8 Things to Know About Cyclocross National Championships

Cyclocross National Championships are underway, with the elite race set for Sunday afternoon in Reno, Nevada. The town, best known for its casinos, is surprisingly fired up about the event: Everyone I’ve encountered, from the copy guy at Staples to the rental car customer service rep, has heard about the race and seems excited that it’s happening. But who should you place your bets on this weekend? There are a few things about nationals that you should know. (Keep up with all the latest cycling news by subscribing to our newsletter.)

Reno, baby!

Last year, the city held a UCI race that was a bit of a test to see how a bigger bike event might fare. This year, the nearly week-long nationals are being held at Rancho San Rafael Park. They began on Tuesday, January 9, and are culminating with the pro races on Sunday. In a weird way, it makes sense to see this event come to a Nevada town— after all, Las Vegas’ CrossVegas is one of the best-known cyclocross events in the US, and the first place that the US hosted a World Cup. Additionally, with Interbike moving to Reno next year, CrossVegas will also be shifting to the smaller version of Vegas. Nationals is a great chance to pave the way for more successful cycling events in the "Biggest Little City in the World."

Another National Race at Altitude

Reno is 4,506 feet above sea level, so racers can expect to feel some level of altitude adjustment—just not as much as they did in Boulder, where nationals was held four years ago. Boulder is 5,306 feet above sea level, and many contenders learned a valuable lesson while racing there: Don’t mess with altitude. Because of that, many of the racers have elected to arrive in Reno well ahead of the race, while others opted for altitude camps. Even those coming direct from Europe added a few days to their stay here—and not just because of the casinos and all-you-can-eat buffets!

It’s True Cross Tech

Reno got some rain earlier in the week—enough to render parts of the course muddy and the off-cambers treacherous. For anyone who said that Reno wasn’t the ideal place to host nationals, it’s time to eat your words. Considering that the East Coast is either snowbound or slushy, the semi-sunny, above freezing weather is a welcome change, while maintaining a cyclocross vibe. And Reno knows how to party, so that adds a bit of almost-Belgian flair to the mix.

KFC Goes for (an Unbelievable) 14 

Katie Compton, or Katie "Effin" Compton (KFC) as some call her, is one of the biggest stories this year, since she’s won nationals every single time since 2004. That’s right, she’s a 13-time national champ. Her season has been up and down thanks to some bad luck and issues with asthma, but she started 2018 by winning the Sven Nys GP race in Baal against world champion Sanne Cant, so it’s clear that she’s feeling pretty darn good. She’ll be one of the older racers in the field, but that’s never stopped her before.

Kaitie Keough is Right There

Ranked second in the world right now—above Compton—Kaitie Keough has been patiently waiting in silver-medal position for a long time at nationals (and Pan-Ams). This year, it’s been the Kaitie and Katie show at the front of many races, including in Namur where Compton took fourth and Keough finished sixth, so Keough is arguably the woman to watch if you’re looking for someone who can contend against Compton. It’s reminiscent of the Tim Johnson versus Jeremy Powers battles we watched just a few years ago: Compton is Keough’s former coach and still a good friend, while Johnson was a mentor-type to Powers on the Cannondale-CyclocrossWorld team when both were on it.

Can Stephen Hyde Hang onto His Crown?

It seems likely—Hyde was unstoppable earlier in the season, rarely off the podium and often topping it. Tobin Ortenblad had a few races where it seemed like he might be able to duke it out with Hyde, but by mid-October, the redhead from Florida was back on top. He won Pan-Ams back in October, and has had decent top-20 results over in Europe in the last two months. Will Hyde’s fitness hold up after an incredibly long season? Or will his knee issues hold him back? Ortenblad is hopping that his downtime training through the winter “break” will prove wiser than Hyde’s consistent racing. 

RELATED: Watch Cyclocross Legend Sven Nys Ride up a Staircase

Young Guns Will Be Blazing

This is the first year that Ellen Noble will be racing in the elite women’s race, and everyone is excited to see what the 22-year-old racer will do. She has been the four-time national champ in the younger categories, so there are a lot of U23 women currently excited to see how the U23 women’s race plays out without her. Emma White is the heavy favorite there. In the men’s field, the race will look different from earlier US-based races, since riders like Gage Hecht and Spencer Petrov won’t be in the men’s field. As U23 riders, they still took plenty of elite podiums early this season, and the race could easily go very differently without the young guns pushing the pace early in the race.

The Elites Have Prepped Very Differently

Some teams, like Aspire Racing, opted to cut racing after the Namur World Cup—the team comprised of Jeremy Powers, Ellen Noble, and Spencer Petrov even traveled to Albuquerque to get acclimated to altitude. But racers like defending champs Stephen Hyde and Katie Compton elected to stay in Europe and travel straight to Reno earlier. Some racers, like Kaitie Keough, who lives at altitude already, simply stayed home and traveled Wednesday night to Reno to get race-ready. But by Friday, all contenders will be in town. We’ll see what happens when they toe the line over the weekend.

So with all that in mind, who’s going to take the title? It’s anyone’s guess, so make sure you’re following Bicycling on Instagram and watching our Stories this weekend as we scope out the racing—and spectating—action.

Cyclocross Nationals in Reno

Cyclocross Nationals in Reno

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