The Big Picture: Major Taylor Cross Cup

Scenes from the second of two muddy days of UCI C2 and junior mens racing near the Major Taylor Velodrome in Indianapolis, Ind.

Major Taylor Cross Cup

“On Sunday the course conditions were similar to Saturday’s muddy mess. The mud was certainly a little heavier and thicker which made the bikes weigh more. The almost freezing temperatures made the water and mud on course much worse. On the first lap I bent my hanger on a post and had to pit. My dad told me that I could no longer come in to the pits because the hanger was too bent, leaving me with a heavy bike all race. Though it wasn’t the end of the world it added up with the cold legs and freezing hands. I was able to have a great battle with Sam Noel and battle it out for a second place on the day.” –Lane Maher

Major Taylor Cross Cup

There’s always a mud pit or puddle somewhere near the pits when pressure washers are going nonstop. But this one was crazy because it was very deep and the riders were either splashing through it right before or after they got their new bikes. Given just how wet everybody was after only half a lap, or even after the holeshot, it probably didn’t seem like a big deal to the riders, but it made for some dramatic photos.

Major Taylor Cross Cup

Jen Malik had a very impressive ride on Sunday. She went down right after the holeshot but managed to gather herself and work her way through the field to end up on the podium.

Major Taylor Cross Cup

Katie Clouse rode to a repeat second place on Sunday. Her Alpha Bicycle Company – Groove Subaru team had a great weekend with Gage Hecht taking the win in the elite mens race on Saturday and a heart-breaking second place on Sunday.

Major Taylor Cross Cup

“Despite the inclement weather and threat of actually not getting to race on Saturday, everyone brought their A-game to the startline. It was all-out from the gun. Everyone was fighting tooth and nail for those precious UCI points during the shortened, 30-minute race — especially with the threat of being pulled in order if lightning struck again. I fought back from 14th in the final lap to end up winning a sprint for 11th, a sprint which all three of us thought was for the final UCI point. I was still really happy with my performance and for not giving up; it’s not often I get to run full-speed through ankle-deep mud, remount and sprint on the pavement with two other strong women.

“Sunday proved to be even more of a running race, which actually played to my strengths. I found myself making up time and passing people as they tried to ride the deep slop. I ran my way into the top 5 on the first half lap! Again, I found myself battling it out for 10th place — and the final UCI point. I was never sure of my exact placing, and positions 8 through 12 seemed to change every lap. Yet I felt confident on the run-up and the descents, and was delighted to end up 10th after Saturday’s disappointing near-miss.

“The result means a lot to me, as Cycling Ireland requires racers to have a top 10 finish in a C2 race — among other requirements — to be considered for the Worlds team. It’s something I’ve been focused on all season.” –Maria Larkin

Major Taylor Cross Cup

The sun came out on Sunday for the elite races but not nearly in time to dry much out. At the end of the day on Saturday, most riders seemed to be anticipating “peanut butter” conditions for Sunday. The hill had dried out sufficiently to make most of Saturday’s unrideable sections passable, but overall the course mostly seemed wetter, if that is possible.

Major Taylor Cross Cup

“After taking the holeshot, someone literally ran by me as soon as we hit the mud in the first corner. The race instantly became a tactical one — when to run, when to ride, how fast to take sloppy corners. Keep it clean, if you can! Add in the cold temps, and these were the most challenging conditions I’ve raced in since last year’s national champs. Kudos to the race coordinators and everyone involved for making it an experience. I did a lot of running — the entire stretch from the first corner to the pit, in fact. It was just faster. I spent most of my pre-race course recon evaluating the off-cambers and hills, which were more rideable on Sunday, and didn’t quite grasp the depth (pun intended) of the mud in the flooded fields at the start. With that element, I think we were all racing ourselves as much as we were racing each other. Glad it’s done!” –Sunny Gilbert

Major Taylor Cross Cup

“My original ambitions for podiums this weekend were dampened when I got sick earlier in the week and had to take a few days off the bike. Sometimes you just have to play the cards you’re dealt! That said, the course combined with the weather over the weekend was impressive. That’s the most flat field-running I’ve ever had to do and having that post-sickness governor on the engine wasn’t the best scenario. Compensating for that misery were the hillside features on the other half of the course that were awesome. In addition to pulling together a 5th on Saturday, I was able to briefly catch up with some of the many great Midwest cyclocross people out there. We flew into Indy for the last 3 trips of UCI racing and they might be the best weekends of the year between events, weather and people.” –Allen Krughoff

Major Taylor Cross Cup

Shortly after the holeshot, this was one of the few spots on the low, flat section of the course that was rideable. Most of this part of the course was in such a condition that once you dismounted, you were off your bike and running for a long time.

