On Friday, Jake Wells (FORM Attainment Studio p/b IRC) needed some last-lap magic to defend his Masters 40-44 national championship on Friday, after entering the final lap chasing Molly Cameron.
If Wells wanted to do the same with his Singlespeed Stars-and-Stripes on Saturday, he would have to find some of that last-lap magic for a second straight day. With the mud turning every square inch of the Joe Creason course into an amorphous blob, the comeback would be easier said than done.
After a slow start that found him 43 seconds behind the leader halfway into the four-lap race, Wells found his footing and turned it up in Lap 3. At the bell, he still trailed leader Justin Robinson by 18 seconds as he pulled through the finishing straight alongside Josh Whitney (Full Cycle Cyclocross Team).
In the upper part of the last lap, Wells closed a good chunk of the gap. He continued his surge to the front and made the catch at the off-camber. His comeback to the front was complete, but he still needed to out-ride—or, mostly out-run—Robinson and Whitney.
Wells took the lead by running most of the chicane downhill and then opened up a gap by running the section heading toward the second climb. It was in this section that he pulled away from Molly Cameron on Friday, and he did the same to Robinson and Whitney on Saturday.
Wells completed his two-for-two weekend with another impressive comeback.
"I would much rather be off the front with the gap and hope not to mess it up, but this is pretty rewarding when you catch everybody and you’re able to pull it off in the end," Wells said about the win. "It’s super-rewarding. Sometimes things come together and sometimes they don’t. I’ve been on the receiving end and this end as well."
The Comeback Beard
As has become the norm at Nationals, the Singlespeed field was loaded with an impressive array of talent. Not surprisingly, especially given the sloppy conditions, the race quickly turned into a fight.
Saturday's fast starter was Max Judelson, who took a quick early lead heading into the bowl. When the rider in second wheel slid out on the descent, he extended his lead even further.
As the front of the race hit the second and third climbs, only fellow Northern Californian Justin Robinson was able to bridge up to Judelson. The two carried a sizable lead through the climb to Pit 2 with Molly Cameron (Point S Nokian), Corey Stelljes (Neff Cycle Service) and Whitney heading up the chase.
Noticeably missing from the front was defending champion Wells. "Even from the start, as soon as we got into the mud my gear was popping and slipping a little bit," Wells said. "I couldn’t put any power down when I was on that bike, especially up here on the upper deck. I had a good start but just went backward."
Judelson carried a three-second lead through the start/finish and powered back for Lap 2. Wells sat 39 seconds off the lead.
Judelson continued his surge into Lap 2 and came ripping down the descent with a nearly 10-second advantage on Robinson. The other riders strung out at similar intervals, with Stelljes leading the way in the chase.
In the second half of Lap 2, Robinson bridged up to Judelson to join him at the front once again.
Judelson and Robinson entered the descent together once again, but this time, Judelson slid out on the slick off-camber-ish drop. Robinson got an advantage and pressed it. At the climb out of the bowl, Judelson dropped back closer to Whitney and Cameron than the leader Robinson.
Robinson Soft Pedals Into the Lead
Justin Robinson raced the UCI Cyclocross World Championships as a junior, and every time he lines up for a National Championship he's a contender. "I just love the sport," Robinson told Cyclocross Magazine. "I've never tried to make money doing it. It's always been a passion. It keeps the passion alive."
On Friday, in the Masters 40-44 race, Robinson had a front row start and finished eighth after a spectacular crash.
On Saturday, he was looking to improve on that result, but found himself with a new challenge: skipping gears, and no pit bike.
"From the starting pedal stroke, I couldn't put any power to the pedal, my chain was skipping, so I had to soft-pedal every pedaling part of the race," Robinson explained. Some how, his soft-pedaling ended up getting him to the front to share the lead with Judleson.
Meanwhile, Wells was slowly but surely closing the gap up to the chase.
"There was so much running on that lower section that I was able to get into a groove and get my legs moving pretty quick," Wells said. "I was able to bring people back. Mostly on the run, just on the hills, I kept picking them off one by one."
On the run up to Pit 2, Wells finally made the catch of the chase and split it up. At the bell, Robinson held an 18-second advantage with Wells and Whitney giving chase. Both Wells and Whitney had some work to do if they wanted to become a comeback beard.
After his struggles on the upper deck earlier in the race, Wells crushed the section in the bell lap. While Robinson nursed his skipping gear, Wells closed the gap. The two tightened the gap and descended into the bowl.
"I descended pit one, caught Josh right before he got to where you’re running and was able to get past him going up the climb," Wells said. "I caught up to Justin right at the top of the limestone stairs. Then it was all three of us coming in together into that lower part."
Yesterday, Wells was unstoppable from the limestone steps to the last climb to Pit 2. On Saturday, he did it again.
With almost all of the bowl, including the chicane descent turned into a run, Wells used his running ability to get the lead on the descent and then extend it heading to the second climb. With just the last run up to Pit 2 left, Wells seemed to have the race in control.
He completed his rise to the top to become the Comeback Beard for the second day in a row.
"To come here and win yesterday was everything I was hoping for," Wells said. "To be able to defend two days in a row is super special. I’m very excited to be able to represent the jersey again next year."
Whitney outran Robinson at the end of the race to take second. "It was the hardest day I’ve ever had on the bike," Whitney said about the race.
Robinson finished third but was upbeat. "Usually I do [running training], this year I did zero," Robinson revealed. "I wish I had. I would have some more kick in my legs."
For more from the race, see the interviews, photo gallery and report below.
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Jake Wells: Winner Interview
Josh Whitney: Men's Singlespeed 2nd
Justin Robinson: Third Place