LOUISVILLE, Kentucky (VN) — It wasn’t meant to be.
The rainbow jersey that has eluded American Katie Compton for so many years was once again just out of reach Saturday in Louisville, Kentucky.
For many reasons, this championship was Compton’s best chance to win a world title.
Compton is coming off her best-ever season, winning three World Cup events and the series overall, a first for any American. She had a close familiarity with the Eva Bandman Park course, at a world championship that was held, for the first time ever, on North American soil. And Compton had the overwhelming support of a patriotic crowd desperately hoping for an American victory.
However, like so many women racing on roads, velodromes and cyclocross courses around the world, Compton came up against Dutch champion Marianne Vos, a 25-year-old phenom who seems capable of winning at will, particularly when it counts most.
The reigning Olympic and world road champion, who is revered by many as the Eddy Merckx of women’s racing, recovered from a sub-par start to accelerate away from the rest of the women’s elite field on the first of six laps.
Compton, who had an even worse start due to a dropped chain, was able to overtake every rider in her path, save one.
Vos crossed the line 94 seconds ahead of Compton — light years in the world of international cyclocross — to take her fifth straight world title. Compton took a frustrating third silver medal, her fourth podium appearance in seven years.
“I’ve had plenty of practice chasing on this year, coming back from mistakes,” Compton said. “I did everything I could. Marianne had opened up a big gap, and I went into damage-control mode. And then the thought of not winning a medal at home was heartbreaking. There was no way that was going to happen.”
A proud and determined rider, Compton was unable to contain her emotions at the finish, though she was also philosophical about losing to a six-time world champion who is unquestionably the most talented woman to ever race a bicycle.
“She would have gotten me [even without the early mechanical],” Compton said. “I wasn’t feeling spectacular, and I have to be feeling spectacular to beat her. I knew that, halfway through. I was feeling like I should have opened up a little more, maybe should have pushed through a little harder, but I did everything I could and she was still a minute and a half up.
“Yeah, I may have lost a little bit of time with the mechanical, but I didn’t lose a minute and a half. It would have worked out this way anyway.”
Asked what it’s like to find her career arc intersecting with that of the greatest woman cyclist of all time, Compton, 34, said it wasn’t a source of frustration, but rather an honor.
“I can’t think of anyone who is as talented as [Vos] is, as hard working as she is, as motivated as she is,” Compton said. “But it only makes everyone better. Racing against a true champion also makes you that much more of a champion. I’m going to step up my game and do everything I can to compete against her.
“I have a tremendous amount of respect for what she can do, and her abilities, but also because she’s a really nice person. The fact that she continuously wants to improve, as a bike racer and as a person, I have a lot of respect for that. I think we need more people like her, as competitors and just as people. I like to be around people with good energy, and Marianne has good energy. There are some people I don’t like to race against, and she’s not one of them.”
Two years ago Compton was in tears after finishing second to Vos in Saint Wendel, Germany — a race where the American spent the better part of three laps driving the lead group, only to lack a response when Vos attacked on a small climb on the final lap.
Asked about her string of close calls at worlds, Compton said it was disappointing, but that she was not defeated.
“After that ride in Saint Wendel, that was more disappointing,” Compton said. “Today I feel like I won a silver, not like I just ‘got second.’ After Saint Wendel, I wasn’t going to put myself in that spot again [emotionally]. Today I made mistakes, yes, but overall I had a great race. Second to Marianne isn’t too shabby. I’m happy. It was a good race for me.
Compton said her resolve to land the world title would remain unchanged for the foreseeable future.
“It’s true, this year’s worlds was, in a lot of ways, a best-case scenario for me, and I’m just hoping at some point it’s all going to come together,” Compton said. “At this point, if [a world championship victory] never happens, it never happens. It’s obviously a goal of mine, and something I’d love to do, but being a consistently strong cyclocross racer, and winning, a lot, is good, too. Second place is my worst result all year.”
Unfortunately for Compton, more often than not, that second place came at the hands of Marianne Vos, a rider without peer.