VERONA, WISCONSIN—Steve Tilford wasted very little time in winning his 7th Masters Cyclocross National Championship, taking the holeshot and establishing a seven second gap by the end of the first lap over silver medalist Kevin Hines. On a course Tilford described as “slick mud, not power mud,” the multiple-discipline national champion (and mountain bike world champion) steadily rode away from his rival Hines, eventually winning by almost half a minute.
“The Masters race begins to be more important,” Tilford said, “as the elite race becomes less important,” referring to his start position for the elite race on Saturday. “So when you can win a race rather than coming in 30th it’s always better.” Tilford “just tried to ride smooth” on the course which is becoming greasier as Nationals proceeds, as warmer than expected temperatures keep Madison thawed rather than frozen.”Once you get a cushion you don’t really need to make the cushion bigger, so I was trying to ride smooth and not make any big mistakes.”
Tilford’s gap with four laps to go was seven seconds, and then 12, and then 16 before Hines clawed back some ground with a lap-and-a-half to go. The rest of the field was minutes back from the two contenders. Tilford was conservative, running the course’s steep hill and the sand pit, whereas Hines was riding the climb. Tilford tipped Ryan Trebon as his favorite for Sunday’s elite race, and the two riders do share similar riding styles. “I think the time gaps will be huge on Sunday. It’s pretty hard to ride with someone else when everybody’s making micro-mistakes all the time.”
In second, Hines battled gamely, but just couldn’t close the gap once Tilford had established it. Riding for iconic Corner Cycle, Hines went down early on the tricky corner just before the barriers. He seemed to be taking the sandpit faster, but the power course simply favored the lanky rider from Topeka, Kansas. Tilford plans to travel to Louisville for next weekend’s UCI Masters World Championships, and said that he was “tuning up” in this competition today.