For the first time in the seven years of UCI racing at Trek Headquarters, the mud finally came to Waterloo on Sunday at World Cup Waterloo. Overnight rain continued into Sunday morning, and with amateur races taking place prior to the afternoon World Cup races, the course at Trek was ready for a good mudder.
Two riders who were thrilled about the conditions were Katerina Nash (Clif Pro Team) and Jolanda Neff (Trek Factory Racing CX). Throughout her storied career, Nash has always enjoyed a good day in the slop, and although she is new to cyclocross, Neff has quickly shown that she too loves the riding when conditions get messy.
“The mud is my favorite conditions,” a muddy Neff said after the race. “I wish every race I do were muddy. It just changes everything. It’s a whole different sport. I ride a lot in the mud back at home. We have a lot of rainy, muddy conditions, and I always ride no matter the weather. That’s what I feel really comfortable in.”
The big difference between the two on Sunday was start position thanks to new UCI rules this year. Nash entered World Cup Waterloo with the second call-up after her silver at Jingle Cross, while Neff was further back after skipping the Iowa World Cup stop.
The early aggressor on Sunday was another rider who has had impressive success in the mud in Evie Richards (Trek Factory Racing CX). Richards raced out to an early lead by powering up the long climb to the barn flyover and took an early advantage on Caroline Mani (Pactimo – Colorado Proud) and Nash.
Nash spent much of the 13-plus minute first lap slowly erasing Richards’ lead and then made the pass at the barriers near the end of the lap and taking over first position.
With the mud relatively slick and getting deeper each lap, the race was not a question of if riders would make mistakes, it was when. Nash had her share of trouble dismounting at the base of the Segafredo Run-Up, and at the end of Lap 1, Richards slipped and fell at the first off-camber turn of the Trek Factory Hill descent.
Nash’s advantage was 8 seconds after 1 lap, and in the 2nd lap, Richards closed in spots, while Nash extended her advantage in others. At the bell of the three-lap race, Nash’s lead was up to 13 seconds. Sitting in fourth nearly a minute back but picking off riders one-by-one was a hard-charging Neff.
In the last of the three long laps, a slip out by Richards on the rutted, off-camber descent seemingly clinched Nash’s win. However, Neff moved into third and then second and was quickly erasing Nash’s lead.
After Nash dashed through the Trek Factory Hill section it was clear Neff would run out of room to complete her epic comeback.
Nash came away with a challenging, muddy win and the World Cup overall leader’s jersey for her efforts in Waterloo.
“Jolanda was super impressive,” Nash said. “We were talking at the podium, and I was definitely like, ‘Dude, I’m so glad it wasn’t any longer,’ and she said, ‘I’m so sad it wasn’t any longer.’ If we did another lap, she probably would have moved up.”
A Day for the Mudders
Trek has hosted UCI-level racing at its Waterloo, Wisconsin headquarters since 2013 when the first Trek CXC Cup was held. Over the course of four CXC Cups and now three editions of World Cup Waterloo, the venue has never really seen a UCI mud race or even one with much moisture at all. Fast, dry races such those seen in the first two World Cup Waterloos have been more the norm.
The rains first came to south-central Wisconsin on Saturday afternoon during amateur racing, and then overnight, the heavens opened up and poured on Waterloo. With amateurs helping churn up the course during morning racing, the track resembled something you might expect to see in Belgium in December by the time the Elite Women took the start line in the early afternoon.
The course was seemingly one for the mudders in the Women’s cyclocross peloton, and within half a lap, it was clear it would be those riders who excel in sloppy conditions would help write the story of the 2019 World Cup Waterloo.
After U23 World Cup leader Inge van der Heijden (CCC – Liv) took the holeshot, Evie Richards, racing on her home away from home at Trek, quickly surged to the front on the long climb up to the barn flyover. A minute into the race, she already had a measurable gap on the other riders.
Jolanda Neff and Katie Compton (KFC Racing p/b Trek Knight) were among the riders starting off the front row due to the new UCI rule that grids the first three rows for World Cups by the overall standings. Neff escaped some early argy-bargy, while Compton got caught up in the muddy melee.
Answering the call of chasing her down early on was one of Friday’s Trek CX Cup aggressors in Caroline Mani. Mani led the chase over the flyover, and Nash slotted into second.
After the race, Nash talked about the importance of minimizing mistakes in the sloppy conditions. That sentiment was likely thanks in part to a tough stretch for her after moving past Mani into second.
Nash slipped out on the off-camber near the Trek building, and then she slipped out again at the bottom of the Segafredo Run-Up. The two mistakes allowed a hard-charging Richards to expand her early advantage up to 13 seconds midway through the very long first lap.
With the corners on the twisty course treacherous thanks to the rains, Nash’s experience helped her put the early mistakes behind her and quickly begin the process of erasing Richards’ advantage. Thirteen seconds became eight and then a few bike lengths at the third flyover. Nash made the catch at the barriers and then surged past Richards on the muddy uphill remount.
“I kind of wanted to get ahead because I knew it was going to messy and people would be making mistakes, including me. I wanted to keep an eye on the leaders. Those young girls start really fast, so if I’m up there in contention, it’s a good start,” Nash said about her good start.
The final challenging feature of the Waterloo course was the famed Trek Factory Hill, which features two off-camber turns on the descent and a steep climb out away from the Trek building. Both off-cambers became fraught with peril as the exposed surfaces gave way to a veneer of mud.
