Honsinger: A home cyclo-cross Worlds title is achievable

Clara Honsinger is the 2021 US Elite Women's National Champion
Clara Honsinger is the 2021 US Elite Women's National Champion (Image credit: SnowyMountain Photography)

As the United States is just days away from hosting its second-ever UCI Cyclo-cross World Championships, all eyes are on their homegrown hero, Clara Honsinger.

Following in the tire tracks that compatriot Katie Compton made at the 2013 Cyclo-cross World Championships in Louisville, Honsinger gives American cycling fans a lot to be excited about. She could very well deliver another medal on home soil; maybe even the rainbow bands.

When Honsinger ended Compton's 15-year national champion winning streak in December 2019, it was only the start. Now, after two breakthrough seasons in Europe and successfully defending her national title at home, Honsinger made that stars-and-stripes jersey uniquely her own. She is not only a consistent top-10 performer, she's often found in the fight at the front, netting podium spots at two World Cup rounds as well as a convincing victory at the iconic Koppenbergcross.

Also noteworthy is the fact that she barely missed out on the World Championship podium last year, finishing fourth, and in the Fayetteville World Cup earlier this season Honsinger stood on the podium alongside Dutch stars Denise Betsema and Lucinda Brand.

The 24-year-old Oregonian, however, is quick to shirk off any expectations or mentions of being a potential race favourite.

"Maybe an underdog, but I think the favourites are really those who have been winning the races all season, like Lucinda or [Marianne] Vos. It's a really strong reputation that they have built and hard to imagine that being cramped," Honsinger told Cyclingnews.

"However, it's this one race on this one day and really, all that matters is what happens after the start light turns green. While I don't think a rainbow jersey is expected out of me, I don't think it's impossible. I think it's achievable."

Pressure to host, not to perform

For these championships on home soil, the pressures lie not in her performance but in being a good host.

"This is a pretty unique event for us North Americans, and for me especially because I wasn't around for Louisville. And I think that as a nation or a federation, we feel the pressure. I feel the pressure, and it's not so much to perform as it is to be really gracious hosts to the world," she said.

"Honestly, it's like having a really cool guest come over to your house and you want to make sure that it's all clean and neat and that you're making something really nice for them. I want all the Europeans that come over and think, 'Wow! What a great atmosphere and what a smoothly run event'."

Of course, most of the talk leading up to the Worlds has been and continues to be around COVID-19 infections and safety. Honsinger herself opted to skip the last rounds of the World Cup in favour of flying home early to avoid any COVID travel complications.

"It's really nice to travel across the Atlantic and not have to race the next day. But whether you're coming from Europe or you're coming from Portland, Oregon, it's much the same in that you're trying to be healthy and COVID-free, and counting down the days to not get sick," she said.

Getting to the start line in and of itself is a challenge and for Honsinger that is her first priority.

With Oregon cycling fans making the trek to the South in droves alongside her own family members, Honsinger knows that a home soil championship could very well be a once-in-a-career occurrence. And she plans to enjoy it and be fuelled by it.

"Most of my family has never even seen a cyclo-cross race before, so to have them make the effort to go see this really important race for me, it really is such a feeling of gratitude. That they acknowledge and are so excited about, this moment.  I'm just so happy and honoured that they're doing that," she said.

"Of course, I want to do my best in front of my home nation and I look forward to hearing the cheers in English and coming from people I know along the sidelines. It's definitely going to push me to perform and go a little bit deeper than maybe I otherwise could."

Honsinger will warm up her legs and explore the course at race speed during the Team Relay test event on Friday, where she will compete along with Katie Clouse, Eric Brunner, Scott Funston and two junior riders. No jerseys or titles are awarded at this event.

The elite women's race will take place on Saturday, January 29, at 3:30 p.m. ET. Official broadcasters of the UCI World Championships include Eurosport, GCN, Sporza, and Telenet PlaySports. Follow Cyclingnews for interviews, news stories and results on race weekend online and on all social channels.

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