Major Taylor Cross Cup

“The races this weekend couldn’t have been better. Great courses, great event, and amazing CX weather! I was really looking forward to this weekend because I’ve finally felt like I’ve started to find my groove this year. With three races spread across the country, the competition was bound to be spread a little thin at each with a great opportunity to snag some points (which I am in desperate need of, ha!), so I wanted to make sure I was on good form.

“Anyway, with the start of the first day I honestly didn’t know what to expect. I have had a year full of mechanicals and mishaps, and with a clean start I found myself in the top three. Sometimes I find myself getting a bit too excited for an opportunity like this, but I knew it would be a race of attrition with all of the mud so I made sure to race smart and just keep things upright. As Gage distanced himself from MVDH [Michael van den Ham] and I, we couldn’t help to look to each other for a battle after our attempts to bridge became futile. Going back and forth the whole race I made sure to study a few key sections where I was able to get a few seconds on Michael. We each had our bobbles and crashes, which made for some great back-and-forth, but as I recovered I was able to plan for the remaining laps in the race. With one to go, I pressed hard on the long off-camber section of the course before pit 2 to gain a few seconds, pitted for a clean bike, then powered thru the bog to secure second place. I was so happy to have as clean of a race as I could’ve had, and to achieve my second-ever UCI podium.

“After Day 1 I was stoked to race in the mud once again. I didn’t know what the weather would do to the course but figured there would be nothing dry about the lower section of the course. After a waterlogged and messy pre-ride I knew it would be another tough day sloggin’ thru the fields.” –Eric Thompson

Major Taylor Cross Cup

“After we left the pavement on the start I was set up to enter the first right turn in 6th or 7th place. For some reason the inside of the corner was open so I cut hard, passing two or three, and found myself trudging behind [Drew] Dillman in 4th place. Late in the first lap the lead three established themselves with many punchy top-end efforts, something I did not have that day. I watched them float away, and with a small gap behind, my only strategy was to turn on the diesel and keep things steady. A few more laps through the race I found myself back on Dillman’s wheel ready for a battle. As tenacious as Dillman is, I attempted several times to distance myself from him with no success. Near the end of the race as we both were running on fumes, I mustered just a bit more power to gain a second or two again in the bog and that was it. Riding the last lap alone, I kept things smooth to lock in another podium on the weekend.

“Elated with my performance and the weekend’s experiences, I left with all my goals achieved and some great momentum in my season. A special thanks for my dad who worked the pit all weekend long, making it all possible. Looking forward to more racing to come!” –Eric Thompson

Major Taylor Cross Cup

These were pretty much the busiest pits I have seen this year: constantly-running mechanics, pressure washers, hanger replacements and even mid-race brake pad replacements.

Major Taylor Cross Cup

“It was very cold, I believe around 35 degrees, and windy which made everything a bit more difficult. It was hard to pre-ride because of the weather but also because it was so hard on the equipment. The race had a bit of a strange feel, I think, because there was so much running. It seemed silly to be running flat sections but the mud was so deep there really wasn’t any choice. It wasn’t a race of accelerations or attacks. Just trying to keep racing at a reasonable pace seemed exhausting.” –Travis Livermon

Major Taylor Cross Cup

Shortly after taking this shot Dylan Postier (foreground) was out of the race and spectating. I was pretty wrapped up in the shots I was getting but he said to me something like, “Gage is cooked. Michael is making up a lot time. He can win this.” I thought maybe he had a little “cross brain” going because to me Hecht looked like he was cruising to another dominant victory. Dylan’s description of that last lap is below.

Major Taylor Cross Cup

“I saw Michael come through the finish line on the last lap and was quite a ways down. I communicated to him that anything can happen and to keep pushing. A few seconds later I looked over to see Gage slogging through the mud and I could tell he was in a bit of trouble. I relayed the info again that he was down over 20 seconds but he realistically could win the race.

“I trucked around the field to catch Michael on the pavement before another hard riding and running section and he had knocked the lead down to 17 seconds. You could visually see how bad he wanted it and I knew he was going to catch him at that point. As I kept giving him time gaps at a few more sections he was knocking off 2-3 seconds every 30 seconds of riding. Gage made it to this tricky, tight off-camber section and made a large bobble. At that point, I believe Michael was able to see it and it really sealed the deal, even being down 7 seconds still at this point.” –Dylan Postier

Major Taylor Cross Cup

“By this time, I was on the backside of the course so I had a good quarter mile to get back to where I could see the infield slog. As I was getting closer it looked like Michael was in front but I couldn’t tell if they were in the same lane at that point. The next thing I heard was the announcer shouting that Michael had taken the lead and had a good gap.

“The rest is pretty much history from there but it was one of those moments that you wish every kid could see. The determination, grit, suffering, execution and courage to go that deep and risk it all is what makes riders great. There are many people that would have given up when they were down close to 30 seconds with one lap to go but anything can happen … and it did.” –Dylan Postier

All photos © Ethan Glading

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