A who's who of American cyclo-cross racing with a few Canadians and Europeans thrown in the mix, made their way to Louisville, KY. for the third stop of the Trek US Gran Prix of Cyclocross p/b Greenware® and WD-40 Bike this weekend. It was a chance to not only test themselves against each other as the season hits the midway point but also to test themselves against the Louisville 2013 course at the Eva Bandman Park. Raced under unseasonably gorgeous conditions, spectators enjoyed thrilling days of racing on what was a preview of the 2013 UCI Cyclo-cross World Championships which will be contested in Louisville on Feb 2 and 3rd.
The reigning US Cross Champions Katie Compton (Trek Cyclocross Collective) and Jeremy Powers (Rapha-Focus) showed that they were the racers to beat this season in the United States. They each swept the weekend in dominating fashion.
The challenging course offered up many features, including a limestone stair run-up which only a handful of racers were able to ride, a run-up with railroad ties, a sandpit, a fly-over and multiple off-camber sections.
On Saturday, Compton finally managed to get a clean start and get the holeshot. She never looked back.
"I finally did it (did not mess up the start)." Compton stated after the race. "I think all season I've struggled with that, what I want to do is actually hit my pedal the first time and go, I finally did it and I actually had a good start. I was at the front so I figured I might as well just go. I wanted to make it an effort like I'd have to do at Worlds, I wanted to see how I would feel by the last laps."
Katerina Nash (Luna) debuted her cross season with a strong showing, overcoming the back issues that had plagued her earlier. Nash was the only rider to hang to Compton's acceleration, if for a short time and then held on to finish second. Overcoming a slow start, Georgia Gould (Luna) surged up the field, caught and passed the chase group to round off the podium. Behind them the battle was fierce with Helen Wyman (Kona) and Julie Krasniak (Rapha-FOCUS) and Pepper Harlton (Juventus) trading blows while Kaitlin Antonneau (Cannondale p/b CyclocrossWorld.com) picked her way methodically through the field after a bad start to finish strong sixth place.
Powers showed his form early on in the elite men's race, taking the holeshot ahead of Ben Berden (Raleigh Clement) and Danny Summerhill (UnitedHealthcare) with the field stretched out behind on Saturday. It was on! The speed was high and kept on getting faster and faster as the front of the race shuffled and re-shuffled. After a bad start, Tim Johnson (Cannondale-cyclocrossworld.com) surged up, picking off riders one by one, to join his teammate Ryan Trebon, Powers Berden, Summerhill, Adam Craig (RaboBank) and Justin Lindine (Redline). Then, an attack and Powers responded.
"Ben (Berden) was already off the front and me, Ryan (Trebon), Tim (Johnson), Danny (Summerhill) were all in the back and when Ryan went across that was the moment. Tim was on the front and I knew that Tim would be able to slow us down in a technical section and work for Ryan. If I didn't make the move then, guys would be able to extend their lead and it would be harder for me to close down on a section of the course that had a big headwind. So as soon as that happened, it forced me out of my hibernation, got to go." Powers explained.
"So as soon as that happened, I took as much speed as I could and snapped that back at the start/finish so I didn't have to do an extra work in those two big headwind sections. It's one of those things where it works two ways because also it made a gap to that other group, it killed to birds with one stone to get to Ryan like that."
The elastic snapped. Trebon and Powers were together at the front with five laps to go, a scenario that we've seen time and time again. With two to go Powers and Trebon were side by side as they went up the limestone steps, Powers riding, Trebon running. With one to go, Powers attacked and got a few bikelengths which he held until the finish, crossing the line as the sun was setting behind him. Trebon held on for second. Behind them, Craig attacked early but it turned out to be too soon and Summerhill sprinted past him to claim the third step of the podium.
Sunday brought three modifications to the course, extra turns, American-style at the start before the whoop, an extra short sand section and reverse direction into the, now uphill, sandpit.
Once again, Compton had a good start and it didn't take long for her to take over the front from British Champion Helen Wyman (Kona) who took the holeshot. An early acceleration and Compton was off the front with Nash on her wheel. The two stayed together, with Nash setting the pace to try and shake her opponents for the next two laps but eventually Compton pulled away. She continued solo to claim another victory. Nash also continued alone for second. The battle for the third spot was heated for a few laps. Wyman moved out of the shrinking chase group to try to ride solo for third, but a surge by Gould eventually caught Wyman, leaving her to settle solo for fourth.
Two laps into the elite men's race on Sunday, a lead group of 12 riders had emerged. Once again, Powers, Trebon, Johnson, Summerhill, Berden were in the mix with Brian Matter (RACC-Geargrinder), and under-23 USA champion Zach McDonald (Rapha-Focus) and his teammate Chris Jones. Just as the lead group swelled, Trebon went on the attack, with only Berden and Powers able to respond. The three traded blows for the next several laps until Powers once again made the definitive move, pulling away inside of two laps to go, leaving his breakaway companions behind.
Meanwhile, Johnson dug deep to move out of the chase to bridge up to the struggling Trebon and Berden. On the final lap, Berden put in a dig that dropped Trebon and then outpsrinted Johnson for second place.
Both Compton and Powers lead the USGP series with two races to go.