IOWA CITY, Iowa (VN) — Amanda Miller (Hudz-Subaru) made it two in a row Sunday, taking the win at the finale of Jingle Cross Rock in Iowa City, Iowa.
Meredith Miller (Cal Giant-Specialized) crashed out of the lead group with one and a half laps remaining, but held off Nicole Duke (Hudz) for second.
The win was Miller’s second in as many days in front of a hometown crowd and closed her UCI cyclocross season a week before she reports to the HTC-Columbia training camp in Morgan Hill, California. For Meredith Miller and Duke, the Jingle Cross festival gave a good look at their form two weeks before nationals, and both appear to have a shot at the podium.
A climbers’ affair
The third and final iteration of the Johnson County Fairgrounds had the most climbing of the weekend. The 200-vertical-foot Mt. Krumpit saw riders twice per lap, first with a 20-plus-degree ride/run-up that led into a slick, off-camber traverse, and later with a long, grinding climb up the left flank that steepened as it neared the summit. A steep, off-camber descent with two corners returned riders to the base of the complex.
Outside of Krumpit, the course was again largely a grass criterium, though technical sections in and around a number of stables on the property, as well as a tough, uneven corner along a muddy ditch, challenged riders’ bike handling.
Temperatures were the warmest of the weekend, hovering around 45 Fahrenheit at start time under sunny skies. A moderate wind blew across one section of long straightaways near the service pit, making solo efforts draining in the third race of the weekend.
Duke on front, roadies chasing
From the bell, Duke took her usual place on the tip of the field, winding through a series of open, 180-degree corners on the grass. The Hudz-Subaru rider, who found the podium every day in Iowa, took a four-second advantage onto the run-up. Duke struggled with the run all day, but was able to maintain her lead heading into the first full climb of Mt. Krumpit, three minutes later.
“I wasn’t too worried because I knew that if we were already that close to her in the first lap we would be able to pull her back on the hill,” said Meredith Miller.
Standing loosely on the pedals on the descent, Duke showed every bit of her gravity-racing background. She had a 22-second advantage at the base of the hill, while the Millers led the chase ahead of a second group of Devon Haskell (Bike Station), Kaitlyn Antonneau (Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com), Ashley James (Kenda) and Teal Stetson-Lee (Cal Giant).
The Millers, teammates on the road at Tibco in 2010, used their power and bike handling on the grass to cut back Duke’s lead in the second lap.
“I just didn’t have that roadie power to keep up with them,” said Duke. “They caught me there and passed me and there wasn’t really anything I could do about it.”
When Meredith Miller led the catch near the base of the long climb, Amanda Miller counterattacked, dropping her teammate and putting her rival (and coach) into the red.
“I knew it was only a matter of time before Amanda attacked,” said coach Miller. “Amanda attacked, I went with her and we dropped Nicole.”
Meredith Miller was able to claw back and when the pair hit the grass again, she accelerated, putting her companion into trouble. And so it went for 20 minutes — the two women swapping the lead and attacking each other on the areas of the course that suited them.
Behind the Miller tandem, Duke continued to ace the descent but struggled on the two climbs, particularly the run-up, where she slowed to a crawl over the closing laps.
“It was like major loss of power going up that thing. I’m just tired. That’s all there is to it,” Duke said of the twin ascents of what she called “Mt. Crush Me.” The descent, however, didn’t faze her: “I can actually relax on that and take a little breather.”
Antonneau was charging back to Duke with two laps remaining and the Hudz rider kept the pedal down wherever she could.
On the front of the race, Amanda Miller took advantage when Meredith Miller had trouble finding her pedals in the 120 feet between the barriers and the run-up. Amanda accelerated into the base of the climb, churned up the ascent and remounted quickly for the traverse. Her gap at the top was four seconds, forcing Meredith to chase hard to regain contact on the grass.
“A couple of times I’m trying to pedal, but I’m not in my pedals,” said Meredith Miller. “Once I got to the climb I was fine, it was just carrying some speed into it.”
One Miller down, one Miller solo
Just as she had a day earlier chasing for third, Cal Giant’s defending nationals silver medalist touched down in a somewhat technical section near the stables with 1.5 laps remaining and Amanda Miller rode into what would prove to be an insurmountable lead.
“The wind blew the tape into my bars and I went down really hard,” said Miller. “Not that that’s the only place I made a mistake, but that’s when the gap opened.”
The race leader strode smoothly up the run-up, attacked the grass like a downtown criterium and set a blistering pace up the final climb of Mt. Krumpit to establish a :25-second gap.
From there, it was safety mode as Miller played it safe and eased off on the steep descent.
“I was being pretty cautious, especially on the last lap because I didn’t want to crash,” said Miller.
Two minutes later, the Iowa native arrived onto the finishing straight alone for her second win of the weekend. Meredith Miller held on for second with Duke following her in third.
After her crash, Miller likewise shifted into preservation mode for the final eight minutes of the race, the idea being to “readjust, ride smooth and steady so that Nicole didn’t catch me because I knew I wouldn’t catch Amanda.”
The result closed the UCI ’cross season for Amanda Miller, a bittersweet fact two weeks before the national championships in Bend, Oregon. The second-year elite rider went out on a high note, however, besting a tough field two days in a row an hour from her parents’ house.
“It’s awesome. Hearing your name everywhere on the course is amazing,” said Miller, who got a late start to her ’cross season after being selected for the road world championships in September. “I’m looking forward to next year.”
Looking toward nationals
The weekend was telling for Duke and Meredith Miller two weeks out from nationals. Both are contenders for the podium in the women’s elite race, and Duke will look to win her age group in the masters divisions. While favorites Katie Compton and Georgia Gould were absent in Iowa, Miller and Duke showed that they’re headed toward fighting for the podium.
“I didn’t know what to expect coming here. I didn’t know if I would be on the podium and the first day showed me that I could be,” said Duke. “I really wanted to have a win today and that was what was in my mind, that it was my last chance to get a win. It didn’t work out that way, but I’m happy to be up there with these girls because they’re good riders.
“I’ve been thinking about (nationals). … I think realistically I’m looking for top seven. I think if I had a really great race, podium. It’s somewhere in there. This is all a big surprise for me and I could surprise myself at nationals.”
Meredith Miller couldn’t believe her domestic season closes in two weeks in Bend.
“Coming off this weekend with three races, I need a little bit of a taper. The riding I do will be openers. I don’t think at this point that any amount of hard training is going to do anything for me.
“Let’s be realistic. I’m not going to beat Katie (Compton). Anything can happen, of course, but she won Koksijde yesterday by 2:30. She’s on fire. The only person that can come close to her right now is Georgia (Gould). If I can round out the podium, I’d love to be able to do that.”