Throughout its existence, Jingle Cross has been known for its weird weather. Whether it be cold, cold and snowy and now hot and really hot, the event in Iowa City seems to bring out the Midwest's mercurial when it comes to the weather.
On Sunday, hot, humid and muggy conditions were on tap. Overnight storms gave way to late-summer heat as the late afternoon approached, leaving riders with challenging conditions for Sunday's Elite Women's C1.
Racing in the heat is always a wild card, but Saturday's World Cup winner Maghalie Rochette (Specialized / Feedback Sports) also had to deal with a new factor—avoiding a letdown after the emotional high of achieving a dream result just a day earlier.
Any concerns Rochette had about a letdown were quickly put at ease. The front of Sunday's race took on a similar shape to Saturday's World Cup, with Evie Richards (Trek Factory Racing CX) and Katerina Nash (Clif Pro Team) pushing the pace early to create an early split. Rochette avoided some argy-bargy spots in the first lap and joined the aggressors along with young Anna Kay (Experza Pro CX) of Great Britain.
The 4 riders largely stayed together for the first 2/3 of the 5-lap race thanks in large part to avoid burning up, quite literally, with an ill-timed attack. Rochette changed that inside the penultimate lap when she charged into the two-tiered mud pit formerly known as the Holly Jolly Hellhole—for real, that's what race organizers called it before this year.
Rochette's move gave her a small gap on Nash and Richards, who now had to go into chase mode. As she did on Saturday, Nash took up lead chase duties, but her best effort was again not enough to catch Rochette.
The win was Rochette's 4th in 4 races for the 2019/20 season.
"It was very different [today]. I actually struggled with being amped for today's race," Rochette admitted after the race. "I was on such a high yesterday with a lot of adrenaline, but it kind of started to slow down today. I really wanted to give my best today, even if I wasn't feeling it at first. I think I owe it to the organizers and my competitors to bring my best to the races I enter, so I really gave it my all. In the end, I'm super pleased and a lot happier than if I hadn't done that."
The Heat is On in Iowa
In 2016, Jingle Cross was blazing hot. In 2017, Jingle Cross was again blazing hot. Not to be undone, 2019 brought some heat to end the weekend of racing and added some humidity that hung thick in the Sunday afternoon air.
With organizers opting to run it back on the World Cup course Sunday, riders faced a challenging afternoon of running up Mt. Krumpit and riding up the long climb on the backside of the course.
"Today was a lot more like cyclocross. A few more dismounts, remounts, muddy corners. The fun stuff we show up for," Nash said after the race.
Although not a World Cup, the race was a C1, providing a chance for riders who had a tough Saturday to score a bit of redemption and much-coveted UCI points.
Sunday's race started with Kaitie Keough (Cannondale p/b CyclocrossWorld) taking the holeshot and then giving way to one of Saturday's early aggressors, Evie Richards. Katerina Nash had a bit of a slow start on Saturday, but on Sunday she was right up near the front, and she took over the lead spot descending off Mt. Krumpit after the run-up.
After the long climb up Mt. Krumpit through the woods, a break had already been established. With sweltering conditions, riders who missed out on the early move were left in an unenviable spot of having to dig even deeper in the brutal conditions.
The most unexpected member of the lead trip was British U23 rider Anna Kay. Kay, who finished 5th in the U23 World Championships in Bogense, was joined by Nash, Richards and Rochette. Close behind the leaders Katie Clouse (Cannondale p/b CyclocrossWorld), who had a bit of a disappointing 4th-place finish in Saturday's U23 race, was within striking distance.
While Rochette has made a name for herself thus far this season for her blistering early attacks, on Sunday, she opted to place it more conservatively in the oppressive conditions. With no big moves to counter, the next lap largely played to a standstill.
"It was super hot, and I think it's same for everyone, everyone struggles in those conditions," Rochette said. "The pace was different. I think everyone was a bit conservative in the first couple laps, myself included. I didn't want to overheat too quickly."
Early in Lap 3, Nash was trailing a bit heading into the Mt. Krumpit run-up, but on the ensuing climb and descent, she rejoined the rest of the leaders. After the big climb and switchback descents, Kay popped off the group, but she recovered to join the others down the long start/finish straight at the Johnson County Fairgrounds.
Holly Jolly Moves
Nash got a first-hand look at Rochette's aggression on Saturday, so with under two laps remaining, she had to know something would be coming from her Canadian friend and protégé.
The attack came at the start of Lap 4, and the spot Rochette picked out was a muddy pit organizers once called the "Holly Holly Hellhole." For real.
Jingle Cross organizers have long embraced the Christmas theme by naming sections of the course with holiday-appropriate names. The Holly Jolly Hellhole is a two-tiered off-camber that becomes a muddy mess whenever it gets wet. Saturday night's rains helped the section live up to its name.
Rochette took over the lead spot right before the feature and blasted forward through the tricky feature. When she popped out the other side, she had a lead on Nash and the others. When you get a lead that late in the race, you have to attack, and accordingly, Rochette went for it.
"I accelerated before to make sure I was entering it first. I wasn't riding it better than anyone. I was probably riding it worse than everyone else. But being there first, you have a clear path," Rochette said.
As she did on Saturday, Nash took up lead chase duties, but Rochette had the Mt. Krumpit run-up and big climb ahead that played into the strengths on display in Saturday's race. Rochette opened up a sizable gap, while Nash pulled into solo second ahead of Richards.
"I got a little gap, and then afterward was Mt. Krumpit, and I knew I was running that well yesterday, so I just tried to put in a good pace," Rochette said about her move.
In the last lap, Rochette faced a solo pull that was nowhere near as fraught with nerves, uncertainty and sheer effort as the one she had to make to get her first-career World Cup win. Nash gave it her best, but after a big chase on Saturday, Sunday's was that much tougher.
"In my head, I definitely gave it the same effort, but I maybe just didn't have as much as yesterday," Nash said. "Just being fresher going into the first day was better. I was definitely feeling the effort of yesterday today."
On the hot, humid afternoon, it proved to be a fourth-straight holly jolly afternoon of cyclocross racing for the rider who is in the middle of an impressive ascendency to the top of North American cyclocross.
At the Jingle Cross C1 last year, Nash outdueled Rochette for the win. The future is uncertain, but there is a chance Sunday's race represented a passing of the torch for the two friends. It is a passing Nash has been waiting for for some time.
"It's so exciting to see. I've been watching Maghalie improve from year to year, and it's been really fun. I knew this was coming for a long time, and it's been cool to see it come to fruition," Nash said about her friend's success.
Richards wrapped up her first cyclocross weekend with a third-place finish a week after winning the U23 race at the Snowshoe XCO World Cup last weekend.
For more from the race see the photo gallery and results below.