You could be forgiven for assuming when you’re one of the best racers in the world, won an overall World Cup title and medaled at Worlds, there’s little to learn and not much more to experience. Yet for Ellen Noble (Aspire), Saturday’s heavy, sloppy race, despite her third-place finish, was definitely a learning moment.
On Saturday, Noble awoke to conditions that suited her technical skills yet presented a foreign challenge in terms of race strategy. With nothing but hot, dry, fast racing this season, the slippery mud and overdose of running not only shocked the body but shocked the mind.
“Yesterday’s conditions kind of suited me more, but I didn’t know how to win yesterday, and I think it showed in the way I raced,” Noble told Cyclocross Magazine. “This is really the first year I’ve been racing toward the front of these big Elite races, so [in those conditions] I don’t know where to make a move and when to settle in and stuff like that. I went out super-hot yesterday and I wasn’t able to sustain it.”
On Sunday, with Harbin Park’s damp grass being swapped in for Devou’s mud, Noble was back in front of an exam she’s aced before, and she lined up full of confidence. “The strategy was a little be easier for me, a little bit more straightforward because we’ve been doing races like this all year,” Noble told Cyclocross Magazine. “There’s going to be some group racing and people are going to put in attacks and you can’t just spin off the front like you could have yesterday.”
White in Time Trial Mode
U23 star Emma White (Cannondale p/b CyclocrossWorld) took to the start with an extra ounce of confidence as well. While not known as a mudder, White battled Noble for third on Saturday, and knew that the rideable grass of Harbin Park suited her strengths well.
White, like Noble, is the proud owner of a UCI World Championships silver medal, only it was in the time trial at the 2015 UCI Road Worlds. Prior to the start, someone told White to “think of the climb as 1k time trial.”
The pep talk appeared to work. White grabbed her aero Giro Vanquish helmet and loaded into the starting ramp. On Sunday, it didn’t matter if the ramp pointed uphill, or if there were seven other riders next to her. She was in her element.
When the whistle blew, White’s time trial mode was on full display. She took the holeshot, put her head down, and powered through the grass flats and climbs on the first half of the course.
While White was on the gas, her teammate Kaitie Keough and Noble battled for her draft for an impromptu motor pacing session.
White didn’t look around, didn’t wave anyone through and simply looked ahead to find the fastest path through the course.
It wasn’t until White encountered two eight-inch logs at the top of the course did her time trial skills fail her. Like nearly every other Elite Women racer, White stayed on her bike and rode the logs. As her rear wheel made contact with each log, Noble floated by on her right.
With just two Superprestige Boom-height barriers, White’s lead was suddenly relinquished, and riders took notes that could be useful in a final exam.
Study Hall Pays Off
Sofia Gomez Villafane (Pivot Cycles p/b DNA Cycling certainly was taking notes, and early on in the race, as White, Keough and Noble pushed the pace, she found herself wasting energy to stay connected. “I realized it’s about where you were [positioned],” Gomez Villafane said. “I put in a pull at the start of lap three, and I noticed there were little gaps.”
The second-year pro was now the one creating gaps, and it paid off in terms of positioning and confidence and produced a bit of shock. With one to go, she looked around, only to see three of the top four from Saturday. Only Caroline Mani (Van Dessel / Atom Composites) was missing.
“I found myself fighting for a top three,” Gomez Villafane recalled. “I thought, oh my God, this is incredible.”
A Final Lap Exam
Noble and Keough looked to be following Lane Maher’s winning recipe of a last-lap attack.
“You had to know when to trust your lines and when to kind of take it easy,” Noble said of the conditions. She had largely kept her nose out of the wind and rode conservatively. But after hearing one to go, there was no more time to take it easy.
Keough looked to follow, but there was waning daylight between the two and a log crossing up ahead.
Noble aired it over the logs, adding a few precious seconds to her lead. Keough chased her downhill and hoped the final climb gave her enough room to connect.
Behind, Gomez Villafane, a former Collegiate Cyclocross National Champion, was ready to show off her study habits.
“Emma wasn’t hopping the barriers as well as everyone else,” she revealed. “I made sure to take another line, and I was able to get ahead, and I was hoping to catch up to Kaitie.” The mountain biker bombed the descent, ready to seize a UCI C2 podium.
White saw Gomez Villafane pulling away. “I was struggling to stay within ten bike lengths of her, which seems like a lot,” White said, but she remembered she had one more time trial ahead, and a third-place rider who played her last trump card.
“I struggle on the flats,” Gomez Villafane explained. “I’ve only been training for two years.” With that self-doubt fogging up her podium vision, she looked back to gauge her path, only to see White in time trial mode.
“Emma just came up, and I was like, my God, you’re next level, and I just blew up,” Gomez Villafane admitted. “I’m happy with fourth.”
Up ahead, Noble was fully committed. “If you stayed in and kind of waited for that right moment, I might be able to hold them off,” Noble thought before the race. With one final climb, she was seizing the moment.
Keough chased. White was charging. Noble turned onto the pavement with the two teammates in green in sight, but it was too late for them. Noble was trying to post up but was really looking for a soft landing to collapse from her effort.
Announcers Scott Hermann and Dave Towle pondered whether US Cup-CX leader Keough might sit up to allow her teammate secure the second place in the standings for GoFundMe-supplemented earnings, but there didn’t appear to be any soft-pedaling on Keough’s part.
White caught her teammate by the pavement, and outkicked her to the line, capping an impressive final half lap to move up two spots.
Both Keough and White were quick to dispel the notion of any teamwork. “She made me work right up to the line,” White said, exhausted from the silver medal effort.
With second and third, Keough and White have added to their leads in the US Cup-CX standings. Stay tuned for the latest rankings.
Noble rode her normal team bike with a black version of the Michelin Mud-inspired FMB Grippo tubular we profiled recently.
Noble warmed up on a special yellow Focus that the team is planning to unveil at the Pan American Championships.
White was coy when asked about the meaning behind team director Stu Thorne’s hand signals, but said with a smile that she’s “still learning them.”
The course featured a sand pit, but with recent rains, it was essentially hardpack dirt with a slight lip at the end that some riders used to get a bit of air.
Day 2 of Cincinnati Cyclocross not only featured top-level UCI women’s racing, but top-level women’s race promotion, as the event was directed and promoted by Julie Hermann.
Stay tuned for our continuing coverage of the 2017 Cincinnati Cyclocross weekend.
Women's Results - 2017 Cincinnati Cyclocross Day 2 - Harbin Park
|Rank||BIB||Last Name||First Name||Time|
|27||20||ZOERNER||Ashley||@ 2 Laps|
|28||31||ADAMS||Kennedy||@ 3 Laps|