“My lungs hurt a lot more than my legs so that’s good,” Rathbun said. “That will come back quickly if I keep racing! Fitness is really good. Cornering is getting back to where it used to be. Tomorrow will be even better. A few silly mistakes today cost me a lot. I was only about 20 seconds behind Emma Swartz (Marian University) compared to like 3 minutes two weeks ago.”
Sure enough, Rathbun delivered on her word on Sunday when she went four places better to finish fifth. Day two was like a dream come true for most ‘cross racers. Rain turned a tacky track on Saturday into a sloppy, muddy mess. Many riders were unable to keep it together in the wet, technical conditions, but Rathbun rode smooth and nimble to stay near the front of the race and made up places on the tough run-up each lap.
Nearing the end of the race, Rathbun was situated to move into third but a run-in with course tape thwarted her podium attempt. Regardless of the late race mishap, Rathbun was exuberant about her return to top level ‘cross racing.
“What an awesome race,” said Rathbun. “The exact same people were here today. I had a great race with no crashing. It was just unfortunate that I rode into some course tape, but I am so stoked!!!!”
A few states away in Oklahoma, Driscoll and Haidet were racing on a twisty and technical track that many riders said was their favorite of the year. Although there was a drizzle of rain for much of Saturday, the course stayed mostly tacky and fast. Conditions were bone dry on Sunday.
Multiple sections took the racers through a dried river bed in which they had many line options over the roots and rocks. Out of the river bed, the track sped through open grass areas and forested pine decorated for the holidays.
Haidet, who has been plagued with back issues all season, had a good start to the race but eventually faded towards the back of the top 20. His 19th place put him in third place on the U23 podium.
“I was seventh wheel going into the first corner but was 16th coming out after some chopping going on,” Haidet said. “I had a couple OK laps and was back onto the lead group, but then I started yo-yoing and went backwards. I was suffering quite a bit and didn’t have the power or strength.”
For Driscoll, it was a tactical race from the beginning which saw him finish fourth out of four at the line. With two laps to go, Driscoll tested his legs against the rest but it was too far from the finish to drop the competition. Through the final corners before the sprint, a little too much contact pushed Driscoll out of contention.
“I felt like I had pretty good legs,” said Driscoll. “I tried to make a separation with two laps to go but in hindsight I should have waited to go full throttle on the last lap. I wasn’t that much stronger than anyone else to create a gap. Tobin [Ortenblad] (Santa Cruz Factory Racing) and Danny [Summerhill] (Maxxis-Shimano) were really getting argy bargy in the last two corners. The last time I got really aggressive with anyone in a ‘cross race I ended up with a broken arm. I was more out of the fight. I was kicking myself for how the tactics played out because I had pretty good legs.”
Day one hasn’t seemed to go well for Haidet very often this season, but day two seems to be a different story. In historic fashion, the 19-year old was able to bounce back from a disappointing day one to finish the weekend with a solid eighth on Sunday. His turn-around performance this time landed him on the top step of the U23 podium.
“Today I felt quite a bit better,” said Haidet. “I was able to ride in the lead group for about a lap and a half. I felt like I actually got to ride second or third position for awhile before I got relegated to the back of the group. Then I yo-yoed off them. Cody [Kaiser] (LangeTwins/Specialized) and I rode hard to keep the chase group from catching us. I attacked through a techy section and opened a gap to Cody that I was able to hold for the last half lap.”
Driscoll was right where he wanted to be from the start, but a mechanical on lap three sent him to the pit and then on a wild goose chase to catch the leaders. He made contact with the leaders but the effort from the chase left him with too little gas in the tank to contest the sprint in the end. Driscoll finished fifth.
“It was tough because the front group was group racing while I was going full throttle,” Driscoll said. “It was a fast course and hard to make up seconds so that was more or less my whole matchbook. When I caught them with a lap to go, I was too gassed to overtake anyone on the straightaways. It was single file and faster today.”
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Article credit to Raleigh Clement Pro Cycling Team
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