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Katerina Nash and Francis Mourey take cool CrossVegas

Francis Mourey (Française des Jeux) and Katerina Nash (Luna) scored big-time prize money and bragging rights at CrossVegas Wednesday night, but it was Jamey Driscoll (Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com) and Nash who stole the show under the lights on the outskirts of Las Vegas.

The fourth annual CrossVegas was really many things. The first UCI C1 event of the U.S. season was a tough, grass-slowed, wind-blown race under the lights. It was a wild ride in front of an often unrully crowd, with Ryan Trebon (Kona) nearly getting off his bike when fans threw beer in his eyes at the TRP barriers. But more than anything, the final Interbike showdown in the desert was a study in timing.

The CrossVegas course was made up mostly of grass, with a short stretch of sidewalk in the middle third of the race. Three sets of barriers – two near the start/finish and one 600 meters from the finish — faced riders when they fought sticky grass and fading winds as the evening went on.

From the gun

Mary McConneloug (Kenda-Seven-NoTubes) caffeinated before the start and came to the desert set for the fight. She took it to the women from the get-go. A full season on the mountain bike circuit in her legs, the 39-year-old grabbed the holeshot ahead of Sue Butler (Hudz-Subaru) as vuvuzelas hummed over the Desert Breeze Soccer Complex.

CrossVegas2010 Women's start
Deep and sticky grass made the evening tough on all.

McConneloug took her advantage through the one-lap, hard-grass criterium start and strung the field out. When Nash countered a brief acceleration by teammate Georgia Gould (Luna), she shredded the elastic keeping Alison Powers (Specialized) and Kelli Emmett (Giant) in touch. The attack forced a six-rider selection that would make the first half of the race: Luna’s Nash, Gould and Amy Dombroski, Butler, McConneloug and Meredith Miller (Cal Giant-Specialized).

Half a lap later Dombroski gapped the group in a series of long, flat S-turns near the start-finish. When Butler drew Dombroski back, the pace popped Miller off the group. It was status quo for two laps as the leaders kept the pace high over thick turf and moderate winds.

Three laps in, Nash countered another Dombroski surge and quickly struck out to a 20-second lead. The two-time CrossVegas runner-up crouched low over her bars and slowly stretched her gap out as she wound up and over a 20-degree-plus, left-hand corner ramp and down the serpentine descent toward a sandy third run-up. Nash took 45 seconds into the penultimate of six laps and didn’t look back.

“I didn’t want to go out too early. Mary and I were pretty active, but I decided that at some point somebody had to start attacking for real and not just trying, so I went for it and it stuck,” said Nash. “I put in a good effort and got a gap and I was strong enough to stay up there.”

If she had looked back, Nash would have seen McConneloug pulling Dombroski and Gould around the circuit past thousands of fans lining barricades. Butler fought to stay in contact with the first chase group, but fell off the pace in the bell lap. All the while, Nash continued to meter her effort around the circuit and rolled through the uphill finish clear for her third win in three tries this season.

“This race is always so hard because it’s really dry,” said Butler, who ran out of water midway through the race. “It’s tough. Actually what went through my head was, ‘Katerina’s off the front in the wind. You better go chase her down.’”

McConneloug kept the pace even, so that she had a sprint left in her legs in the finale, but when Dombroski attacked on the last run-up, McConneloug found herself in fourth position, behind an apologetic Gould. McConneloug came around to take up the chase, but Dombroski secured second with a bike throw.

“I was just ready to sprint for the finish and got a little blocked up on the last hill,” McConneloug said. “It really is a testament to team tactics, but it’s all right; I’m ready to play.”

Gould came through in fourth, 28 seconds down, admitting that it was not team tactics so much as an illness she’s fought since before the world mountain bike championship in August that kept her on McConneloug’s wheel.

“The sad secret is that I couldn’t counter attack or anything or chase down a move. I was just sucking a wheel,” said Gould. “I was holding on for dear life from the beginning of the race.”

Nash has podiumed every year since CrossVegas started in 2007. The win is something she’s aspired to for four years. “I had a great race and I’m excited to finally win CrossVegas.”

A matter of timing

The elite men took the course for warm-ups as the women gave interviews on the grass tarmac. Last year’s fifth-ranked UCI ’crosser Gerben De Knegt (Rabobank-Giant) was the first to be called to the line, but it was Trebon who took the holeshot and led the first three laps at speeds making passing difficult on the wide open course.

It was a big battle right from the start
It was a big battle right from the start

“I punched it and looked back and had 50 feet or so and thought, ‘Oh, my legs are pretty good I guess,” said Trebon. “I like to stay at the front. It’s easier and you get to stay out of the way.”

Davide Frattini (Hudz-Subaru), Tim Johnson (Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com) and Jonathan Page (Planet Bike) were there as well, but a surge by Trebon on the first run-up of the second lap split the front group, catching Jesse Anthony (Cal Giant-Specialized) out.

Trebon was a one-man wrecking crew and when he jumped again early in the third lap, Driscoll countered and soon had 15 seconds on the Tim Johnson-controlled chase. Johnson’s thigh was impaled on a pedal when Todd Wells (Specialized) went down on the third run-up. The stumble, along with Johnson’s defensive riding, helped earn Driscoll a 25-second advantage three laps into the one-hour race.

“Every little bit helps,” Johnson said. “You know, there were probably 20 corners per lap and if Jamey can get through without any issue, he gained a little bit of time each lap. He got his gap like that and he’s a strong kid.”

After a few laps, it seemed like déjà vu with Driscoll cruising over the soccer pitch-painted grass solo from early in the event. His shoulders pumping ever so slightly, the wear of the long day increasingly apparent, Driscoll’s lead faded to 18 seconds with four to go as Trebon, Chris Jones (Rapha-Focus) and Page led the steamrolling group toward Driscoll’s back wheel.

“I guess I just like to suffer,” Driscoll said. “I knew it was a tall order when I got the decent-size gap.”

When they rounded the über-steep corner toward the third run-up, Trebon was still on front of the group and could see his rival on the first switchback of the winding descent, five seconds up the road.

“Nobody else seemed to want to bring it back,” said Trebon. “I felt pretty good but I did too much.”

The World Cup-sized crowd oohed and ah’d tensely as Driscoll was drawn in. Around the final, 180-degree corner, Mourey clamped onto Driscoll’s wheel and finally accelerated around the right side to seal his third cyclocross win in as many tries on U.S. soil.

“They are very good racers,” Mourey said through a translator of the racing he has seen in the United States over the last week. “The level of the American racers is improving every year.”

Johnson said the team could take solace in Driscoll’s big effort.

“We’re disappointed in that it’s not the absolutely perfect, fairy tale ending, but we’ll take it. He rode incredibly.”