Cyclocross Will Not Be In The Olympics: The 2019 USA Cyclocross National Championships Get Muddy In Lakewood

by Miki Vuckovich on January 9, 2020

Click here for a gallery of Miki Vuckovich’s stunning images from Lakewood.

On the Thursday evening before the Elite racers took to the battered course in Lakewood, Washington, I stood in the Trek Store in Tacoma with about 50 cross fans, also in town for the 2019 USA Cycling Cyclocross National Championships. And, like them, I was listening intently as Katie Compton, the fifteen-time (consecutive) National Champion and the most decorated American cyclocrosser ever, addressed my spontaneous question (“Should cyclocross be in the Winter Olympics?”) with all the sincerity and thoroughness of a PhD candidate defending her thesis.

I honestly didn’t mean to provoke such a detailed response—her live interview with Cyclocross Radio podcaster Bill Schieken had concluded (you can hear the whole thing right here) and the rest of the crowd awkwardly hesitated when he invited questions from the audience. So, I opened my big fat mouth.

Part of their discussion covered the lack of sponsorship for cyclocross racers and races. So, a little Olympic coverage, it seemed to me, could change that. And, gee, wouldn’t it be cool to have just one bike race in the Winter Games?

Cyclocross doesn’t need the Olympics, she said. It thrives on a participant fan base, and that distinguishes American cyclocross from the European sort. And we Yanks deserve to make cyclocross our own. That seemed to be the theme of the evening.

The Olympics would bring in a less committed fan base, she continued, and that would change the nature of cross events and culture. We can grow it, organically, and continue to build it from a solid base. We’ve been doing great, so far. And she should know, she’s been National F’n Champ fifteen times! On Sunday she’d be defending her title and going for number sixteen. Unbelievable.


Unbelievable that I’d ask such a stupid question (it seemed less stupid before I got her answer). But I also got her undivided attention, without a hint of condescension, for what seemed like several minutes. She was thorough and precise, and left no question about what she thought of the IOC or the other related acronyms. But USAC got a break; they’re trying, and getting better, she said. And even though she’s been wearing their coveted stars-and-stripes champion’s jersey for a decade and a half, she left no sense that she was towing any party’s line. So far as I’m concerned, if KFC says no cyclocross in the Olympics, then none shall be.

It was a bit surreal to have such a public conversation with the undisputed Queen of American Cyclocross. That morning I myself lined up for the start of the Men’s 50-54 Masters race, on a slightly modified course from the one she and the other Elite riders would race on, and I shivered in the cold as I looked up at the same USAC National Championships banner that they would see on Sunday.

I had targeted the Lakewood race since attending the Reno Nats in January, 2018. There, I stood along the tape as Compton swooped by with Ellen Noble on her wheel, the rest of the field fading fast. Lap after lap, they duked it out over the dry, fast, desert course. No one could catch them, and no one could predict which would prevail, right until they reached the finishing straight on their final lap.

For a while, it looked like the youthful Noble, whose star had been ascending all season, might be the one to finally unseat the dominant and aging Compton. But as the two of them reached the final turn, it was Compton in the lead, finishing just eight seconds ahead of Noble. A battle royale, if ever there was one.

The poor Elite Men, whose race followed that masterful display, had a high bar to clear. In the end, a similar slugfest between previous multiple Champion Jeremy Powers and defending Champion Stephen Hyde went the other way, with the younger Hyde outgunning a fading Powers on the last lap to preserve his grasp on the jersey.

Both Hyde and Compton would win again that December at the following CX Nats in Louisville, Kentucky, and each lined up in Lakewood to defend their multiple titles. But their races would find clear skies and firmer ground than mine. With intermittent rain through the week, the Masters fields were contending with a very wet course. If that wasn’t enough, just before my race started, the skies opened up and drenched its 93 trembling amateurs. To call my race a shit show would be an understatement; just getting across the finish line after 45 minutes of truly Belgian conditions felt like an accomplishment. Not unlike my first cross race back in 2012 (also documented here on Bikeistan).

Ending the day in one piece, and in the presence of Compton and her fellow Trek teammate Tricia Fleischer at the live podcast event, felt like a reward. Fleischer replaced Ellen Noble, who was originally scheduled to be at the Trek Store appearance with Compton but canceled due to illness. Noble would also miss the race on Sunday, dashing the chance at another epic showdown with Compton.

Not to say that there weren’t plenty of other contenders on the start list. Katie Keough has been finishing in the top ten in European races regularly all season. Local favorite Courtenay McFadden grew up racing in the mud and terrain of the Pacific Northwest, and Clara Honsinger—while young—has been strong on the domestic scene all season, and expected to put her own stamp on the race.

There were a lot of ways this deck could shuffle, so missing one card wasn’t going to make or break the race. But what a bonus hearing the ever-thoughtful Noble’s take on my Olympics query would’ve been.

Having (literally) tasted the course, I was keen to see how the pros would overcome the slop and ruts. There was less slop on Sunday, but the course was clearly still slick and tricky. Particularly at the speeds the pros were hitting it. At a fraction of their pace, I was banging into barriers, posts, hay bails, and spectators. Watching the Elite races on Sunday just reinforced the fact that, in eight years of racing “cyclocross” in dry, warm Southern California, I’ve yet to truly understand the discipline.

In the Men’s Elite race, Hyde looked like a good bet to defend his title, but not without a strong fight from former U23 strongman Gage Hecht, an in-form Kerry Werner, and the recently dominant Curtis White. And like in Reno, the men would have to follow what would either be an unprecedented sixteenth consecutive Championship for Compton, or an historic changing of the guard, with a new winner in the women’s field for the first time since 2004.

