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2012 USA Cycling Cyclo-Cross Nationals: Mud, Sweat, and Cheers

Focal Flame Photography was honored to cover the 2012 USA Cycling Cyclo-Cross National Championship races held near Madison, Wisconsin. Over 1,000 racers and 5,000 fans rained down on Badger Prairie Park, where they were met with sunlit skies, unseasonably warm January temperatures, and a sea of muddy goodness on the course. To view and purchase photos from the event, click here.  

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Focal Flame Photography writer Robyn Perrin reported on the Collegiate and U23 Women's races while Focal Flame photographer was on assignment for the Madison Area Sports Commissions. A version of this article appeared on the Cyclocross Magazine web site. 

VERONA, WI - JANUARY 7, 2012  - - Sun and mud were both abundant for the D1 and D2 Collegiate Women’s race at the 2012 USA Cyclo-Cross National Championships in Madison, Wisconsin. D1 and D2 women were on the field simultaneously for the 4-lap race – the D2 field starting 1 minute behind the Division 1 women.

When asked for predictions prior to the start of the race, USA Cycling Collegiate & High School Cycling Manager Jeffrey Hansen said, “Coryn Rivera and Katie Antonneau are the surefire bets for somewhere on the podium.” Hansen’s words proved prophetic as two of the most highly decorated women’s cyclists in the world – who happen to be best friends, roommates, and teammates – duked it out in the Division 1 Collegiate race.

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“I got the hole shot and I was in the lead for about three quarters of the lap, then I took a nice digger on a corner,” said Coryn Rivera (Marian University/Tustin, CA). “Katie [Antonneau} took the lead  - which is fine, because she’s my teammate. As long as Marian [University] was up there, I was OK with a teammate passing me,” said Rivera.

Both Rivera and Kaitlin Antonneau (Marian University/Racine, WI) were careful to maintain control without depleting their energy reserves entirely, since both are racing in the Elite/U23 race on Sunday, January 8. “I think I pulled Katie as close as 10-15 seconds away,” said Rivera. The final gap was 23 seconds as Antonneau remained comfortably in control, giving an understated one-handed wave at the finish as she claimed the national title.

“I like the course a lot. It’s tough,” said Antonneau. “I think racing today helped because it got a lot of nerves out of the way for tomorrow… I pushed it hard through some parts just to see where I could risk it, but it was good,” said Antonneau, who relentlessly powered it to the finish line in 42:47 at a pace of 19.07 kph.

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While the D1 race played out with few surprises from some of the most decorated women’s cyclists in the world, the D2 race winner was a bit of a dark horse. Before the race, Hansen mentioned Rebecca Gross (University of Denver/Lakewood, CO) and Kimberly Flynn (University of Tennessee-Chattanooga/Hixson, TN) as top picks. Hanson also said, “Mars Hills College is a team to watch.”

One to watch, indeed. South African Mariske Strauss, a top-level mountain biker and recently recruited to Mars Hill College can now add a cyclocross National Champion title to her credentials – from her first-ever cyclocross race. Laughing and flush with excitement, Strauss said, “This was actually my first cyclocross event ever, so I just decided to take it as it comes and go as hard as I can for as long as I can…I just went out and had some fun racing for my Mars Hill College cycling team.”

Strauss scorched the course in 47:22, finishing 13 seconds ahead of second-place Rebecca Gross. Kimberly Flynn rounded out the podium to finish 3rd in 48:55.

Strauss is the current South African cross country mountain bike champion, and placed 18th at the 2011 the UCI Mountain Bike World Championships. She is a hopeful for the 2012 Olympic cycling team for South Africa.

When asked for reflections about the USA Cycling Cyclo-Cross Nationals course, Lindsay Knight (University of Chicago/Chicago, IL) said, “Really muddy, and really slick. I actually wish it had been more technical, more turns, more trees, more tight stuff.” Others found it more to their liking, including Brittany Clawson (Fort Lewis College/Sandpoint, ID). “I’m more of an mountain biker and downhiller, and I love the mud, I love the mucky-muck. This was awesome,” said Clawson.

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Many of the racers faced off once again in the Elite/U23 race at noon the next day. It proved to be another powerful battle, with Katie Compton - a force of nature in the cyclocross world - taking her 8th straight National title. In second place overall was none other than her starring pupil: Katie Antonneau, who has been coached by Compton. Teacher and student took first and second place on the podium in an inspiring display of hard work and discipline. 

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