Clara Honsinger sets sights on cyclocross world championship medal
The three-time U.S. national champion says that wearing the stars and stripes in Europe is 'representative of the cyclocross culture I come from.'
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Clara Honsinger (EF Education-TIBCO-SVB) has her eyes set on a cyclocross world championship medal in February.
The recently crowned three-time U.S. national ‘cross champion finished just off the podium in 2021 and finished 11th in Fayetteville earlier this year.
This season, she wants to head to Hoogerheide and improve on her previous best of fourth place.
“I definitely have a goal set as getting a medal there. Worlds is a really important race and I always want to perform well there. It is such an iconic course, in Hoogerheide, the Netherlands. I’m definitely making a build towards that race,” Honsinger told VeloNews earlier this week.
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Honsinger is back in Belgium after notching up her third U.S. national title in Connecticut at the weekend. The return to Europe marks the true beginning of her build toward the world championships.
Rather than packing out her schedule to give her as much racing as possible, which she has done in the past, she’s taking a less-is-more approach to the remainder of the cyclocross. She wants to keep herself fresh for the big day.
“The past few seasons, I did it quite a bit of racing over the Christmas block and, while that was really fun, I got to the last few races feeling a little bit burnt out,” she said. “My plan is to kind of narrow down the races and just focus on performing well at a few races, mostly the World Cups.
“I’ve got my eye on the Gavere World Cup in Belgium because it’s just such a fantastic course on that hillside and it’s almost always muddy and such a challenging course. With both conditions and the elevation, it’s almost like a mountain bike race. It’s like a not-as-extreme Namur.”
Hitting the podium at the worlds will be a tough challenge in a packed-out field of top competitors. Honsinger says that her best chance would be if Shirin van Anrooij and Puck Pieterse raced in the U23 category rather than the elites.
She will still have to handle Fem van Empel, who has been dominating the 2022-23 season, as well as veteran racers such as Marianne Vos, Lucinda Brand, and Pauline Ferrand-Prévot.
“It’s really interesting to look at the past three or four years and see just how exponentially the women’s field has built such depth and good riders,” Honsinger said. “There’s always been such high speeds and excellent bike handling at the front of the races, but I’d say that the talent extends now through the top-15 places where maybe it was only the top seven or eight, previously.
“So, getting a medal at a world championships, or even just a top five, is so challenging. When I looked at the results maybe a few years ago, I would have finished eighth in a World Cup, and I would have been like ‘damn, that’s not what I was aiming for.’ But now, you finish eighth and look at the other women I was riding with and be like, ‘okay, that that was a pretty good day.’”
Relief at another year in the stars and stripes
While Honsinger ultimately took a fairly dominant victory at the U.S. nationals in Hartford, Connecticut, her preparation for the event was not ideal. Like many of her teammates, she fell ill in the last month and it took her time to recover from it.
She had largely cleared the cold by the time she raced last weekend, but the recovery time had put a bit of a dent in her form going into the event.
“I guess, I definitely felt a lot better the day of the race than I had the previous days. But I felt it took me a while to get warmed up. Since I had just taken three or four days completely off the bike trying to just recover in time, and it took a moment to be like, let’s get back into action,” she told VeloNews.
With the third national title wrapped up for another year, Honsinger was delighted with the win, but it also felt like a weight off her shoulders.
“There’s of course the sense of relief. But also, this is the third year that I’ve won this jersey and there’s this sense of pride and gratitude for being able to make it three years in a row because it hasn’t been an easy feat. I’ve had a lot of support and hard work,” she said.
For Honsinger, wearing the U.S. national champion’s jersey means a lot more than just taking the win. With her racing in Europe, it is an opportunity to represent a country that has a far smaller cyclocross culture than the likes of the Netherlands and Belgium.
“I think it’s important because it’s the stars and stripes jersey has been… before me, it was Katie Compton who wore it, and she was often at the front of fields and winning races,” she said. “It’s such a European dominant sport and so Dutch and Belgian when you look at it more closely, and to represent a whole different continent where the sport is maybe not so big and show that we can also be up there in races is great. I felt like it’s not just representative of my own racing, but of the cyclocross culture I come from.”