Lakewood's Fort Steilacoom Park has been hosting cyclocross races for several decades now, and it is a venue that has a bit of a reputation thanks to its steep run-ups. California's Jonathan Baker (Touchstone Racing) raced at the venue back in the day, and with Nationals on the West Coast, he wanted to be ready to vie for the Masters Men 45-49 National Championship.
"Steilacoom, I raced here back in the aughts was I was an Elite, and it was known for the monster run-up, so I knew I was going to have to put in the work there," he said.
The infamous Knapp-Time run-up was not part of this year's Lakewood Nationals course, but there were still two steep run-ups challenging riders in Thursday's races. Running would no doubt play a role in the outcome of the Masters Men 45-49 race.
A fast start by another Californian in Justin Robinson (Santa Cruz Free Agent) forced riders to stick with the pace or get left behind. One lap into the race, Robinson was joined at the front by Baker, local favorite Ian Tubbs (Audi) and Justin Morgan.
With conditions turned increasingly slicker by afternoon rains, there was no time to let others dictate the pace. Baker charged up the first run-up in the second lap and quickly found himself with a small gap. He rolled with it and soon found himself with a much bigger gap.
Baker would not look back the rest of the way to take a well-earned Masters Men 45-49 Stars-and-Stripes jersey.
"I felt great on the runs. I'm not a runner, but I put in a ton of work on running knowing this course. To feel good on the runs was just amazing," Baker said about his win.
Putting in the Work
Thursday's Championship racing wrapped up with the Masters Men 45-49 race. Defending champ Adam Myerson (Cycle-Smart), Justin Robinson, local Washington favorite Ian Tubbs, Jonathan Baker, Justin Morgan and Matt Davies (Full Cycle Cyclocross Team) were among the riders adding considerable firepower to the day's final race.
It was another rider in Eric Anderson (Trek / BGI) grabbing the holeshot before NorCal's Robinson took over at the front. The man known as Big and Burly raced down the first drop and set a fast pace off the front of the lead group. Behind him, Baker, Tubbs, Davies and Morgan gave chase while Myerson tail gunned a few bike lengths off the group.
Robinson's early move came back at the second run-up, but he still helped lead the way, and one lap into the race, it was Robinson, Baker, Tubbs and Morgan off the front, with Davies giving chase 10 seconds back.
By the time the Masters Men 45-49 racers took the course, a day's worth of racing on a damp course had helped turn the course slick and the descents rutted. Even though there were four riders at the front, riders were still facing down the course as much as their competitors.
Feeling strong, Baker ripped it up the first run-up of the second lap, and at the top, he found himself with a gap on the other three riders. A rider with a lot of experience, Baker did what one does with a gap.
"I punched it on Lap 2 on that first run-up and got a gap. I was like, 'You know, there's no drafting, just go from the front.'"
Baker's reward was a baker's dozen worth of a lead at the end of the second of five laps. Behind him, Tubbs and Robinson gave chase.
Once in the lead, Baker left nothing to chance, drilling it where possible while staying as smooth as possible. He expanded his lead in the third and fourth laps and led by nearly a minute at the bell.
"If you starting going too far into the red, you'll start making mistakes. You have to feather it," he explained. "Go hard, but don't get so hypoxic you lose it completely. There were so many slick corners out there, it was all about steering the bike and then putting down the power when you could."
Baker rode a clean final lap to take the win.
The chase for second featured an eventful battle between Tubbs and Robinson. Tubbs was stretching Robinson early in Lap 3, but he crashed at the top of the second descent, allowing Robinson a 12-second cushion with 2 laps to go. In the next lap, the two kept a similar gap, with Tubbs chasing 8 seconds at the bell.
Tubbs rode a strong final lap, but Robinson held him off to take the silver medal. Fan-favorite Tubbs finished third. Ken Hammond (PAA Cycling) rode a strong second half of the race to finish fourth and Morgan grabbed the last spot on the wide-angle podium.
For more from the Masters Men 45-49 race, see the winner interview, photo gallery and results below.
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Jonathan Baker: Masters Men 45-49 Winner Interview