On Saturday morning, the day before the Elite races, I stood along the literal slippery slope of the course’s second run up feature. After a week of non-championship, Juniors, U23s, and Masters races, the ground was just atrocious, as if pummeled by mortar rounds—the ruts deep and bumpy. The only thing smooth about the course was the glistening brown surface of the puddles forming in the low spots.

In the women’s single-speed race, it was all fun and laughs on the start line for denim-clad Sarah Sturm and livestream commentator Meredith Miller. But as soon as the light went green, Sturm burst ahead and never looked back, storming by us on the run up with tens of seconds between her and her closest rival, handily defending her Women’s Single Speed title.

The men followed, and the condition of the course took its toll. The run ups were particularly sticky and slow, and the first descent caused massive carnage with riders hitting a hole that developed just past the apex of the turn, pitching bodies and bikes end-over-end down the final ramp. With defending Champion Jake Wells taking an early lead, the mess behind him further amplified his dominance.

See all of Saturday’s Single Speed races on the USA Cycling broadcast (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xeu8i9bVJt8) or the race recap on Cyclocross Television (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ohuw8qevRI0).

The action throughout the week concentrated around a pair of run ups and descents. Course designers cleverly arranged the four features in a spectator-friendly compact footprint with trails (and a beer garden!) connecting them. By Sunday, fans had developed a pattern of dashing from one feature to the next to follow the race from front to back. The run ups and descents were cacophonous tunnels of stoke, with fans literally climbing trees to get a better view. Bold and courageous high-speed descents and passes were marked by a notable rise in the tunnel of noise, rolling along with each rider like a roaring waterfall.

The Junior and U23 races were prelude to the week’s main events—the Men’s and Women’s Elite races. By Sunday afternoon, the sky was dry, the course was muddy but firm, and the ruts were deep and fast. An untouchable Gage Hecht took an early lead and held on to unseat Hyde and earn the Men’s Elite title. Hecht’s breach of the course’s perimeter tape early in the race seemed to cause Kerry Werner’s crash (after which Werner dropped from second place to finish fourth), but was quickly ruled permissible by a USAC jury. Curtis White and Stephen Hyde would round out the podium in second and third, respectively.

Hecht’s dominance of the race was particularly impressive since, at 21, he had the option of racing with the U23 men.

Just before that, the Women’s race started with Compton taking an early lead, and local favorite Courtenay McFadden staying close. By the end of the lap, she ceded the lead to Fahringer, with Honsinger and McFadden close behind. Compton would eventually find herself in fourth, but by the last lap she’d pass McFadden to finish on the podium.

In the end, Honsinger completed a Comptonesque flawless race to unseat the former champion and become the first new Women’s Elite National Champion in sixteen years.

See all of the Elite and U23 action from Sunday on USA Cycling’s broadcast (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rtvupse9i40).

At the finish line after the Women‘s Elite race, riders mixed with team staff and family, and hi-fives and hugs were plentiful. Honsinger gave interview after interview, and was eventually led away to the winner’s exclusive obligations. Others gathered their bikes and gear, and made their way to their team camps.

Among the last to leave was Compton, who—after Honsinger—was the next most sought interview, and by far the most in-demand for selfies and fan photos. She indulged them all, smiling and offering kind words and encouragement to young riders who asked how they might become the next fifteen-time national champion.

It almost seemed like the day’s result lifted a weight off Compton’s shoulders, more so than just a jersey. But her response to finishing in a highly respectable, but un-Comptonlike, third place was what made her the story of not just the weekend, but of the entire Championships week. And underscored her true legacy in cyclocross.

Even if it never becomes an Olympic sport, and regardless of whether she ever wears the stars and stripes again, Katie Compton is a champ. And that’s not something you can win, or lose.

Women’s Elite Results
1. Clara Honsinger – Team S&M CX Sellwood Cycle Repa
2. Rebecca Fahringer – Kona Maxxis Shimano
3. Katherine Compton – KFC Racing p/b Trek/Knight
4. Courtenay McFadden – Pivot Maxxis p/b Stan’s NoTubes
5. Kaitlin Keough – Cannondale p/b Cyclocrossworld
6. Sunny Gilbert – Pactimo/Colorado Proud
7. Samantha Runnels – Squid x Eliel
8. Caroline Nolan – Voler/Easton/HRS/Rock Lob
9. Amanda Nauman – SDG – Muscle Monster
10. Caitlin Bernstein – Easton/Velocio/McGovern Cycle

Men’s Elite Results

1. Gage Hecht – Donnelly Aevolo
2. Curtis White – Cannondale p/b Cyclocrossworld
3. Stephen Hyde – Cannondale p/b Cyclocrossworld
4. Kerry Werner – Kona Maxxis Shimano
5. Lance Haidet – Donnelly Aevolo6. Andrew Dillman – SDG – Muscle Monster
7. Logan Owen – UCI PT: EF Education First
8. Grant Ellwood – Pivot Maxxis pb Stan’s NoTubes
9. James Driscoll – Mavic/DNA Cycling
10. Maxx Chance – Blue Stages Racing

For full race results, visit the USA Cycling Web site: https://legacy.usacycling.org/results/index.php?year=2019&id=26

Oh, That Run Up

Picture 1 of 22

The 2019 Cyclocross Nationals course was a tale of two tiers, separated by massive run ups and tricky descents.

Aside from blasting round CX race and gravel courses all over Southern California, shooting photos, capturing video, and being a wonderfully talented, all-around, amazing human, Miki Vuckovich also works as Executive Director of the Tony Hawk Foundation, helping his friend build free public skateparks in low-income communities across the U.S. and support skateboarding programming internationally.

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