Updated 12/17. They call her Katie Fn Compton for a reason.
After what she called the toughest season of her professional career, there was a sense in the cyclocross world that this could be the year Compton's magical streak of consecutive cyclocross national championships would end.
Early on in the thick, muddy race at Joe Creason Park, Compton reminded everyone just why she is so good at what she does.
After a fast start by the hottest U.S. rider of 2018, Ellen Noble (Trek Factory Racing CX), Compton worked her way to second heading into the first descent. As the two headed up the limestone steps together, it looked like a second 2018 Nationals duel between the master and the apprentice was on the afternoon's schedule.
Then, as Katie Compton often does, she made a baller move on a technical descent. As Noble cautiously cut one of the slick, muddy chicanes on the inside, Compton went out wide and dove into the next corner to take the lead. It was a move reminiscent of the skilled pass she made on Noble earlier this year at Reno Nationals.
"That kind of descent, you can’t be on the front brake," Compton said about the move. "You’ve just got to steer the bike you can back brake into the ruts. Carry your speed the best you can. It’s very fast."
The gutsy move put Compton in the lead. As she powered and ran through the thick Kentucky mud, her first-lap lead on Noble grew. At the end of one lap, Compton's advantage was 17 seconds.
From there, Compton rode and ran to her 15th-straight National Championship.
"It feels really good to be done honestly," Compton admitted after the race. "It feels good to win again. I like wearing the jersey in Europe."
Katie Fn Compton is Back
With rain falling on Friday and Saturday, the course at Joe Creason Park turned into a giant mud pit during those days' amateur racing. After racing on Sunday, riders described the conditions as reminiscent of the 2018 World Championships in Valkenburg.
Katie Compton excelled in the thick, challenging Valkenburg mud, but her health and ability to breathe were a question mark coming into the race. With Noble coming off an impressive domestic campaign and the conditions similar to the mud at Jingle Cross when Kaitie Keough (Cannondale p/b CyclocrossWorld) won the World Cup, fans headed to Joe Creason Park looking for a fight.
As most people who entered our Fantasy Cyclocross contest predicted, Noble took the holeshot and led the field through the first muddy corner. Keough sat second wheel, while Compton trailed outside the top five.
Showing her trademark patience, Compton calmly worked her way to the front on the upper part of the course. Keough, despite her fast start, dropped back, and when the riders took the first plunge down the long off-camber descent, Noble and Compton were at the front. Behind them, Rebecca Fahringer (Kona Maxxis Shimano), Samantha Runnels (Squid Squad) and Keough led the chase.
"This course is so long and I know they’re going to run us close to 50 minutes," Compton said about the start. "I wasn’t stressed. It’s a long race, a lot can happen. I saw her up there, I was like, okay, there’s a little bit of a gap, but it wasn’t something I couldn’t catch as long as I just raced smooth."
Compton and Noble briefly got tangled up at the bottom of the first run-up, and the two headed through the section wheel-to-wheel, or foot-to-foot. Noble led up the limestone steps and toward the chicane descent.
Then came the Katie Fn Compton moment of the race.
Noble led into the chicanes and took the inside on one of the turns. Compton went around to the outside and dove down below Noble to take the lead.
On the second climb, Compton extended her lead by a few seconds. On the final climb up to Pit 2—which was a climb on the bike after the UCI opened up fresh grass for the Elite races—Compton extended her lead even more. After one lap, it was up to 17 seconds.
Behind Compton, Noble led Fahringer by nine seconds, who in turn led Sunny Gilbert (Van Dessel Factory Team) by even more.
Compton Does it Again
With the thick conditions and frequent runs, one lap felt like it took half a race, but there were still four laps left to race.
In the second lap, Compton continued to extend her advantage on Noble. She raced well for the first half the race at Koksijde before the combination of a stomach virus and allergies affected her breathing and dropped her out of contention.
Compton's lead was over a minute halfway into the race, but as the amateur races showed all week, anything can happen in a cyclocross race.
It was during the second lap that a great battle for second shaped up. Early in the second lap, Noble extended her hold on second, but in the second half of the lap in the bowl, Fahringer and Gilbert started to move closer to Noble.
The two charged up the climb just seconds behind Noble and early in the third lap, made the catch. The chase was now a group of three.
The rest of the race, Compton's goal was to stay upright and error-free.
"I didn’t want to dump it in the mud," she said. "I really didn’t feel like getting my hands covered, my whole body covered. It’s one thing to have the bike covered, your feet and shoes, but once you yard sale in the mud it’s hard to collect yourself again."
She accomplished her goal, holding her lead at a minute and a half heading into the last lap. Compton has raced a cyclocross race or two, so she knows that anything can happen in the last lap of a race.
It took until the last few moments of the race for her to finally soak in winning her 15th-straight Nationals in a season where she often doubted the legendary streak would continue.
"It’s pretty emotional today and I couldn’t quite enjoy it until I finished because it’s so easy to make a mistake in this course and lose a 20-second gap real quick," she said about riding at the front. "The focus it required, the strength."
"I’ve had a lot of luck at national championships. I’ve had years where the course and the day just kind of suits me. I’m pretty happy about that"
Running, for Fun
While Compton was off the front, the race to watch was the one for second.
Sunny Gilbert's Twitter handle is @run4funner. As the second half of Sunday's race showed, she really likes running.
Gilbert was a popular choice for a not-Compton/Noble/Keough rider to reach the podium thanks to the large amount of running required on the Joe Creason course.
After the big descent in Lap 3, Gilbert used her long strides to catch up to Noble and Fahringer and then pass them heading up the hill. When she got to the top of the limestone steps, she had picked up 15 seconds on the other two.
"I have a lot of fun in these kinds of conditions," Gilbert said. "I’ve been racing cross country since I was 12, and this was just cross country with bikes today."
Noble regained the lead at the top of the last climb to Pit 2, but Gilbert again retook the lead and carried an eight-second advantage on Noble into the bell lap.
When Gilbert crashed on the descent into the bowl, it looked like her dream ride might be in jeopardy, but she quickly popped back onto her feet and ran up the hill, extending her lead once again.
"I just kept pressing my advantages," Gilbert said about her comeback. "Obviously the running is an advantage, but I was riding really well too. I only went down once. I did a summersault over my bicycle in the last lap. That was keeping it real."
From there, Gilbert rode and ran her way to the best result of her professional cyclocross career with a second-place finish.
Noble held on to take third in the second Elite race of her promising young cyclocross career.
"All of a sudden Compton went away and then next thing I know Sunny is passing me," Noble said. "I'm like 'what the heck are you doing here?' Not only did she pass me but she had the niceness to say 'Lets go Ellen.' I was like that's not the thing to say when I'm completely blowing up. Thats just kind of who Sunny is, she's like really really positive. I'm super happy for her even if I wanted, selfishly, to be in her position."
Fahringer took fourth and Keough finished fifth.
For more from Sunday's Elite Women's race, see the interviews, photo gallery and results below.
Visit our dedicated Louisville Cyclocross Nationals page for all of our 2018 Nationals coverage.
You can purchase race photos from our nightly galleries at cyclocross.zenfolio.com and help support our event coverage.
Katie Compton: Winner Interview
Sunny Gilbert: Second Place