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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (VN) — Pro cyclocross racers are a remarkably mellow group when off the course, and this weekend’s womens stars at the Providence Cyclocross Festival are no exception.
Mary McConneloug and Laura Van Gilder traded first and second on the weekend, with McConneloug coming up with the win in a hard-fought battle Sunday. Despite their 40-minute battles that came down to the last seconds on both days, the pair could easily be found a few meters past the finish line chatting pleasantly with each other and their supporters.
But one thing does seem to get the two at least a bit riled: That’s any suggestion that their respective cycling backgrounds indicate a certain kind of weakness or tactical reality in cyclocross. In fact, before this reporter could even open a post-race inquiry that might have headed in that direction, each woman preempted him.
Van Gilder — a prolific criterium winner — would likely bristle if anyone suggested she’s a one trick pony: a road sprinter with weak technical skills. In the four seasons since she began ‘cross racing seriously, the Pennsylvania rider’s skills have become second to none. And while she’s one of the the most feared sprinters on the ‘cross circuit, she’s shown she can win in other ways, as she did Saturday when she matched McConneloug’s every technical move for 39 minutes and then out powered her with about 400 meters to go — more of a late solo attack than a sprint.
McConneloug (Kenda-Seven Cycles-NoTubes) is a two-time Olympic mountain biker and a fat-tire legend. But her favorite workout? Ten-to-12 rep sprints. “You know, I don’t get to do it much, but I love sprinting, it’s my favorite workout!,” she told VeloNews Sunday, after outkicking Van Gilder on the paved finish straight.
And the pair is not only protective of their own reputation — they are quick to credit the other’s. On Saturday McConneloug said she tried to put Van Gilder on the ropes with her steady power and tech skills, but found that it was Van Gilder who tired her out.
And on Sunday, Van Gilder said she had nothing but respect for McConneloug’s sprint, even before the final lap.
“That girl is quick! I can tell by her starts and her accelerations. I wasn’t back there thinking that I could just come around her at the end, I knew she could sprint.”
A large group of women stayed together at the front for the first third of Sunday’s race.
McConneloug, Van Gilder, Maureen Bruno Roy (Bob’s Red Mill-Seven Cycles), Sally Annis (Crossresults.com-JRA Cycles) and Andrea Smith (LadiesFirst Racing) were among those ruling the front of the pack. McConneloug, mindful that she had tired herself out Saturday, tried to sit in the group and save her energy for the end.
Smith had crashed out of contention early Saturday, and seemed determined to make up for it on day two.
Heading into the bell lap Smith was on the front of the group. Bruno Roy had lost contact, but Arley Kemmerer (C3-Athletes Serving Athletes) had latched onto the front-runners.
Smith crashed in a turn while on the front but the others dodged her. McConneloug led through the tight turns near the beer garden, then let Van Gilder take the front again. Annis and Kemmerer lost contact in the last lap.
On high-speed barriers just behind the VeloSwap tents, only about 200 meters from the finish, McConneloug retook the lead when Van Gilder’s chain jumped off a cog during her remount.
With little more than a bike length’s gap, McConneloug hit out hard, dove into the right hand hairpin onto the finish straight and opened it up. Van Gilder had to come around the outside line to catch her and the two bumped just before crossing the line, by McConneloug held the lead by a foot.