Jenn Jackson (Easton - Giant p/b Transitions LifeCare) is not the biggest fan of sprinting, but after several efforts to avoid one, she found herself going to the line with the Netherland's Manon Bakker (Experza Pro CX) on Friday night at Jingle Cross in Iowa City.
Bakker did the work early, powering to the holeshot and breaking the Friday night field apart by the time riders descended off of Mt. Krumpit. Only Jackson could answer her call, and within half a lap, it was the Dutch and Canadian riders off the front.
Bakker attacked in Lap 3, then Jackson in Lap 4 of the 7-lap race, but when Bakker quickly matched Jackson's last-lap attack, it was clear the race was coming down to a sprint finish.
With the Friday night finish located at the end of the start/finish straight, it was a long drag race to the finish. Jackson, who hails from a mountain bike background, did not want to let her competitor dictate the pace, so she launched first into the long finishing kick.
The Canadian held off Bakker to take the win, even if she would have preferred to get away earlier.
"I would have preferred to go away than lead out for a sprint," Jackson said. "I don't like sprinting, it makes me nervous. But I think I got her at the line by like a tire width."
A Trans-National Duel
With Saturday's Jingle Cross World Cup awaiting, only a handful of riders taking the start line for the big race opted to take the start on Friday night under the lights at the Johnson County Fairgrounds. The race provided those riders a chance to get some openers in and others the opportunity to compete for UCI C2 points.
Several riders led down the holeshot straight, with Dutch rider Bakker taking the lead out onto the course, while Jackson and Regina Legge (Trek Cyclocross Collective) slotted in at two and three.
Sunny Gilbert (Pactimo - Colorado Proud) had a good start before going down in the first sweeping 180, putting her evening of racing on the back foot early on.
Bakker held the advantage through the first third of the course and dared the other riders to follow her lead heading into the Mt. Krumpit run-up. Only Jackson would answer the call, while Nuss, Legge, Hannah Arensman (JA King p/b Blue Ridge Cyclocross) and Amanda Nauman (SDG - Muscle Monster) quickly became the first chase.
At the end of the first of seven laps, the race's tenor had largely been established. Bakker and Jackson were off the front, Nuss followed 15 seconds back, and Legge trailed by another 10.
In Laps 2 and 3, Bakker and Jackson extended their advantage on 3rd, largely thanks to the efforts of Bakker at the front. After 2 laps, the duo's advantage was up to 23 seconds on Nuss. In Lap 3, Bakker took a small advantage off the descent of Mt. Krumpit, but Jackson closed her gap by the end of the lap.
"It was a weird race," Bakker said. "I think everyone saw I did most of the work because she didn't want to come on the front. I think that's too bad. I like to battle, but instead, it was just me riding."
For the first half of the race, Jackson had largely been content to let her British competitor dictate the pace at the front, but in Lap 4, she decided to launch a little attack of her own. Jackson went right before Mt. Krumpit and took a 9-second advantage by the time she reached the barriers after the ensuing Mt. Krumpit descent. Bakker scrambled to follow her lead, closing the gap to six seconds at the end of Lap 4.
Jackson's lead evaporated in Lap 5, as Bakker powered back toward the attacking Jackson. Jackson's lead was down to two seconds at the barriers, and then Bakker soon made it a group of two at the front again. Behind them, Nuss trailed by 22 seconds.
"I went about halfway through the race, with about 3.5 laps to go," Jackson said. "Manon had been leading for a couple, but we weren't totally pinned, and I wanted to get a full gas effort in there and see if I could get away and ride my own pace but she pulled me back within about a lap."
With Lap 6 of 7 playing to a draw, Nuss took advantage of the chance to close in on the 2 leaders. At the bell, Nuss trailed Jackson and Bakker by 15 seconds, knocking a good chunk off the two leaders' advantage.
Sensing she had a few spots on the course where she had an advantage, Jackson again attacked before Mt. Krumpit, hoping to avoid bringing the evening's affair to the line. She took a 3-second advantage into the Mt. Krumpit run-up and held her lead down the ensuing descent. After a first try, the Canadian was hoping the second would do the trick.
Showing impressive resolve for a U23 rider, Bakker erased Jackson's gap and again neutralized the race in the flatter back third of the course.
"It was a really fun last lap," Bakker said. "She attacked, and I came back. Then there was a close finish sprint."
The two riders popped out onto the long finishing stretch together. Not wanting to let Bakker get a jump on her, Jackson upped the pace and then launched her sprint. With the two riders giving it everything they had, Jackson got to the line first by the slimmest of margins. Centimeters, if you will, for our friends from the north and across the pond.
"I just sat back in and decided we would wait until the end," Jackson said about the sprint. "There were a couple of sections where I knew I was stronger, and I would have preferred to go away than lead out for a sprint. I don't like sprinting, it makes me nervous. But I think I got her at the line by like a tire width."
Nuss held strong to third for the remainder of the race to take home the third podium spot.
A photo gallery and full results are below. Next up is the Jingle Cross World Cup at 4:45 p.m. CDT on Saturday.