Katie Compton's remarkable 15-year run of US cyclo-cross national championship victories came to an end at Fort Steilacoom, outside of Tacoma, Washington, on Sunday, but the 41-year-old 'cross legend kept things in perspective as she crossed the finish line and spoke with media, as cheerful as if she had added a 16th win.
Compton fell off the lead pace almost immediately in the 50-minute race as eventual winner Clara Honsinger (Team S&M CX) and runner-up Rebecca Fahringer (Kona-Maxxis-Shimano) rode away on the opening lap. From there, Honsinger took over and eventually soloed across the line to take her first elite stars-and-stripes jersey and put an end to Compton's streak.
"It was hard out there," Compton, who took the bronze medal, told Cyclingnews. "I definitely didn't have the legs today, and it was such a hard course with the run-ups and the technical bits, but also it was just super fast and flowy. Clara and Becca are riding really great, and it's great to see Clara take the win because she's getting better and better.
"Yeah, I'm disappointed, but mostly I just didn't feel that great, and it's always hard to not have your best day, but that's OK," Compton said. "It's good to see Clara and Becca riding as well as they are."
At 41, Compton has taken home the championship every year since she was 25 – a run that will likely never be duplicated again. Despite falling short on Sunday, Compton is obviously proud of her achievement.
"It's pretty amazing, and I'm pretty happy to have won from 25 to 40," she said. "It had to end some time. I was always hoping to get one more, but I did what I could and Clara and Becca were faster, so what do you do?
"The competition is getting better and better every year, and I'm starting to feel the efforts and the age," she admitted. "It's been a long time. I rode pretty well, but I just didn't have it. I couldn't go fast enough."
Compton hopes to get the missing speed and positive sensations back when she returns to Europe to finish out the UCI World Cup series and then target the world championships once again in early February. She said her morale did not take a shot on Sunday, and she remains highly motivated to perform well over the remainder of the 'cross season for seven more weeks.
"The motivation is always there," she said. "Honestly, I'm pretty proud of 15. I can't be too disappointed. I'm mostly disappointed in not having the legs. It's always unfortunate, but you get to the point where some days are better than others."
The Colorado rider reiterated multiple times that she believes Honsinger is a worthy heir to the spot she's claimed atop US women's cyclo-cross for a decade and a half, and she had some wise advice for the 22-year-old usurper to her crown.
"One year at a time. Take it one year at a time, and don't let the media pressure get to you," she said, sharing a laugh with reporters gathered just beyond the finish.
"There's always pressure. You put pressure on yourself, but you also feel pressure from everyone telling you you're going to win again. That's the hard part," she said.
"So I think learning how to deal with just winning races and the pressure that comes with that, so you have to learn how to manage it, and [Honsinger] will. She has plenty of time to figure it out. She's already doing great, so she's off to a good start."
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