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Katie Compton overcame the most difficult off-season of her career to win a twelfth straight national cyclocross championship Sunday in Asheville, North Carolina — but it was her hardest-fought title yet, battling against Georgia Gould well into the last of five laps.
Compton (Trek Factory Racing) and Gould (Luna) quickly rode away from the rest of their competitors on the first lap, with Gould driving the pace early on.
Behind, Elle Anderson (Strava-SRAM) and Kaitlin Antonneau (Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com) chased together, with the race shaping up into two unique battles — one for the win, and one for third place.
Compton put in several attacks — the type that, in years past, would amount to race-winning moves.
But Gould, who had three times finished second to Compton at cyclocross nationals, fought valiantly, reeling back the eleven-time champion after each acceleration.
“Georgia was riding really well,” Compton said. “She’s obviously fit. She brought her ‘A game.’ I didn’t know what to expect, I haven’t seen her at any of the U.S. races over the last few months. It was a hard race. We got a gap quickly, and then we were pretty much trading pulls.”
Antonneau, the 2015 silver medalist, ultimately broke free from Anderson and chased alone, inching her way back to the leading duo.
Compton and Gould swapped off the lead several times, closely marking one another, with no time to ease off the pace as Antonneau chased behind.
Compton had plenty of time to celebrate, crossing 22 seconds ahead of Gould. Antonneau finished third, another 12 seconds back.
Anderson finished fourth, with Rachel Lloyd (Cal Giant) in fifth.
Compton’s 22-second winning margin was the second-closest of her 12 national titles; the closest was her first, in Portland in 2004, when she finished 16 seconds ahead of Gina Hall. The difference, however, was that in 2004 Compton spent much of that race alone, off the front.
“It was a hard race, that’s for sure,” Compton said. “That’s the hardest I’ve ever worked, and the most I’ve suffered, to win a nationals. Georgia was riding well. I didn’t feel amazing. It was not a bad day, but not great. Knowing that, in the middle of the race, I thought ‘okay, I can’t just drop her pedaling, I’m going to have to figure out another way.’ I changed the game plan as I saw how the race was unfolding. After a certain point, I was waiting for the sprint. Luckily she bobbled, and I took advantage of it.”
Sunday’s race marked the fourth time Gould has taken a silver to Compton’s gold at the national cyclocross championship.
“I have mixed emotions,” Gould said. “I’m really happy to have been so close, but also, to be so close… you start thinking, ‘what if this, or what if that.’ Overall, I’m really happy about it. I’m mostly excited it was so exciting, because it’s always the best to put on a race that was genuinely exciting to watch.
“I was feeling pretty good, there were a couple of places where she was faster, and a few where I was a little stronger,” Gould continued. “But I made a mistake on a descent, I almost crashed. I unclipped, and she went around me, and she had just enough of a gap. She’s so good, and she knows, this is the move, and she knows how to make it stick.”
And though she never made the front of the race, Antonneau was pragmatic in defeat.
On Instagram, accompanying a behind-the-podium photo of herself with Compton and Gould, Antonneau wrote, “I know all three of us started the race trying to win today. For me, starting the national championship race with the mindset to win is a huge win for me, and a big jump forward, mentally.”