Since kicking off his career as a Masters cyclocross racer at Reno Nationals, Jake Wells (FORM p/b IRC Tires) has been a regular in the Stars-and-Stripes. With two Masters 40-44 wins and two Singlespeed wins at Reno and Louisville Nationals, he won a total of four jerseys in one calendar year.
The calendar, however, has turned to 2019, and Wells is now a marked man among his Masters 40-44 cohort. A number of riders, including Molly Cameron (Point S Auto p/b Nokian Tyres) and Weston Schempf (SEAVS/Haymarket) hit the line at Fort Steilacoom Park early Thursday afternoon looking to knock him off.
The first run-up helped split a group of five or six riders off, and by the end of the first lap, Cameron emerged as the rider to challenge Wells' Masters supremacy. The duo had a 10-second gap on their chasers one lap into the race.
Wells kept the pressure on, and at the second run-up of Lap 2, he made his bid for a decisive move. Wells sprinted up the steep, muddy incline and accelerated after hopping back on his bike. Wells' move earned him an 8-second advantage after dropping back to the bottom part of the course.
From there, Wells would hold Cameron at bay and complete the five-lap race in championship form to win his third-straight Masters 40-44 Cyclocross National Championship.
"My legs were cramping up with two to go, so I was definitely looking over my shoulder," Wells admitted. "I know Molly had some issues earlier this year with a crash, some hip issue, so I wasn’t sure where her fitness was going to be. It's always fun to race her and Wes."
Run, Jake Run
Weston Schempf kicked off the first race of Thursday's afternoon session by grabbing the holeshot and leading the charge to the first run-up. With a large field of talented riders, getting to the run-up and ensuing descent first created a sense of urgency among the first few rows of riders.
After Schempf's hot start, Jake Wells stepped up and led the way up the run-up and down the increasingly rutted descent. Joining him at the front was a train of riders that included Molly Cameron, Schempf, Brian Bressler (HardentheHUPUp.com) and Gabriel Linn (Mettle Cycling).
"The first run-up is really early in the lap, and I think that was enough to get a little bit of separation at the top," Wells said. "It seemed like there were five of us pretty quick. Right after that, it’s a big, technical descent, so I wanted to be toward the front of that just so I didn’t get tangled up on that descent."
Wells opened up a small advantage on the flats before the second run-up and carried that advantage into the climb on foot and then bike. Cameron answered the call of Wells' fast pace and broke from the chasers to make it a two-up battle at the front entering the last third of the first lap. Crossing the line, Wells had a few bike lengths on Cameron, while a chase group of 3 sat 10 seconds back.
Cameron stuck with Wells up the first run-up of Lap 2, and behind them, Schempf and Bressler broke into a 2-person chase. On the flats, Wells kept the pressure on, showing he did not yet want to settle in during the 50-minute race.
Last year in the thick slop of Louisville Nationals and earlier this year during his bonkers 50-kilometer run the day before the Land Run 100, Wells showed he excels on foot and on the bike. Although the runs were shorter at Lakewood Nationals, they were still long enough to make a difference on Thursday.
Wells sprinted up the 2nd run-up in Lap 2 and earned a 4-second advantage when remounting his bike. With more climbing to the top of the orchard section, he pressed his advantage. The result was an 8-second advantage by the time he dropped back down to the lower part of the course.
"It seemed like on the run, I was getting a little bit of a gap there," Wells said. "It was comfortable for me, so I wasn’t really having to attack in the run, I could just run at my tempo. Especially at the second run-up. Once you get to the top its kind of this false flat, grassy orchard area at the top. I could kind of get on the gas there and it would stretch out."
At the end of the 2nd lap, Wells had a 9-second lead on Cameron. In the 3rd lap, he extended his lead out to 19 seconds. It seemed a comfortable lead, but with the descents getting increasingly rutted and on-and-off precipitation making the course slicker, nothing was decided.
Despite the onset of some cramps, Wells held his advantage the rest of the way to take the win. In true Masters racer fashion, he rode one of those laps on his singlespeed bike he will be putting into action on Saturday afternoon.
"Instead of traveling with a fourth bike, I just brought one geared bike and just used the singlespeed as my pit bike," he explained. "For this course, it's not much of a penalty. You can ride a pretty heavy gear and when it goes uphill you’re off and running anyway."
Cameron wrapped up a strong second and Schempf took third. Seth Patla (PDX TI p/b Elevator Coffee) and Linn completed the wide-angle podium.
For more from the Masters 40-44 Men's race, see the winner interview, photo gallery and results below.
Jake Wells: Masters 40-44 Men Winner Interview