Katie Compton (Planet Bike) proved without a doubt that she was the class of a tough field Sunday, taking her third solo win of the Cincinnati UCI3 Cyclocross Festival at the Harbin Park Cross in Fairfield, Ohio.
Compton used a long, slightly uphill sandpit to get her initial gap on the first lap and floored the gas pedal to distance the field.
Laura Van Gilder (C3-Athletes Serving Athletes) outkicked Kaitlyn Antonneau (Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com) on the long, uphill grind over sticky Bermuda grass to take third. Ashley James (Kenda) surprised in fourth, passing a running Sue Butler (Hudz-Subaru), who suffered a jammed chain in the finale.
Another day, another site
William Harbin Park was the site of the festival finale Sunday and the Indian summer haunting the weekend stayed around for another day north of 90 degrees Fahrenheit.
Riders started with a block-long, paved false flat before flowing through a set of loose, left-leaving off-camber corners leading onto the 250-meter uphill finish straight. Heavy Bermuda grass carried riders under the high afternoon sun through the finish and into a 40-foot, uphill sand pit. A series of flowing switchbacks, the last of which was an off-camber, left-hand bend filled with bark leading into the shorter, downhill section of sand.
A series of switchbacks, including an extremely slick, rooted and uphill left-hander, carried riders to the backside of the course and a series of three high-speed, wide-open curves and the course’s only barriers. From the twin barriers, riders descended at more than 40 mph to the base of the course and the off-camber corners leading to the finish straight.
Butler starts fight, Compton finishes it
Like she did the two previous days, Butler jumped to the front from the start, but where the Oregonian strung the field out early Friday and Saturday, she hesitated to drill the pace and pull Compton off the front of the race. When Compton saw Butler ease off, she went to the front on the long finish hill.
“I knew Sue after yesterday — Laura sat on her a lot, she wasn’t going to pull a lot,” Compton said. “I just went to the front and figured I’d do tempo.”
Compton hit the uphill sandpit first ahead of Maureen Bruno-Roy (Bob’s Red Mill) and Van Gilder, and when the C3 rider chose to run, Compton punched out her first gap. A bike length behind, Bruno-Roy was forced to ride the slower middle line through the sand, and Compton was able to stretch out a quick five seconds.
“I thought if I dump it, that’s going to take a lot more time out, so I wanted to minimize that,” said Van Gilder, who ran the sand every lap. “I didn’t think I could ride it, so I just decided to run it.”
Bruno-Roy was able to pull the defending national champion back through the flowing switchbacks before the downhill sandpit and the field split behind Antonneau. The leaders were five deep with the usual suspects mostly on board: Compton, Butler, Bruno-Roy, Van Gilder and Antonneau.
Van Gilder’s teammate Deidre Winfield, with few race days in her legs this season and likely feeling the effort of the two previous days, led the chase from the field. But the front of the race was gone.
Compton again led the group through the sand on the second lap and when she cleaned the fast, inside line on a tight, slick, uphill switchback a minute later, the then 44-time UCI-race winner took her second lead of the day.
“I knew I could ride it and hoped I’d get a gap there and I did,” Compton said. “There’s too much money on the line today to wait.”
Just as she had Friday and Saturday, Compton gradually pushed out a gap on the second lap and wouldn’t be seen again. She took 10 seconds into the barriers and twisted the throttle on the finish straight, pulling away from Butler, Van Gilder and Antonneau.
Compton was the picture of focus, dialing the fast lines through the technical sections on either side of the downhill sandpit. She cut early across the barky left-hand switchback and arced cleanly through the loose wood, mashed a big gear down the 30 feet of rutted sand and took the fast — and more treacherous — inside line on the rooted uphill switchback. Compton was on line and on the gas and opened up an eventual lead of more than a minute.
“I actually felt good today,” said Compton, who is re-building from an injury at the mountain bike world championships in September. “There’s just enough training getting into my legs that I’m starting to feel better.”
Behind the leader, Butler did the bulk of the heavy lifting, with Antonneau pulling through on a few occasions.
“They were both slowing down to make the other pull and I didn’t want to slow down, so I went to the front,” said Antonneau. With the chasers eyeing each other for dollars at the finish, they couldn’t match Compton.
And so it went for 30 minutes: Compton drilling it alone off the front, and Butler, Antonneau and Van Gilder watching each other with more than $2,000 on the line for second and third.
Van Gilder recovers, James charges for fallen stepfather
Van Gilder made her only gaffe of the day when she slid out on the uphill corner leading onto the finish climb for the bell lap. She pulled back onto the group over the slow grind and went to the front to block headed into the sand.
“I thought, ‘Man, if they see that I’m gapped, they’re going to turn it on and when we get to the sand, it’s going to be bad,’” Van Gilder said. “I went to the front and took it at my pace to try and minimize the damage. At that point I was pinned.”
Behind Van Gilder, James left Winfield late in solo pursuit of the podium. The Planet Bike Cup U-23 winner, in her first serious season on the ’cross bike, rode not in the green colors of her tire sponsor, Kenda, but in a slightly baggy, gray skinsuit that belonged to her stepfather Jeff Littmann, who was killed last week in a car/bike accident. Littman, president of the Wisconsin Cycling Association was struck from behind while riding and died October 4.
A $1,090 mishap
Just 10 seconds ahead of the 20-year-old James, Butler led the chasers onto the finish climb for the final time. In a bid for her biggest result to date on the dirt, Antonneau rode third wheel and jumped first in the finale. When Butler stuck a chain between her chainrings at the same time, just 100 meters from the line, Van Gilder jumped and shelled the young Cannondale rider, whom she called a wild card.
“Sue had some chain issues and I just decided I was going to go. It was an opportunity,” Van Gilder said. “I just went and never looked back.”
Antonneau, who needed a lesson in cork removal from her coach, Compton, on the podium, came through third and was satisfied to continue the steady progress she’s shown in the three weeks since riding off the collegiate track and onto the elite dirt.
“I’m really happy,” said Antonneau, calling the result her first “real” UCI podium, after landing a top-three against a small field in Toronto a year ago. “I’m really a lot more comfortable with my skills already. … I’m much more confident and I think it’s going to be a really good season.”
James came past Butler as well, standing on her pedals to land her best result to date, in fourth.
“(My stepfather) was training last Friday and was hit by a car and didn’t make it,” James said, struggling from the effort and the emotions of the day. “I’m glad it worked out. I was doing it for him.”
Frustrated, Butler lifted her bike and ran to the finish, chasing the all-important fifth place — the final placing receiving equal prize money to the men. She wouldn’t get there, however, as Winfield clawed her way up the final steep pitch for the $564 prize. Butler settled for seventh behind Bruno-Roy — and $86.
At the finish, leaning over her bars after a disappointing all-out effort, Butler pointed to her crank when asked what happened.
“That’s what happened,” she replied before walking away.
Compton was stoic, but thrilled at the finish.
“I love coming to Ohio and racing,” said Compton, who will start the first World Cup next weekend with little expectations. “It always feels good to win domestically, but next weekend is the gauge of where I am internationally.”
- 1. Katherine Compton, Planet Bike
- 2. Laura Van Gilder, C3-Athletes Serving Athletes
- 3. Kaitlin Antonneau, Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com
- 4. Ashley James, Team Kenda
- 5. Deidre Winfield, C3-Athletes Serving Athletes