Those who raced last year’s Granogue Cross Expo in the cold rain and mud found a few surprises in store with this year’s edition. For one, this year’s race in Wilmington, Delaware, extended to become a two-day affair, unlike last year’s Granogue-Wissahickon weekend. And the weather was infinitely nicer, with clear, sunny skies and warm temps for the afternoon elite women’s and men’s races.
With several of the country’s top ’crossers in Switzerland for the first World Cup race, riders in both elite events were looking to take advantage of a relatively low-key weekend to take some podium results and perhaps pick up some UCI points.
The rain that had fallen the past week along the East Coast seemed to have no lasting effect come Saturday, which saw a fast and mostly dry course, save for some moist dirt in the shaded wooded sections. The dominant feature on the course, however, was the long steep run-up to the famed Granogue tower; it proved a worthy test of everyone’s power-climbing and -running skills. To boot, the run-up began with two short barriers at the very bottom, taking every rider’s technical skills to task.
C3-Athletes Serving Athletes schools the field
Sporting her Mid-Atlantic Conference leader’s jersey, Laura Van Gilder (C3-Athletes Serving Athletes) led the rushing field down and then up the long paved road to the hole shot and onto the grass, and soon it was former U.S. criterium champion Van Gilder leading the blown-apart field by a dozen seconds as she hit the massive run-up for the first time.
With Van Gilder setting a blistering pace through lap one, it was Ann D’Ambruoso (LadiesFirst Racing) who attacked a lead chase group of six at the start of lap two. But her move was brought back quickly by Van Gilder’s teammate Deidre Winfield, who then countered with strong accelerations into and out of the woods. Giving chase in fourth and now leading a disintegrating lead group was Kristin Gavin of Team Cystic Fibrosis.
By lap three of five, the two C3-Athletes Serving Athletes riders were battling one-two ahead well ahead of the chasers, with Winfield tucked in her aero position and at one point gapping the veteran Van Gilder by 10 seconds. Behind, several riders were still vying for the last podium spot, including D’Ambruoso, Gavin, Rebecca Blatt (Silverbull) and Arley Kemmerer, also of C3-Athletes Serving Athletes.
With one to go Winfield continued to attack Van Gilder relentlessly, no doubt fearing her teammate in a final sprint. As the riders turned onto the pavement and into the long finishing straight, it was Winfield leading from way out, and though she managed to give Van Gilder a run for her money, it was the sprint specialist taking the win by a a couple of lengths at the line. In third rode their teammate Kemmerer to make a clean sweep of the women’s podium.
“It was really hard to bring her back,” said Van Gilder, describing the situation after Winfield gapped her later in the race. “She rides very strong technically, so I really had to push through the pain in the wind and on the straight sections to take a few seconds back here and there.
“As for the finish, everyone always has a little left in the tank for the sprint, and I don’t ever underestimate going to the line with anybody.”
Jesse Anthony makes it look easy
If the women’s race-long battle for the podium kept the sun-drenched crowds lining the big tower-topped run-up on their tippy toes, the men’s race was a little bit less of a nail-biter, at least when it came to deciding the top podium spot. The reason was super-favorite Jesse Anthony of California Giant-Specialized, who was just that — super. Behind, though, there were plenty of fireworks, with a down-to-the-wire battle among a handful of riders for the remaining podium spots.
Things got off to a fast start with last weekend’s Providence podium finisher Valentin Scherz (Cyfac-Champion System p/b Revolution Wheelworks) of Switzerland leading the charge to the hole shot. Sherz, another race favorite, won the overall in the Mid-Atlantic Conference last year, and he looked strong early on Saturday, leading through the lap with Anthony.
While the field was exploding behind the leaders, Anthony attacked Scherz with seven laps to go, and just then the Swiss was in all sorts of trouble, bobbling in a few places and apparently suffering from a mechanical. Meanwhile, it was Adam McGrath (Feedback-Van Dessel) enjoying excellent legs and passing the Swiss rider, with Justin Lindine (Bikereg.com-Joe’s Garage) helping lead the pursuit behind.
With four to go Anthony was in control, and his lead grew with each passing of the tower, which he rode up to each lap on the big run-up after hopping the barriers. With Lindine eventually riding up to McGrath, the battle was on for second and third. Scherz resurfaced late in the race, passing several riders and looking safe for fourth.
At the bell, Anthony was not at all easing off the gas, even with his huge lead, and he raced the last lap as hard as he could for “good training,” he explained later. With plenty of time to spare, the California Giant-Specialized rider threw his hands up across the finish line to celebrate. Well behind, it was Lindine besting McGrath, then Scherz.
“This race was huge for me, and the course was awesome today, super flowing — and the crowds were cheering me on,” Anthony said. “I was super nervous coming into today, and it wasn’t easy, but I came into this race super focused after a tough start to the season.
“It’s my first win at Granogue and my first UCI win in a couple years, so it feels really good to grab one this early in the season.”
Daniel McMahon is editor of cyclingreporter.com, a contributor-based blog devoted to road and cyclocross racing in the New York City area.