Last year, Colorado's Madigan Munro (Boulder Junior Cycling) put her name on the U.S. cyclocross map with a 4th-place ride in the combined Junior/U23 Women's field at Louisville Nationals.
On Sunday, Munro took the line at Lakewood Nationals at the first-ever dedicated Junior Women's title race at Nationals. As the Pan-American Champion and a rider who has scored top UCI finishes this season, she did so as the prohibitive favorite.
If there was any extra pressure from those expectations, Munro certainly did not show it.
Sunday's second race started with the 2-time defending Junior 15-16 National Champion Lauren Zoerner (Alpha Bicycle - Groove Subaru) leading the field out onto the grass on the damp Pacific Northwest morning.
After Zoerner led the field to the first run-up, Lizzy Gunsalus (Cannondale p/b CyclocrossWorld Devo) stepped up and took over the lead spot. Munro quickly grabbed her wheel and the two took the first drop together. Cassidy Hickey and Kaia Schmid (New England Devo p/b Cadence Wealth Management) led the early chase.
"It's a really good feeling [to be the favorite], my teammates are super encouraging and positive," Munro said. "I think it was just a really fun day. I was pretty nervous at the start but once I started racing it felt good to just be on the bike and do what I love."
After reaching the bottom, Munro made a pass of Gunsalus and accelerated toward the flats. Gunsalus scrambled to keep up with the Pan-Am Champ's pace, and by the time the two reached the 2nd run-up, Munro had already opened up a sizeable gap on Gunsalus. She would not look back from there.
"I think after we got up that first run-up I kind of got in my groove," Munro said.
Munro's lead grew to 41 seconds 1 lap into the race. Gunsalus chased in second, and Schmid and Thompson sat 54 seconds back.
Munro's lead continued to grow in Laps 2 and 3 as she calmy and cooly mastered the Fort Steilacoom course. Her lead was 1:28 after Lap 2 and 2:07 at the bell. In the second lap, Thompson passed Gunsalus on the orchard section up top and moved into second at the end of the second lap. Well back from the top three, Meredith Sierpina, Schmid and Zoerner gave chase.
In the third of four laps, Munro extended her lead to over 2 minutes, while her teammate Thompson took over solo second. Gunsalus chased in third.
Munro rolled cleanly the rest of the way to take her first cyclocross National Championship and the first-ever in a dedicated Junior Women's race.
"It's super exciting. I'm really proud and happy to be able to have raced here," Munro said. "It was a super fun race. It was challenging and it was fun, so I'm really excited."
Thompson survived a late scare when she crashed on the final UCI-only descent, but she held on to take second. Gunsalus finished third. Hickey and Zoerner wrapped up the wide-angle podium.
For more from the Junior Women 17-18 race, see the winner interview, photo gallery and results below.
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Madigan Munro: Junior Women Winner Interview