Laura Van Gilder (Van Dessel Factory Team) is one of the most successful cyclists in U.S. history. However, that doesn’t mean she doesn’t feel a little pressure now and then.
Van Gilder hit the start line of the Women’s Masters 55-59 race wearing the rainbow stripes she earned at Masters Worlds two weeks ago. Wearing the coveted jersey, she felt like she had to perform on Thursday.
“There was a lot of pressure, of course, representing the World Champion’s jersey,” Van Gilder said. “I felt a little more pressure than usual and of course everyone was gunning for me.”
If Van Gilder was feeling an extra burden, she did not show it from the start of the race. Van Gilder grabbed the holeshot and led the field out onto the course. After the sandpit, she already had a gap. When she reached the off-camber, her advantage was already pushing 10 seconds.
Van Gilder held a 26-second lead after the first lap. She was near perfect the rest of the way, crushing the climbs and dialing in the descents that had tacked up since Thursday’s racing.
The Nationals win was the second of her career after taking her first in Hartford two years ago.
A Legendary Afternoon
Laura Van Gilder has won a lot of bike races in her career, including a Masters National Championship in Hartford in 2017. Despite her success, donning her new Masters World Champion’s kit at the start line, Van Gilder said she was feeling a little bit of pressure on Thursday.
“Coming here today, I felt like I had to do a world-class ride,” she said.
When the starting light turned green, Van Gilder was very much in her element. She took the holeshot and led the 20+ woman field out onto the course at Joe Creason Park. Van Gilder stayed in the lead through the upper part of the course and already had a gap when she dropped into the bowl for the first time.
“[Starting fast] was my plan today. I’m not always successful with that, so sometimes I have to thread my way through some traffic,” Van Gilder said. “On this course, that wouldn’t have been ideal with some of the features that came up right away.”
Van Gilder held a several-second advantage at the off-camber and stairs and then continued to open it up even more after dropping down the chicane descent. At the end of the first lap, Van Gilder’s lead was 26 seconds.
Chasing behind Van Gilder was Lori LeClair Cooke (Sea Sports Cyclery and Outfitters), who quickly jumped into solo second midway through the first lap. Chasing behind her was a group of three that included Marit Sheffield (Park Ave. Bike Shop), Gerry Schulze (Team Hungry) and Susan McDonough (BMB Racing).
“I felt like once I took control I felt a lot more confident and could choose my lines and not have to worry about traffic or being forced into a position that wasn’t comfortable,” she said.
With the course tacking up after Thursday’s messy conditions, Van Gilder put on a cyclocross clinic for the next 30 minutes. Her slowest of four laps was 10 seconds faster than the next best lap of the race.
“The course definitely tacked up a lot more than yesterday, which was favorable to me. I felt like I could really pick my lines and power through,” Van Gilder said about the win.
The victory was the second of her Masters cyclocross career after winning the 50-54 title in Hartford in 2017.
LeClair Cooke was not challenged for the last three laps and took home the silver medal.
The race to watch was the battle between Schulze, Sheffield and McDonough. The three jockeyed for position for two laps, and at the bell, Sheffield and Schulze were together racing for third. Schulze got a small gap at the end of the bell lap and held it to take third.
For more from the race, see the winner interview, photos and results below.
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Laura Van Gilder: Winner Interview
Photo Gallery: Women’s Masters 55-59 National Championships