Last season, Maghalie Rochette (Specialized / Feedback Sports) tore up the two races at the Rochester Cyclocross weekend but did not necessarily get the results she was looking for at the U.S. World Cups or during her trips to Europe.
In last weekend's races, Rochette took over the keys to the city in ROCHester, and she headed to Iowa City with the goal of getting on the podium at the Jingle Cross World Cup and the dream of winning the first-ever cyclocross World Cup for Canada.
At the start of Saturday's World Cup in the marquee final time slot, it was two other up-and-coming riders who were aggressive early on. Road racer Inge van der Heijden (CCC - Liv) and mountain biker Evie Richards (Trek Factory Racing CX) were the early aggressors before Rochette took control in Lap 2 of 6 with a mad dash up the Mt. Krumpit run-up.
Rochette was threatening to ride away from the international field before Jingle Cross mainstay—and Rochette's friend and mentor—Katerina Nash (Clif Pro Team) broke from a chase group on the Mt. Krumpit climbs to start reeling Rochette back in.
In Lap 4 of 6, Nash caught Rochette at Pit 1 and then Clara Honsinger (Team S&M CX) continued her breakout September by bridging up to the two leaders at the base of the Mt. Krumpit run-up. It was now a battle of three with just two laps to go.
Each lap, Rochette was the swiftest of foot on the Mt. Krumpit run-up. In Lap 5, she again had the quickest feet up the steep run up the Mt. Krumpit hill. When she crested the climb, she had a gap on Nash and a trailing Honsinger. Rochette went to the well again and attacked as she powered up the climb on the backside of Mt. Krumpit.
As she crossed the line with the bell, Rochette had an 11-second advantage on Nash. One lap stood between Rochette and her World Cup dream.
As Rochette turned her cranks over on the final climb up the backside of Mt. Krumpit, Nash was getting visibly closer to catching Rochette. The Canadian, however, reached the top of the Krumpit climb with a lead and stayed perfect on the switchback descent to handle the biggest challenge facing her in the last half lap.
Once she was clear of the Alpine Slide climb, Rochette was home free to ride to the finish, knowing she was about to accomplish her World Cup dream.
"It's funny because I dreamt about it for so long, and I truly believed it could happen because I think you need to believe in it," Rochette said about her win. "That's what allows you to come back and show up and mess up and come back and come back. But now that it's happened, I can't really wrap my head around it. It's a really cool feeling. I think it will take a little bit of time before I actually process it."
Three Off the Front
Heading into Saturday's Jingle Cross World Cup, there was a healthy amount of uncertainty surrounding the Elite Women's race.
Young Euros such as Evie Richards and Inge van der Heijden were in the U.S., Katie Compton (KFC Racing p/b Trek Knight) and Katerina Nash (Clif Pro Team) had not raced yet this year, while Maghalie Rochette and Clara Honsinger were hoping to repeat their Rochester magic. Add in last year's winner Kaitie Keough (Cannondale p/b CyclocrossWorld), and it was clear the race would have to be decided on the course at the Johnson County Fairgrounds.
One rider who wasted little time making her presence known was defending U23 World Champion Van der Heijden. The young Dutch rider took the holeshot and then led the field up the charge up the Mt. Krumpit run-up. After starting in around fifth position, Rochette started to power forward down the first descent of Mt. Krumpit, but she went OTB in the sand pit and dropped back from second position.
Van der Heijden held her lead until Richards put her mountain bike skills on full display. The 2-time U23 world champ took the inside line on Van der Heijden on one of the steep switchbacks, drawing cheers from the crowd assembled below to watch the feature. Richards aced the rest of the descent, while Van der Heijden's trepidation slowed up the other riders behind her.
As the first lap drew to a close, Van der Heijden reeled Richards back in, and Rochette recovered from her earlier digger in the sand to bridge back up to join the other two on the long start/finish straight. One lap in, it was a group of three at the front.
Back at home in Ste-Adele, Quebec, Rochette named a ski hill near her home "Mt. Krumpit" and spent the summer running up the hill to prepare for the off-the-bike situations she would face in Europe and at Jingle Cross. Rochette's summer of suffering paid off, as she—perhaps aided by a little bit of over-enthusiasm—dashed away from her two competitors on the Krumpit run-up.
With a lead, Rochette decided to go for it. She stayed full gas up the backside Mt. Krumpit climb and kept the pressure on through the flats. Remembering the previous lap, Richards moved in front of Van der Heijden to get a clean look at the descent. Two laps into the 6-lap race, Rochette had a 12-second lead on Richards.
Van der Heijden was 16 seconds back, and then Maud Kaptheijns (Pauwels Sauzen - Bingoal), Jenn Jackson (Easton - Giant p/b Transitions LifeCare) and Nash chased behind her. At the start of Lap 3, Honsinger joined the chasers in bridging up to Richards and Van der Heijden. The chase was now six.
The sand pit got Rochette in Lap 1, and it again confounded her in Lap 3. Moving from right to left, she got stuck and had to dismount and run half the feature. Her mistake, coupled with an inspired effort from Nash on the backside climb took a big chunk out of Rochette's advantage. As the riders hit the midway point of the race, Rochette clung to a 3-second lead on Nash, who in turn led Honsinger by 3 seconds. Richards, Van der Heijden and Kaptheijns sat 14 seconds behind the leader.
