Katie Compton (Planet Bike) rode away from the field on the dusty, rough Devou Park course on the first lap of the Panther Cyclo-Stampede Friday afternoon to take a commanding win and the $494 top prize on the first day of the Cincinnati UCI3 Cyclocross Festival.
Compton left a group of five riders near the end of the opening circuit when Maureen Bruno-Roy (Bob’s Red Mill) washed out. The reigning national champion would not see her competitors again until the finish.
Sue Butler (Hudz-Subaru) jumped away from a three-rider chase group on the penultimate lap to run second, nearly a minute ahead of Deidre Winfield (C3-Athletes Serving Athletes) and Bruno-Roy.
The Devou Park course in was a monster, climbing hundreds of feet each lap over a series of non-stop sweeping drainages in Covington, Kentucky, just over the Ohio River from downtown Cincinnati. A dry, dusty day, a dramatic departure from the mud bath that a year ago tore up the opposite side of the course, faced riders and start time temperatures approached 90 F.
To say any one feature was the king of the park is not possible. A 40-foot, three-timber run-up led to the approach of two slightly downhill standard barriers. Three sections of downhill, loose, off-camber turns tested riders’ bike handling skills, as did the loose, 120-degree corner approaching a 30-feet, 25-plus-degree pitch that was rideable, so long as there wasn’t a muffed turn onto the base.
Starting inside on the front row, Butler took the uphill hole shot, and her pace — and a pile-up on a short, steep pitch near the pit — broke five riders free: Butler, Compton, Bruno-Roy, Winfield and Kaitlyn Antonneau (Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com). Compton rode near the back of the leaders over the opening circuit and when Bruno-Roy touched down in sandy, loose dirt in the 120-degree corner at the bottom of the course, Compton seized the opportunity and jumped on the ensuing climb.
“I was just following for the first lap and I didn’t want to drill it from the start,” said Compton. “I was in the right gear for it and I got a gap.”
The two-time World Cup winner a year ago pushed her lead to 20 seconds through the finish and onto the winding descent of the bumpy, grassy amphitheater that held the middle section of the course.
Butler led the chase ahead of Winfield and Bruno Roy, Anttonneau dispatched, as they rode with abandon on the descent. The gap went out steadily though, and Compton took a 20-second advantage onto the three-step run-up exiting the large grassy bowl. When she emerged from the fast, off-camber descent from the course’s only standard barriers, Compton’s advantage had grown to 40 seconds and she locked into a long, solo day in the dust and heat of Indian Summer.
“I just tried to pedal smoothly, but it’s really techy out there. Super slick,” Compton said at the finish. “It felt slow and bumpy and as soon as you stop pedaling and lose your momentum it feels like you’re going hard and just not going fast.”
Butler appeared early to be the strongest of the chase, dispatching her companions with a measured attack on the second lap. “There’s a choice there,” she said of the decision whether to ride in the heat alone full stick or back off and stick in the group. Winfield clawed even with Butler on the amphitheater descent and issued her own attack when the three riders came onto the finish straight. Butler neutralized that move and the chasers were again together, though Winfield’s effort showed as she dangled dangerously off the back.
“I was worried because I couldn’t go any faster and I was ready to blow up,” said Winfield, who is tackling a light racing schedule this year with two kids, ages 2 and 5, at home.
Bruno-Roy suffered badly in the heat and reached deeply to stay even with the Winfield and Butler. “We were all trying to push each other, but we were really fatigued from the heat,” she said. “I was dying out there it was so hot.”
Antonneau hung 30 seconds behind the three chasers before suffering a mechanical on the third lap and running a good portion of the course to the pit atop the amphitheater Behind her, Laura Van Gilder (C3-Athletes Serving Athletes), who dropped off early after a crash, led two other chasers a further minute behind.
At the front, Compton was as settled and consistent as she could be on the dry, bumpy track and put her pro mountain bike skills to work on the winding descents. She said afterward that the advantage on the day went to “anybody who’s good leaning the bike in slick conditions.”
With Compton more than a minute ahead on the penultimate lap, the chasers began to think seriously about shaking their companions loose. Butler put those thoughts to action in the same place Compton took her initial lead. “We were all settling in and trying to figure out if we could take advantage of each other,” said Bruno-Roy. “Sue was able to get a little gap digging in on the last climb.”
Butler, who leaves Wednesday for the first two World Cups of the season, got a quick five seconds and didn’t look back until her advantage ballooned heading into the switchbacks atop the amphitheater on the bell lap. “I just waited and with one lap to go at the bottom hill I attacked and got a gap and tried to hold it for a lap,” she said. “I saw them coming. They were charging pretty hard on that last lap, but I had a big enough gap that I just rode smooth and consistent.”
On the front, Compton came through the finish alone, hands raised, in her stars-and-stripes skinsuit, a position she’s taken a lot in U.S. and international racing over the last five years. Butler came through about a minute later for second and looked forward to the remainder of the weekend — and backward at the punishing weather — after arriving in town at midnight Thursday.
“There were a lot of challenges in there for a dry day,” she said. “This is not ’cross weather. ’Cross is always hard, but this is a little different.”
Winfield pulled Bruno-Roy onto the run-up for the final time and shook her loose over the timbers when the latter hesitated in poor position. Winfield held a five-second lead of her own for the third step on the podium and punched it to hold off Bruno-Roy for more than 2km. “I just didn’t know where my fitness was,” she said. “I just wanted to do my best. That’s what I tell my kids.”
Her best on Friday as third, just ahead of Bruno-Roy, who said afterward that she struggled from the start. “I just couldn’t settle down,” she said. “I couldn’t get into a rhythm.”
- 1. Katie Compton, Planet Bike, 37:35
- 2. Susan Butler, Hudz-Subaru, at 1:27
- 3. Deidre Winfield, C3-Athletes Serving Athletes, at 1:39
- 4. Maureen Bruno-Roy, MM Racing p/b Seven Cycles, at 1:46
- 5. Laura Van Gilder, C3-Athletes Serving Athletes, at 2:46