If Wednesday was the day of sprint finishes at the 2019 Lakewood Cyclocross Nationals, Friday was the day of tense final laps. While the Masters Women 45-49 riders were getting ready to take the starting grid, Julie Robertson Zivin was busy wrapping up a tense bell lap caused by a late crash.
She probably did not know it at the time, but Colorado's Melissa Barker (Feedback Sports Racing) would soon have a similar nerve-wracking experience.
Barker started the race strong, taking an early lead after the first run-up. She held her position for the next three trips around the Fort Steilacoom circuit and held an 18-second advantage on former Masters national champion Monica Lloyd (Olympia Orthopaedic Associates) at the bell. Just one lap stood between her and another Stars-and-Stripes jersey.
For a moment in that bell lap, it appeared the cyclocross gods might have other plans. Barker slipped out and crashed on the second chute descent, and while she ran to the bottom, Lloyd quickly closed in on her. With her left brake lever left useless, Barker had about a third of the final lap to finish and hold off the hard-charging Lloyd.
Barker was the first onto the pavement by a small margin, and she had just enough to outlast Lloyd down the finishing stretch to take the win.
"She was right behind me so I had to go as hard as I could to stay in front of her and I did," Barker said. "I was keeping an eye on her in the sprint just waiting until I felt like I had to stand up and pedal a little harder, but I knew I had it."
Two Champs Battle to the End
Friday afternoon's Masters Women 45-49 race had what one might call a "stacked field," with recent Masters national champs Melissa Barker, Monica Lloyd and Kristin Weber (Full Cycle Cross) among the women taking the start line.
It was another rider in Joanne Grogan (BMB Racing) who helped lead the field out onto the fast-rolling course.
One of those former champs in Barker stepped up on the first run-up and quickly got a gap on the rest of the field. When she dropped down the first chute, she already had a 7-second lead on a chase group that included Weber, Bonnie Symes (Campus WheelWorks), Gina Estep (Team Thrive), Kristal Boni and Grogan.
The chase group hit the second run-up together, but on the climb up to the top of the orchard section, Monica Lloyd made a strong move forward after a slow start and took over the chase in solo second. Lloyd kept Barker's lead at 6 seconds after 1 lap, and Estep followed another 9 seconds back in 3rd.
"I was running fast up the hills," Barker said. "I've been training a lot of hills, just knowing these were coming. It really paid off. I think, besides the last lap, I was riding the descents really fast as well."
In the second of four laps, the gaps between the lead three stayed the same for the first half of the lap. Barker and Lloyd were again strong in the upper part of the course, and 2 laps in, Barker led Lloyd by 11 seconds while Lloyd solidified her hold on 2nd.
Lap 3, Barker extended her lead to 18 seconds at the bell. With just one lap to go, it looked like Barker was in control with a solid lead. This is, of course, the part where we remind everyone that anything can indeed happen in cyclocross.
Not much did happen for the first half of the last lap. But then on the second descent that caused Robertson Zivin trouble in the previous race, disaster struck for Barker.
"I felt like I was super strong, holding the gap that I had," Barker said. "I don't even know, I hit something on that last descent and I crashed, my knee is all banged up. I just grabbed my bike and tried to get up and on as quickly as possible."
Barker's crash allowed Lloyd to erase about half of the gap, and when she returned to the lower part of the course, she got that extra burst of energy from seeing the Stars-and-Stripes carrot of Barker within eyesight. As the two wound their way through the corners, past the pits and over the flyover, Lloyd pulled closer and closer. At Pit 2, Barker's lead was down to one-half the length of the pit.
Both riders went all-in, hoping to get to the pavement first. Barker got there with maybe a few seconds and sprinted down the finishing straight with just enough left to hold off Lloyd and take the win.
Estep took third, and Symes and Weber rounded out the wide-angle podium.
For more from the Masters 45-49 race, see the winner interview, photo gallery and results below.
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Melissa Barker: Masters 45-49 Winner Interview