A Battle Among Friends
Katerina Nash has been a long-time mentor and friend to Rochette dating back to the Canadian's Clif Pro Team days, and Rochette and Honsinger have become friends as two of the young stars in American cyclocross.
At the start of Lap 4, the friends became competitors for a World Cup win. Nash bridging up to Rochette at Pit 1, and then Honsinger joined them at the bottom of the Mt. Krumpit run-up.
Rochette again got a gap on the run-up, and this lap went straight to the left line in the sand and rode the feature cleanly. Honsinger used a little bit of homework to make a move into second and then first.
"I saw the men ride [the right side] on the live feed, and I was like, 'Hmmm, maybe I should give this a try,'" Honsinger said after the race. "The first time I hit it was mostly a decision of where the most traffic was, and then I find overall, you had such a faster lead into it. You would shoot about halfway through it even though it was probably a little bit deeper."
Although Honsinger was unable to follow Rochette's massive moves at Rochester, she did outduel Keough on Day 1 and go solo from the chase on Day 2, so she entered Saturday's race with a good gauge of where her legs could carry her.
One upshot of Honsinger's aggression was the lead trip extended their lead on the Euro chase. With the penultimate lap awaiting, Honsinger, Rochette and Nash held a 21-second advantage on Kaptheijns, Van der Heijden and Richards.
"You really feel really good going up that hill, and then you go down a little bit and you're like 'Okay, I'm feeling it.' But every time we went up it, I felt like I still had something to give," Honsinger said about her big move.
With two laps to go, the three riders in the lead group approached the finish from different places.
Nash has been a mainstay at Jingle Cross. She won the World Cup in 2017 and outdueled Rochette in the C1 last year. During the post-race press conference, she harkened back to memories of snow and sleet during the race's November and January days.
For Rochette or Honsinger, a win at Jingle Cross would be the biggest result of their young careers.
Honsinger headed to Iowa City looking for some redemption on the challenging course after a disappointing result in the U23 race in 2018, and the race marked her first World Cup as an Elite.
"I had my eyes set on redemption today," Honsinger said. "Last year, it was pretty much chaos and I definitely succumbed to it. It felt so much smoother today, and it just came together."
Rochette had the event circled with the brightest of red markers as a goal, and no Canadian cyclocross rider had ever finished on a World Cup podium, much less won a race.
In Lap 5, Rochette sat in while Honsinger led the trio into the Mt. Krumpit run-up, but when the riders dismounted and shouldered their bikes, Rochette again called on her sweaty summer days running up La Montagne Krumpit in her hometown and opened up a gap on the run-up and following descent.
With a few seconds on Nash, Rochette went all-in. She exploded up the climb and opened up a gap pushing 15 seconds at the top of the switchback descent. Nash distanced Honsinger on the backside climb and started to close in on Rochette. When Rochette powered down the long Jingle Cross start/finish straight, an 11-second lead stood between her and a World Cup dream come true.
"I let her lead into the Mt. Krumpit run-up. I was following her, and then I realized I could run faster," Rochette said. "Again, I didn't really control myself, but I realized I could run faster. I was like, 'I'm going." And I went again. Then after that, I really punched it the other time up Mt. Krumpit. I went full gas and made a little gap."
When the former teammates hit the climb up the backside of Mt. Krumpit, it was clear Nash was starting to erase Rochette's lead. Eleven seconds was down to maybe 6 seconds or so.
Rochette and Nash go way back, and in fact, one could argue Nash has taught Rochette a lot of what she knows about cyclocross. Since Nash has accomplished so much in her impressive cycling career, would the Czech cum American dial it back and let Rochette have her moment?
What kind of mentor would Nash be if she did not push her protégé to the last corner of the course?
"I tried my best to catch her. I wasn't going to give it to her for free, and she wouldn't want it any other way. So it was good until the end," Nash said.
Rochette expanded on what Nash said. "She told me, 'If you're going to beat me, you're going to have to beat me. I'm never going to give that one to you.' I appreciate that. I wouldn't want it any other way. You have to earn it. "
When Rochette rode the Alpine Slide climb, the last technical feature on the course, her victory was secure. Not leaving anything to chance, she accelerated down most of the finishing straight before taking a moment to soak in the moment and let the emotion of a World Cup dream come true hit her with full force.
"I told you I dreamed about that moment for a long time, and I'll say this, my goal was to be on a World Cup podium because a goal is something you can control. My dream was to be on the podium with Katerina. It was a dream," Rochette said. "I say dream because it's not really something I can control. I control what I do, but I can't control what she's doing. But it happened. I'm just so grateful she was really an open book for me all these years. She really taught me a lot. Being on a podium with her was incredible."
"The emotion also came from the fact [my partner] David was there. We train every day and invest our lives in the sport. I was emotion from the support of all my partners, my family, my sister and just all the hard work and years that went into this. It was overwhelming but in such a good way."
Nash followed in a close second.
"It was a big opener for me. I haven't done a cyclocross race for a while or a short effort as far as racing leading up this," Nash said. "I felt good. I love racing Jingle Cross. There's something about the course, the crowd, the community, it's always special to be here."
Honsinger wrapped up her impressive day with a third-place finish and a bit of redemption after last year's disappointing result in Iowa City.
For more from the race, see the photo gallery and results below.