Katie Compton (Trek-Panache) has been in a league of her own since winning her first US championship 13 years ago in Portland, Oregon. Sure, she has had some strong challengers in past years, including Georgia Gould (Clif Bar Pro Team), Meredith Miller and Rachael Lloyd, but they all knew they were up against the best US cyclo-cross racer of all time.
Compton has backed away from a full World Cup schedule this season after many years of battles that led to success in the World Cup overall, but some bitter disappointments at the world championships. Ironically, this year may be Compton’s best shot at a World Championship win. Not only has she done less exhausting travel, but she has also finally unlocked some secrets to better health, so far avoiding the kinds of injuries that have plagued her entire career.
It is fair to say that Compton has never looked better on her bike, and seems to be having more fun than in many years.
Compton added, “I'm looking forward to these nationals more now than I have in quite a few years. It sounds like Hartford could be cold and wet or snowy and that'll make for some exciting racing.”
Despite her somewhat laid-back travel schedule, Compton is currently ranked fourth in the world UCI rankings. She won the Jingle Cross World Cup, the Pan-American Continental Championships and nine other UCI races. Generally speaking, if Compton did not win domestically, it was because her long-time rival Katerina Nash (Clif Bar Pro Team) did.
The US women have been strong for several years now. They currently have five women ranked in the top 20 UCI racers and eight in the top 30. Ellen Noble (Aspire Racing), who is currently ranked 11th, will be seeking to defend her under-23 title in Hartford. Gould will be absent this year due to expecting a child.
Kaitie Antonneau (Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com), who used to be coached by Compton, would seem to have the best shot at an upset, particularly if Hartford conditions turn nasty. She racked up some early season victories at the Trek CXC Cup and Rochester Cyco-Cross along with several other podium finishes. She recently posted top 10 finishes at Scheldecross and Cyclocross Essen. Not known for her breakaway speed, Antonneau will generally win by doing all the little things right, having superior fitness and being fleet of foot.
Amanda Miller (Boulder Cycle Sport-Yogaglo) has had a remarkable season. While she only has a handful of wins at C2 events, she has appeared on domestic podiums at least 10 times. Her European performances, however, are where she has often looked like a different racer. The more difficult the course, the more likely she has been to do well.
Miller finished fifth at the Valkenburg World Cup, seventh at Namur and 10th at Heuseden-Zolder. During her December European trip she also notched top 10 finishes at Azencross and Diegem.
She crashed in several of those races and even sustained minor injuries, but she still carried on to respectable finishes. After the Namur race, Miller posted a comment and photo of her knee. “Battle wounds," she wrote. "And that's my knee. Happy with seventh place today, but I really need to stop hitting the ground!”
Other Elite Women who have solid shots at podium finishes include Elle Anderson (Elle Anderson Racing), Rebecca Fahringer (Amy D Foundation) and Courtenay McFadden (American Classic). Of the three, McFadden seems to be peaking at the right time with three UCI wins in December.
Noble won the U23 Pan American Continental Championship in October, along with a C2 victory at Gloucester. On the European stage, she earned a top-10 finish at the Zeven World Cup and a 16th place finish at the Namur World Cup.
The Hartford venue will essentially be a home race for Noble, who lives only 75 miles away in Central Massachusetts.
Emma White (Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com) has been nipping at Noble’s heels all season and beat Noble head-to-head at the Cycle-Smart International, Heusden-Zolder World Cup and the Rochester Cyclo-Cross C2.
White told Cyclingnews, “Preparation for these coming nationals began last year. It'll be about being both strong and smart. I'm pleased with how my season has progressed and I'm looking forward to the fight."
At only 19 years old, White seems likely to dominate the U23 events once Noble moves up to the Elite ranks.