win out here is really great."
Coming off the back of two World Cup podiums, Nash was a strong competitor for the two Colorado natives, Compton and local favourite Goud. While the battle between Nash and Compton came down to a sprint for the line, but the real fight was against the course and the many mistakes that plagued the top riders throughout the race.
Nash claimed the hole shot ahead of Gould and Compton as a crash in the starting chute took down the number one starter Laura Van Gilder, and the Czech champion led the race for the first lap.
"I had a good start, which is why I was up front," Nash said. "I think Katie didn't start as well as me and Georgia, so it made it look like we went out hard. But I felt comfortable on the down hills so I wanted to be up front and make up time."
After letting Nash take the helm for a lap, Compton put in a signature move, powering up a long hill on the back side of the course to open up a few seconds on the Luna pair, but could never build up a commanding enough lead to be comfortable.
"It was hard, the course was really tough. The mud was changing constantly, so one lap a line was good then it was bad the next lap. I kept wanting to go faster, but then I'd slide out, so I tried to settle down and relax," Compton said.
Compton continued to power along as Nash, in hot pursuit, distanced her teammate Gould. The Czech rider had closed to a handful of seconds of Compton when, with two laps to go, a critical mistake in the pits cost Compton the rest of her lead.
"We messed up a pit, and I lost 10 seconds, and it was a crucial 10 seconds," Compton said, explaining that she came into the pit to find her bike waiting on the wrong side.
"I wasn't panicking, I just tried to regroup - when you see someone behind ahead of you it's easy to kick it again, but Katerina rode awesome.
"I knew they were both right behind, and that any mistake I made they're going to take advantage of. I tried to keep it smooth, and I didn't keep it smooth enough."
Nash wasn't immune to pit mistakes either, having ridden past her fresh bike and been forced to exit without changing machines. Having also had a series of inconsequential crashes, Nash re-found her focus on the last two laps, closing the gap to Compton and then holding on to take the sprint.
"I just wanted to ride and not make mistakes, but I knew if I rode hard I could grab a couple seconds here and there," Nash explained how she closed down the distance. "Once we hit the pavement, I hit it right away and hoped for the best. I just pedaled as hard as I could, and it worked out for me. I think I had a little bit more in the tank at the end."
Compton admitted that she couldn't put up much of a fight in the dash to the line. "I just didn't have the energy. Katarina got a gap and I closed it on the last lap, but I didn't have anything left to sprint.
Gould, who lives in Fort Collins, enjoyed not having to travel far to race, but admitted she wasn't as focused as she might have been. "It was nice except when I came to the race I had forgot my leg warmers," she said. "I wish I could have won, racing in front of the home town crowd, but the second best thing is for Katerina to win.
Her third place was enough to pad her already strong lead in the USGP series, however.
While the top three riders were fighting out ahead, there were several remarkable performances going on behind: Nash's Luna teammate Amy Dombroski maintained a steady fourth place, while Subaru-Hudz rider Amanda Miller worked her way through the field to claim fifth.
Known mostly through her road career with Team TIBCO, Miller said she was happy with the result, but not surprised considering her mountain bike and 'cross background.
"Once I got comfortable in the mud I kept picking people off," she said.
Another strong road rider, Meredith Miller (California Giant Berry/Specialized), was voted the race's most aggressive rider after fighting back from the very back of the field to claim eighth behind Portland native Alice Pennington and Kaitlin Antonneau (Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld).
Miller, who was ranked second in the USGP, crashed and lost her chain in the first lap, and was forced to stop and untangle it, pushing her back a dozen places in the race.
|#||Rider Name (Country) Team||Result|
|1||Katerina Nash (Cze) Luna||0:42:10|
|2||Katherine Compton (USA) Planet Bike||0:00:01|
|3||Georgia Gould (USA) Luna||0:01:14|
|4||Amy Dombroski (USA) Luna||0:04:27|
|5||Amanda Miller (USA) Defined Fitness Training||0:04:55|
|6||Alice Pennington (USA) S&M||0:05:15|
|7||Kaitlin Antonneau (USA) Nova Cycle Sports Foundation||0:05:18|
|8||Meredith Miller (USA) Cal Giant||0:05:20|
|9||Maureen Bruno Roy (USA)||0:05:35|
|10||Katy Curtis (Can) Cyclemeisters/Bow Cycle||0:06:14|
|11||Barbara Howe (USA) Ibis and the Danger Twins|
|12||Nicole Duke (USA) Hudz Subaru||0:06:45|
|13||Laura Van Gilder (USA) C3 Athletes Serving Athletes||0:06:54|
|14||Amanda Carey (USA) Kenda/Felt||0:06:59|
|15||Pepper Harlton (Can) Juventus Cycling Club||0:07:46|
|16||Corey Coogan Cisek (USA) Team Plan C||0:09:04|
|17||Shannon Gibson (USA) Ellsworth-No Tubes||0:09:13|
|18||Melanie Long (USA) Tough Girl/SCOTT||0:09:28|
|19||Lisa Curry (USA) Gallatin Valley Bicycle Club||0:09:34|
|20||Lisa Strong (USA) Hudz Subaru||0:09:40|
|21||Lauri Webber (USA) Secret Henry's Team||0:09:48|
|22||Lora Heckman (USA)||0:10:19|
|-1lap||Kristal Boni (USA)|
|-1lap||Lisa Hudson (USA)|
|-1lap||Nina Baum (USA)|
|-1lap||Katherine Sherwin (USA)|
|-1lap||Kate Scheider (USA) Williams College|
|-1lap||Carrie Cash Wootten (USA) Team VBF|
|-1lap||Margell Abel (USA)|
|-2laps||Becca Blay (USA)|
|-2laps||Catherine Johnson (USA) RockyMounts Izze Racing|
|-2laps||Lynn Bush (USA)|
|-2laps||Kristine Church (USA)|
|-2laps||Amanda Schaper (USA) Platinum Performance Cycling Team|
|-3laps||Deirdre Garvey (USA) American Cycling Association|
|DNF||Teal Stetson-Lee (USA)|