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It’s been a long and active season on the American cyclo-cross scene this year. Despite the absence of a national series like the SuperCup, the U.S. schedule has offered a full selection of UCI-sanctioned races, leading up to this weekend’s Shimano-USCF Cyclo-cross National Championships at the Domaine Chandon vineyards in Napa, California.
The UCI points earned at those events are a valuable commodity for riders hoping to make the U.S. team traveling to the world championships in Monopoli, Italy on the first weekend of February. Topping the list on the women’s side is ClifBar’s Carmen D’Aluisio, who had acquired 235 UCI points by December 9, holding a comfortable margin over Mary McConnelough, the winner of the New England Verge series.
We had chance to speak with D’Aluisio as she was getting ready to leave her home in Santa Cruz, California, to make the trip North to Napa for the national championships.
VeloNews: It has been a good season for you and for ClifBar, hasn’t it?
Carmen D’Aluisio: We’ve been really pleased with the way the season played out. Between Gina and me, Team ClifBar won all the UCI races that we did in the U.S. this year except for three — and of those three, the team was always second… That’s not a bad record for the “Women in Red.”
VN: What about you personally? You focused entirely on cyclo-cross.
CD: Yes, I went full on for cyclo-cross. It made me chuckle during the summer when I heard comments that some people thought I may not have it, because I didn’t race the mountain bike or even race that much on the road. It made me chuckle because I really knew what I was doing and I was preparing for cyclo-cross.
My big goal this year was to go back to world’s. Looking at the selection procedures, I planned my whole season, my whole year, around those (American) UCI races, so that I could make the world’s team.
VN: So it’s been helpful this year that they released selection criteria in September, rather than – what was it a few years ago? – a week after nationals?
CD: Absolutely. I don’t think anyone can approach a season and have no idea how to go about accomplishing goals when there are no guidelines out there. You can’t plan anything without selection procedures, so you know what you’re up against.
VN: So in that sense you must be happy with your season. You have the highest number of UCI points among U.S. women, you must be pretty confident that you’re going to Monopoli at this point.
CD: It would seem that way, but I am taking nothing for granted.
My plan was to go into nationals being the (UCI) points leader and going for the win at nationals – which I hope to do – and then look down the road to world’s.
VN: I know it wasn’t exactly an accurate press release that came from your team about how your teammate Alison Dunlap was not doing nationals because she “wanted to open the door for her teammates,” but her absence, no matter what the reason, has to change the dynamic at nationals, doesn’t it?
CD: Well, you know, I have a lot of respect for Alison and I’m disappointed that she’s not going to be there, but I also understand the importance of her preparation for her future goals, as far as the Olympics are concerned and all. Sure, I would love her to be there, but even if she isn’t it’s still going to be a great race between a lot of strong women.
Whoever ends up winning the national championship this weekend, I’m sure they would have loved to come out of it saying that they beat Alison in the process, but it’s going to be a great race no matter.
VN: Who then do you see as the most serious competition in Napa this weekend?
CD: Well, I don’t take anyone for granted at all. It’s not uncommon for anyone to have an unbelievable ride. Still there are a few riders that I really think stand a good chance of winning.
VN: And they are?
CD: Oh you want names! My biggest competition is going to be my teammate, Gina Hall. She’s really gotten stronger as the season has gone on. Rachel Lloyd is also very, very strong.
The other one I have to say is (Verge series winner) Mary McConneloug, though I haven’t raced against her since the beginning of the season, I really don’t know where she is right now. I do know her big love is the mountain bike, so she may be eyeing preparation for next season. I don’t really know.
And then, of course, I have to mention Ann (Grande). Ann is always a threat, no matter what. I don’t believe her fitness is where she wants it to be, because of her injuries, but she is a fighter and there’s no way you can rule her out.
VN: After nationals, you’re turning your attention to Monopoli. How are you spending your time between this weekend and February 1? That’s a big chunk of time and little racing unless you go to Europe.
CD: We kinda had a look at the course – at least an idea of what it might be like – when Geoff Proctor brought us a tape of the World Cup there last year. It looks like it’s going to be a very fast and flat course, so it’s going to take a lot of speed and a lot of power. My training is definitely going to focus on that.
Like I said to you the other day, I was shopping on-line for a scooter, so I could do some motor-pacing. I haven’t gotten one yet, but that’s a priority for me.
VN: You’ll have your husband Chris driving the scooter.
CD: Oh yeah, Chris is the main man. I wouldn’t be doing any of this without him.
VN: Do you know yet when you are going to arrive in Europe? Are you going to do any events prior to Monopoli?
CD: I am not sure yet. I might do the race in (Wetzikon), Switzerland a couple of weeks before world’s. I might do that one and then head down to Italy and spend some time there.
VN: And same question about the world’s: Whom do you view as the big threats there?
CD: Well, it goes without saying that Hanka (Kupfernagel – who has won two of the three world titles awarded to women in cyclo-cross) is someone you always have to watch. She is extremely powerful and on that course, she may do really well.
If there’s not a whole lot of technical on that course – and I don’t think there is – I think Lyne Bessette may be a big factor that day.
One other name that comes to mind is Debbie Mansfield from Holland. Debbie and I have had a lot of good sprints against each other on the road and in ‘cross. We did a lot of the European tours and such, and I know if it comes down to a group finish, she will definitely be someone to watch.
VN: Are you familiar with the course this weekend?
CD: No, not really. I am familiar with the grounds of the vineyard up there. I raced a World Cup mountain-bike race there, but I don’t know what they’re doing for cyclo-cross.
Chris and I are heading up on Friday. He has a race on Saturday and, so I’ll see what things are like for a couple of days before we go on Sunday.
VN: Best of luck to both of you and thanks.
CD: Thanks, we’ll see how it goes.