CX nationals roundtable: Should USAC save the course for pros?

U.S. cyclocross national championships wrapped up Sunday in Louisville, Kentucky with a muddy, slippery final day. Katie Compton dominated the women’s elite race, while Stephen Hyde won his third consecutive elite men’s title after a back-and-forth battle with his teammate Curtis White. There were…

Photo: @PinnedGrit/Wil Matthews

Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.

U.S. cyclocross national championships wrapped up Sunday in Louisville, Kentucky with a muddy, slippery final day. Katie Compton dominated the women’s elite race, while Stephen Hyde won his third consecutive elite men’s title after a back-and-forth battle with his teammate Curtis White.

There were crashes. There were victory salutes. There was even some post-race hand-wringing about the course. Let’s roundtable!

Sunday’s elite races were all about the mud. Pick another condition (dry, snow, etc.) and discuss how the races play out differently.

Chris Case @chrisjustincase You wouldn’t want to bet against Compton in the conditions there were, given she’s probably raced in such nasty mud 50 times. Her rivals? They probably collectively can’t say that. I’d say similar things if it had been snowy. Compton just knows how to handle a bike went conditions are horrid. And her pit crew is equally experienced. But had things been dry or tacky, my money would have shifted slightly, to a smaller rider who can climb. There was quite a bit of elevation change in Joe Creason Park, and there would have been very little running on a dry or tacky track. Then again, you wouldn’t really want to bet against Compton in those conditions either. That’s why she has 15 in a row.

Spencer Powlison @spino_powerlegs: Compton has such a wealth of experience racing mud in Europe that few other riders stood a chance. If you put this field on a fast, grippy course that put a premium on punchy accelerations and top-end speed, I think you’d see a tactical group race into the final few laps and then a flurry of attacks from riders like Ellen Noble and Kaitie Keough. I think the mud also opened the door for Sunny Gilbert to run into second place — she clearly had an advantage over Noble in that respect.

Fred Dreier @freddreier: I still think the winners are the same if things are dry and fast, as Compton and Hyde were on great days. In the women’s race, however, I think it would have come down to a tactical cat-and-mouse game between Compton and Ellen Noble, who had a really fast and impressive start. My gut says Compton still uses her experience to drop Noble at the end of the race. In the men’s race, I think Gage Hecht is able to power up to Curtis White and Stephen Hyde, and the two teammates spend a few laps attacking Hecht to try and get away. Does Hyde still take it? I think so.

Ellen Noble had a bike length or more over the rest of the field when the elite women hit the dirt for the first time. Photo: @PinnedGrit/Wil Matthews

After the track was churned into mud there were calls to either move the elite races up in the week, or to arrange a parallel course to avoid the age groupers damaging the track. Thoughts?

Chris: Having spoken to Keegan Schelling, the technical director and course designer, I know the decision to reroute portions of the course were about making the course more rideable, to create more competition. Even with the changes, there was a tremendous amount of running, and several other places where it wasn’t as clear-cut which was faster, riding or running. It definitely made the racers think, make good decisions, keep focused, and it was wicked hard.

Spencer: If we are worried that American ‘cross riders won’t be prepared to ride ultra-muddy, technical European races, then we should be glad that the amateur riders ripped it up to really challenge the elite fields. And anyway, cyclocross nationals are pretty expensive to begin with — add this additional organizational work to USA Cycling’s plate and entry fees are bound to go even higher.

Fred: As a spectator, I loved watching the riders toil and crash into the mud. That said, I sympathize with those racers who were looking for a tactical and athletic event, and not a death slog. Bumping the elites up to midweek will kill the livestream numbers, which is bad for sponsorship. It’s asking a lot of a promoter to create a parallel track for a race of this size. Is it worth asking for? Perhaps it’s something to consider for future venues.

Course conditions were pure mud, following three days of rain. Photo: @PinnedGrit/Wil Matthews

Compton dominated, Hyde battled. What were the keys to Hyde’s win?

Chris:  It may have looked like Hyde was sitting on behind his teammate, but he admitted after the race that he was essentially in time trial mode the entire day. He went as hard as he could without blowing up. He knew it was going to be a long day. And it would come down to minimizing mistakes. Make ‘em, move on. That was the mantra.

Spencer: Hyde did a better job of conserving his efforts for the final two laps, and a lot of that came down to riding smooth and avoiding mistakes. Curtis White had to burn matches to chase back to Hyde after his early crash and other bobbles. He might have been stronger on Sunday but he sure wasn’t as smooth as his teammate.

Fred: It sure seemed like Hyde saved his powder until that penultimate lap, and made his move after White had been putting in some major efforts for several laps. On this course, the name of the game was simply limiting one’s mistakes, since the mud meant that everyone was slipping and bobbling. Hyde simply made fewer mistakes over those last two laps.

Stephen Hyde
Stephen Hyde used his superior handling skills to win on a heavy, muddy course in Louisville. Photo: @pinnedgrit/Wil Matthews

Who had the best victory celebration this weekend, and why?

Chris:  Hyde and White embraced after the race. And it continues on after the podium ceremony. Then again back in the team compound and inside the bus. The affection and spirit of competition were genuine. Those guys ripped, and fully appreciated the great battle and display they showcased.

Spencer: It was pure class to see Hyde and White hug it out after the finish of a muddy, exciting battle to win the title.

Fred: We should all strive to be like Ivan Gallego, winner of the junior men’s 15-16 race. The finish. The crash. The salute. It’s pure joy.

Trending on Velo

An American in France

What’s it like to be an American cyclist living in France? Watch to get professional road cyclist Joe Dombrowski’s view.