Clara Honsinger (Team S&M CX) has made a big splash at the start of the 2019/20 cyclocross season.
After finishing second both days at Rochester Cyclocross last weekend, Honsinger got a little bit of redemption for a disappointing result at the 2018 Jingle Cross World Cup with a third-place finish in Saturday’s World Cup race.
On second thought, let’s make that a lot of redemption.
“I definitely had my eyes set on redemption here today,” Honsinger said after the race. “Last year, it was pretty much chaos and I pretty much succumbed to it. This year, it felt so much smoother, and it just came together. I’m really satisfied.”
Honsinger’s result was no doubt impressive, but a more in-depth look at how she got that result shows maturity and confidence beyond Honsinger’s years. She is, after all, just nine months removed from winning the U23 National Championship at Louisville Nationals.
Starting on the second row in Saturday’s race, Honsinger got stuck in some early traffic and had to work her way forward through some of the chaotic sections of the course such as the sand pit and twisting Mt. Krumpit descent.
“It took patience,” she said about moving up. “It was a slow start, then everybody kind of had ants in their pants. I hit the sand behind wheels that bobbled, so it was definitely a lot to make up. I think I paid for it a little, but overall, I made up for it.”
One key to her success was doing her homework, which is appropriate because Honsinger recently started school again at Oregon State in Corvallis after taking a couple of years off.
New for this year, Jingle Cross organizers trucked in a healthy amount of sand for the sand pit that used to just be a horse parade area. The sand pit was at the bottom of a long descent off Mt. Krumpit, with a left-hand turn as the entrance. Riders had an option of going to the right side with more speed into deeper sand or scrubbing some speed and taking the shallower left line.
Most of Honsinger’s competitors opted for the left line, but she had a different plan, thanks in large part to the women racing second on Saturday.
“I didn’t pre-ride [the right line] at all. I only hit the left line there,” Honsinger said. “Then I saw the men hit [the right line] on the live feed. I was like, ‘Hmmm, maybe I should give this a try.’ The first time I hit it was mostly a decision of where the most traffic was. Then I found that overall, you had such a faster lead into it and could shoot almost halfway into it, even though it was probably a little bit deeper.”
The choice paid off in a big way. In the next few laps, Honsinger made up major ground riding the right line, passing as many as four riders in one lap.
By the end of Lap 3, Honsinger had made contact with Maghalie Rochette (Specialized / Feedback Sports) and Katerina Nash (Clif Pro Team) to make it a trio at the front with 3 laps to go in the six-lap race.
Both days at Rocheter Cyclocross, Rochette got off to a blazing start. After getting caught a bit flat-footed on Saturday, Honsinger was the first rider to rise to the occasion on Sunday to try to chase the Canadian down. She never caught Rochette, but her reward was a ride in solo second and her second impressive result of the weekend.
More or less dropping the rest of the chase at the race in Upstate New York played a role in how Honsinger played her cards in Iowa on Saturday.
“I’m always a little bit cautious making big efforts like that. I don’t like blowing up in a race and then going backward. But last week I was able to make those efforts and maintain them, so I felt confident I could do the same this week,” Honsinger admitted.
In Lap 4, Honsinger again made a move in the sand, passing Nash and taking over second at the bottom of the big climb up Mt. Krumpit through the woods. She stuck Rochette’s wheel, and then at the top of the hill surged forward to take over the lead in World Cup. Honsinger was not just happy to be in a podium spot, she was willing to lay it out there and go for the win.
“You feel really good going up that hill, but then you go down a little bit and you’re like, ‘Ohhhh-kay, I’m feeling it.’ Every time we went up it, I felt like I still had something to give,” Honsinger said.
Rochette and Honsinger swapped spots through the first third of Lap 5 before Rochette ultimately dashed away from her breakmates on the Mt. Krumpit run-up.
Although she came away with a third-place finish, Honsinger’s assertiveness against the world’s hottest cyclocross rider and a Jingle Cross legend suggests we could look back at the race as a key moment in the young kid from Oregon’s development as an athlete.
That, however, is well down the road. For now, the Oregonian’s satisfaction with Saturday’s ride gives way to a focus on Sunday’s World Cup Waterloo, where she will have a front-row start and a chance to continue to make waves here at the start of the 2019/20 cyclocross season.
See below for our full post-race interview with Honsinger.