As the whistle sounds at Valmont Park during the 2013 Boulder Cup, hundreds of cyclocross racers will sprint all out, jockeying for position in one of the most dangerous starts in competitive racing sports.
“The start is extremely violent,” says Chris Grealish, Boulder Cup race director. “Basically, you start going all out, you just about redline immediately and try to hold that during the course of the entire event. It’s like a little mini pain festival. You’re tasting the capillaries, as far as the effort involved.”
The Boulder Cup heads into its eighth year on Sunday, Oct. 13. The race is regarded as one of the most prestigious American events in the elite racing circuit, with 900 world-class racers collecting in Boulder from across the world and 3,000 spectators. Cyclocross races take place over short laps of 1.5 to 2 miles in length, and involve a variety of terrain and obstacles, with riders often dismounting their bikes and running portions of the course.
Leading the pack of the women’s elite race will be the sport’s most decorated female of all time, Colorado Springs resident Katie Compton, whose proclivity for front-racing style is no secret. But as most of her competition moves into the meat of its training and racing season, Compton is just getting started, coming out of two weeks of training and only two races.
To prepare for the cyclocross racing season, athletes typically move through several phases of training. There’s the base phase, which involves lower intensity, high-mileage training to increase fitness. After eight to 12 weeks of base training, riders move into shorter, higher-intensity training purposed to mirror racing conditions. Then riders peak for championship races, which involves backing off of training to stay fresh for the final races of the season.
Between base training and high-intensity training, Compton ran into a mysterious leg injury she’s been dealing with since she was 18, forcing her off of the bike since July and essentially erasing any fitness she gained during base training. As her leg healed, she developed a bacterial infection, sidelining her training until mid-September.
“It’s pretty much the opposite of what any athlete wants to do,” says Compton. “I’ve never come into the season this way, I’ve always been fitter and have done intensity a little sooner. I’m curious to see how it turns out. I like winning races, and I don’t like racing out of shape.”
But after just two weeks of training, Compton was able to place third and second at the Providence Cyclocross Festival on Oct. 6 and Oct. 7, respectively. She attributes part of her success despite having no seasonal base to the fact that she has “25 years of base” — that’s the amount of time she’s been competitively racing. Still, reaching the podium after her first major race of the season wasn’t easy.
“That race hurt,” Compton says. “It hurt way more than it ever has. I’m just not used to having to dig so deep and suffer so much. But that’s cross-racing, and that’s what everyone goes through. I know how to suffer — I kind of enjoy it. That part’s not hard. I just need to mentally wrap my head around suffering. It wears on you, but I enjoy it and it’s over quickly.”
Compton doesn’t suspect the Boulder Cup will be any easier than Providence, with elite competitors like Elle Anderson, Caroline Manni of France and Boulder’s own Meredith Miller also taking aim at a first-place finish.
Anderson, with four wins already this season, took second place during the first day of competition in Providence, when Compton took third. Katerina Nash of the Luna Pro Team took first.
“[Anderson’s] really riding well this year,” Compton says shortly after her first race against Anderson. “She’s strong, she’s got good technical skills and she’s a smart rider. It’s good to see her come up. She’s powerful. It’s gonna be fun and she’s only going to get better.”
For Compton, being one of the best racers in the world is a pressure she enjoys — something she internalizes as extra motivation that she says keeps her on her toes.
“It’s one of those things where, if someone’s chasing you, you have to work harder to stay in front of them,” she says. “If that helps you win races I’m going to do more of it.”
Elite men and women competing in the Boulder Cup will get a taste for some of the terrain at Valmont Bike Park, which is also the site of the Cyclocross Nationals in December. In the past, DBC Events, the group that organizes the Boulder Cup, has hosted between 10 and 15 races a year, but this year the company has focused its efforts and $40,000 solely on the Boulder Cup. Grealish has also catered the race toward elite competition, eliminating entries for racers not registered with USA Cycling, the official cycling organization and governing body for competitive racing.
“A lot of times, because we’re churning through so many different amateur categories, we have to dumb the course down,” says Grealish. “For the elite men and women, it’s sort of a disservice because it doesn’t really allow them to showcase their real true skill set, and makes the courses easy. Well, this year, we decided we’re going to create what in skiing would be a double black diamond course.”
“Grealish puts on an excellent event and he always had,” says elite cyclocross racer Jeremy Powers, who recently edged out Boulder’s Ben Berden to take a win in Providence. “When you do that, and get a world-class course design with a really educated community — when you put all that together, you get a really sweet race.”
Powers will compete at the Boulder Cup among other notable male contenders, including local racers Danny Summerhill and Yannick Eckmann, who placed first and third, respectively, at the Trek Cyclocross Collective Cup in September.
“We’re all real excited, this is our first run at what the national course will be this January,” says Powers. “It’s definitely going to be a stacked field. It’ll be the best that’s been in Boulder in the last several years.”
On the women’s side, a tragic and notable absence is Amy Dombroski, who was fatally hit by a truck while training in Belgium with team Telenet-Fidea on Oct. 3.
“It will be really difficult for probably most of the community out there, because this is an event Amy had a lot of passion for and would have loved to have competed in, and she sadly won’t be here,” says Bobby Noyes, owner of bike rack manufacturer Rocky Mounts and a heavily involved member of the Boulder cycling community. “It’s just hard for everyone who knew Amy, and this big smile, and we’ll never get to see her race again.”
Twenty-six-year old Dombroski spent several years living and training in Boulder, and was a three-time under-23 national champion.
“She was a dream chaser,” says Powers. “She was living in Europe trying to make it as a pro-crosser and she was living in the heartland of it all. She was getting better every year. It’s really sad to see. You know someone, you’ve been training with them and spending a lot of time on the bike, then they go out for training one day and don’t come home. She was a great person and she’ll be remembered by all of us for many, many years.”
Compton echoed that sentiment.
“I think we’re all amazingly surprised by it. It still hasn’t sunk in yet,” she says. “I still think I’m going to run into her in Europe. It’s hard to wrap my head around losing someone who was so excited and enthusiastic to race bikes, who was living the dream and have it taken away so quickly. It was something I wish we didn’t have to go through. She’s going to be greatly missed by all.”
The first race of the Boulder Cup starts at 9 a.m. Sunday, Oct. 13 at Valmont Bike Park, Valmont Road, Boulder. Additional information is available at www.dbcevents.com.