With a lap and a half to go in Friday's Masters Women 50-54 race, Seattle local Julie Robertson Zivin (Thrive) was in a dream spot. Racing in front of family and friends at Lakewood Nationals, she had a lead of over 30 seconds and appeared headed to a last lap where she could enjoy her impending national championship.
Cyclocross, as we all know, is rarely that simple.
Even after crashing on the second descent in the penultimate lap, Robertson Zivin still carried a 22-second advantage on Libbey Sheldon (CX Hairs Devo / Trek Bikes) into the bell lap. With Sheldon charging hard after an early flat, Robertson Zivin perhaps started thinking about the challenging descents a bit too much.
She crashed on the first descent chute in the bell lap and scrambled to sort things out. Renewed by the race leader coming into sights, Sheldon kept the pressure on and pulled to within about 8 seconds at the sand pit.
Robertson Zivin gave every last bit of effort she had and even found the slightest bit of the finishing straight to enjoy her accomplishment.
"Until I turned around with like 50 feet to go, I was not going to stop," Robertson Zivin said. "Then I did turn around because I could hear them saying something, and then I wanted to savor the moment going over the line where I could."
Ride to the Finish
Friday's Masters Women 50-54 race kicked off with former Masters world champion Libbey Sheldon taking the holeshot and making her bid for the Masters national championship that has remained frustratingly elusive for her.
Sheldon stayed on the attack and led the first charge up the run-up.
When she returned to the lower part of the course, she had a small advantage on Tracy Yates (Feedback Sports Racing), who in turn led Robertson Zivin, Anne Fleming (Emde Sports / SOC) and Erica Wescott (Deschutes Brewery Cycling Team).
When the leaders looped back to the second run-up, last year's 3-4-5 finishers Sheldon, Yates and Robertson Zivin were the first to the steep, muddy wall. At the top, Robertson Zivin took advantage of her climbing and sped up the long climb to the top of the orchard section. Yates joined her off the front, while Sheldon scrambled to recover from a flat tire.
Robertson Zivin got a small gap on Yates, and one lap into the 4-lap race, she led by 4 seconds. Wescott chased 15 seconds and Sheldon and Fleming sat 22 seconds back.
At the start of the second lap, Robertson Zivin made her move on the first run-up. She dropped Yates and opened up a big gap on the chasers. Her lead extended to 24 seconds at the 2nd run-up, while 6 women gave chase together up the climb.
Two laps into the race, Robertson Zivin had a 31-second advantage. Sheldon moved to second to take up the chase, and Wescott was closed behind in third.
For the next half lap, things stayed the same, with Robertson Zivin maintaining her big lead and Sheldon doing her best to chip away at it bit by bit. Then, Robertson Zivin caught herself thinking a bit too much about the second slick, rutted descent chute.
"I think I was just getting nervous, and so I was like 'Oh my gosh, oh my gosh, don't screw up,'" Robertson Zivin said. "Then I started screwing up. On the downhills, I got tentative and put my foot down and fell on the second descent in the second to last lap. That's when those guys got a bigger gap because I had to turn my bike around, run down and get back on and try not to freak out."
Despite the crash, the local hero still had a 22-second lead on Sheldon. Of course, there were still those two descent chutes to think about.
On the first drop of the last lap, Robertson Zivin got held up and had to run out the bottom part of the feature. The hesitation allowed Sheldon to continue to close the gap.
As she did earlier in the race, Robertson Zivin did find some solace in the picturesque orchard section after the second run-up. "That last lap, I tried to dig in on the uphill because I knew that was an advantage, and I thought it would help me relax and not screw up on the downhill again," she said.
After the orchard section, the lead was cut in half, with Sheldon chasing just 11 seconds with half a lap left to go. Sheldon stayed on the attack, and the gap continued to shrink as the bell lap wound to a close. At the sand pit, she was within about 8 seconds.
Robertson Zivin went all-in and found every ounce of energy she had to close the race and get to the line first.
"Barreling down that last lap, it was super stressful, but I knew I had legs left and had to try to relax and hope it didn't come down to a sprint. I was hoping to get onto the pavement with enough of a gap to not have to sprint because I don't what Libby is like in a sprint. She beat me by a big margin at Marathon Mountain Bike Nationals, so I was pretty petrified of her competition today."
Robertson Zivin held on to get the win and win the Stars-and-Stripes jersey.
Sheldon wrapped up what proved to be a valiant effort with a silver medal. Fleming finished third, Wescott took fourth and Katrina Dowidchuk (Colavita - Whole Foods Market) completed the wide-angle podium.
For more from the Masters Women 50-54 race, see the winner interview, photo gallery and results below.
Julie Robertson Zivin: Masters Women 50-54 Winner Interview