Katie had a good weekend in France, winning the first title on Roubaix cobblestones by an American.
The race course was a really challenging despite the its location in and around the Roubaix velodrome. The route included a lot of elevation change on one half of the course with an extremely steep downhill section that Katie bombed down during the Saturday’s training session while other pro men stood at the top of the drop-off and watched. There was also a very difficult stair section before the drop-off that would prove to be a good point for applying pressure on the competition. However, at the team meeting the night before the race, the UCI decided to remove the stair and drop-off section for the women’s event. I vigorously argued against this action, but to no avail. The word on the street was the removal was due the issue of rider safety being raised repeatedly by a certain top rider.
Rain came down hard before the start of the women’s race, which is exactly what were hoping for. Warming up before the race Katie had a feeling she was in for a good ride.
At the start on the velodrome Hanka Kupernagel false started and jumped away from the field before the official start signal, gaining four bike lengths on the field while Katie instantly slipped to mid-pack. By the first pit Katie was in 17th position passing the mid-packers who were struggling to keep themselves upright.
After passing the second pit, Katie was trailing the leading trio of Kupfernagel, Marianne Vos and Daphny Van den Brand by approximately 5 seconds. Heading into the velodrome, Hanka attacked Vos and Van den Brand, leading over the finish line by 2 seconds. Katie joined the chasing duo after riding a downhill section while Vos chose to run. Katie bridged up to Hanka and immediately applied pressure at the front, heading into pit one with a couple bike length advantage. Katie and Hanka soon gained an advantage over Vos and Van den Brand who had crashed into the fence where Katie would later crash on the last lap.
Over the barriers, a first for Katie at a World Cup, which were measuring around 55cm tall, Katie edged out a small gap over Hanka. Once on the Velodrome Katie maintained her advantage by taking a shorter line around the track instead of riding on the track itself. Hanka briefly bridged up to Katie before Katie gained a small gap by riding a steep muddy downhill, the same hill the men would run down after the women’s race. Katie kept up the pressure, increasing her margin over a tiring Kupfernagel by 30 seconds.
On the last lap, Katie elected not to pit. Immediately after the pit, Katie’s chain began to skip because of some string caught in the pulleys (see photo), forcing her to ease off on the pedals while Kupfernagel began to close down the deficit. Katie’s chain issues continued through to the next mud section, where the slower pace caused her to slip out of the narrow line into a rut which pitched her awkwardly into the fencing. Katie’s shift lever hooked into the plastic netting forcing her to unclip in an awkward position. She had trouble getting going again, with the bike in a large gear and with a pair of numb feet. The cold water puddles that caused trouble for Katie, also forced Van den Brand’s legs to seize up, removing her from the action. Meanwhile fans of Kupfernagel yelled for Hanka to chase harder due to Katie’s fence incident. Katie pitted for a working bike on the last pass through the pits and comfortably cruised in for a historic American win on the Roubaix velodrome.
Losing cyclocross races is not a easy thing for the highly competitive Kupfernagel who refused to talk to the press and left the awards ceremony without a word. “Hanka doesn’t like to lose, I’ve been losing for a lot of years so I’ve had plenty of experience at it and it’s just part of racing. You have to accept it because this sport is too hard if you can’t,” said Katie.