Nash navigated the two downhill corners with relative ease, while Richards slipped out on the first turn. The mistake set her back and allowed Mani to pull close to taking over second.
Richards recovered, and 1 lap into the 3-lap race, Nash’s lead was 8 seconds, Mani sat 13 seconds back, Clara Honsinger (Team S&M CX) 22 and Jenn Jackson (Easton – Giant p/b Transitions LifeCare) and Maghalie Rochette (Specialized / Feedback Sports) were 26 in arrears. A few riders back sat Friday’s C2 winner Neff, 40 seconds behind Nash.
Surge and Counter
In the race’s opening minutes, Richards showed the early part of the lap that included the long slog of a climb up to the barn flyover and the high part of the Trek property was a major strength for her.
As her mountain biker counterpart Nash spun up the climb, Richards went with a little more power and appeared to be erasing Nash’s advantage. When Nash again slipped out while unclipping on the Segafredo Run-Up and Richards rode a good chunk of it before dismounting, Richards cut Nash’s advantage down to just 6 seconds.
“My spikes were not long enough. They were little guys, and I think I needed longer ones,” Nash explained about her issues with the run-up.
The backside of the World Cup course featured a series of two descents and climbs. The first was a challenging off-camber with one good rut to climb, and the second was a bumpy drop washboarded by two-plus days of amateur racing. The ensuing climbs of each descent became much more challenging thanks to the wet conditions.
It was on the second climb that one of the race’s key moments occurred.
Nash took the drop and then stayed on her bike on the climb, using a little extra mountain-bike-style gearing to spin her way up. Richards, however, had to dismount and run. Riding proved much quicker, and Nash extended her lead to nearly 25 seconds heading past Pit 2.
Richards has gained a reputation for her tenacity on the bike, and from Pit 2 to the barriers, her never-quit attitude was on full display. Richards erased a chunk of Nash’s lead and appeared poised to make it a two-woman race.
Nash used her strength navigating a decreasingly rideable Trek Factory Hill to open up a bit of breathing room, and at the bell, the honorary American via the Czech Republic had a 13-second lead on her British counterpart.
“I always like these kinds of conditions,” Nash explained about her strong riding. “It’s sort of an unknown because it’s early in the season. Not that many people have ridden in the mud, obviously. I guess that patience and skillset comes back to me pretty quickly. I was able to manage it pretty well, but made a bunch of mistakes anyway.”
The front was not where the only action in the second lap was. Showing her trademark steady riding, Honsinger caught Mani in the middle part of the lap and then broke into solo third on the back third of the circuit. Last Saturday’s third-place finisher sat 44 seconds behind the leader at the bell.
Neff was also on the move at the end of Lap 2. The rider they call Sendy-Poof found Sunday’s sloppy course a bit tougher to send, but she moved up to fifth at the barriers and then passed Mani at the end of the lap to take over fourth. Her gap behind Honsinger was 10 seconds and 41 seconds behind Richards. At least a podium finish seemed within reach for the Swiss star.
“I think I had a good start, but I was in the fourth row. That’s like 25 people in front of me,” Neff said about the start of her race. “Every person you pass just takes some time. It took some time until I had only three riders in front of me, and I could ride my pace.”
Nash Stays the Course
The early part of the final lap had the potential to upend the front of the race thanks to Richards’ power climbing. The Trek rider again pulled closer to Nash when the two riders crested the barn flyover. Nash went into the Segafredo Run-Up a little more gingerly this time around and stayed relatively clean.
Richards again aggressively charged into the steep incline and picked up another second or two thanks to her aggression.
Richards had trouble on the up part of the second descent the previous lap, and in the bell lap, the down of the first descent essentially ended her challenge to Nash.
Richards popped out of the rut you had to hit to ride the descent and her wheel slid out. Nash again extended her lead and appeared headed to the World Cup triumph.
Neff, however, was very much on the move. Neff passed Honsinger midway through the last lap to take over third, and when Richards ran through the section near the Secret Bar, Neff was right on her heels. Neff’s surge continued, and the Swiss rider took over second at the barriers.
“It was great to see [Clara] and [Evie] because that’s when I realized I was actually quite close to the front,” Neff explained. “I never really knew where I was. I thought I was in maybe 10th place, but then I realized I was actually really close to the podium, which was cool.”
With word of Neff’s surge ringing out from the announcers’ booth, Nash knew she had to avoid a dreaded mistake on Trek Factory Hill, lest she let Neff turn the Trek course into Swissconsin.
Nash was near perfect on the Trek Factory Hill section and popped up over the hill with a winning advantage. The last trip down the paved stretch brought cheers from a large crowd awaiting her muddy, gritty win.
“I was just trying not to make mistakes, which was really difficult,” Nash said about her race. “Even if you do make a mistake, you just have to calm yourself down and ride it better the next time. It was a fun balance of not making mistakes and pushing where you can, which was the hills, straightaways and running and stuff like that.”
Neff finished 19 seconds back in second, capping her week at her sponsor’s home with a World Cup silver.
“It was great racing. I felt really good,” Neff said about her muddy afternoon. “The longer the race went on, the better I felt. I wish the race was maybe 3 minutes longer, but it’s okay.”
Richards held on for third, and Honsinger wrapped up her September to Remember with a fourth-place finish.
For more from Waterloo, see the photo gallery and results below.
Photo Gallery: 2019 Elite Women’s World Cup Waterloo