Sarah Sturm wouldn’t be denied a repeat title in the women’s singlespeed cyclocross national championship, even after a hard crash.
The 30-year-old Durango cyclist originally from Albuquerque completed four laps through the mud of Lakewood, Washington, in 40 minutes, 40 seconds to win a second consecutive singlespeed title at the USA Cycling Cyclocross National Championships. She held off Boulder’s Emily Schaldach, who is originally from Durango, to win by 19 seconds.
“I have a lot more relief than disbelief this time than when I did it last year,” Sturm said. “You hope it goes your way and you can finish strong, but also, anything can happen. When it does all come together, I’m just really thankful for my support crew.”
Though Sturm and Schaldach are good friends off the bike, Sturm said neither woman would back down to help the other during the race.
“I often have my best results when I’m having the most fun,” Schaldach said. “I went into it with a costume, we had a dance party before the race, and I got to have fun playing bikes out there with a bunch of my favorite friends.
“(Sturm) and I have spent so much time riding together, training together. To race at that level with her and feel like I was playing bikes in the mud with my best friend, what more could you want? It fueled the fire. I was so excited for her to win and so excited I could get second right behind her.”
Sturm, who rode for the Specialized Ten Speed Hero team, credited mechanics Dylan Stucki and Carson Jones-Wilkins for getting her bike dialed and ready for the conditions. It was Stucki, her boyfriend, who was also instrumental in her win a year ago in Kentucky.
“They do 99% of it. The easiest part of it in some ways is doing the race,” Sturm said. “Race mechanics deserve a lot more of the spotlight, especially in singlespeed when it takes even more expertise. Dylan is a huge part of making that happen, and I’m lucky to have people helping me out.”
The men’s singlespeed national title went to Jake Wells of Avon. He crossed the line in 44:40 after five laps. Anthony Clark of Massachusetts was second, 24 seconds behind Wells. Durango’s Stephan Davoust raced to fourth in 45:44.
“There was a lot of running on the course, which all the collegiate kids told me was going to be very challenging,” Davoust said. “We don’t have that much muddy running practice in Durango, so all the Durango people were a little thrown off by that, but it was such a fun course. Any time you have a climb, there’s also a sweet descent. Singlespeed racing is always fun, and it was cool to be out there with all the spectators and fans who were so rad.”
It was a strong showing overall for Durango men, as Sam Vickery also was ninth in 47:16, and Stucki finished his own race 21st in 47:59. Ian Burnett added a 78th in 56:47. There were 135 men in the race, the most of any event the entire week of the collegiate, masters, junior and pro national championships for cyclocross.
Davoust started in the ninth row, as he was called up 75th. That made for tough work to climb into the top five.
“The first lap was just wild,” Davoust said. “To get past all those guys was a big ask. You put everyone on singlespeeds, all of a sudden you get to 15 or 20 mph and everyone is fully spun out. It’s tough to pass that many people to get to the front of the race, but I was able to work my way through, find some lines and work my way up pretty quick to the first chase group.”
Sturm’s win didn’t come without some trouble. She crashed on a downhill on the second lap. Her front tire dug into the mud, and she went over her handlebars. As she picked up her bike, she then fell backward, and Schaldach was able to race past her for a moment. Sturm picked herself up, with her denim shorts and vest over her lycra covered in mud, and ran downhill with her bike to get back into the race.
“It was really cool looking,” Sturm joked. “It’s kind of how you deal with it. At singlespeed world championships, I had a crash and let it get to my head a bit. Today, after the crash, it wasn’t over until it was over. I kept putting the power down and trying to go as hard as I could in the places I was most confident.
“The coolest thing about this sport is you learn something on every lap and refine your lines. You’re also at the mercy of the course the whole time, but 30 minutes goes by so quick because you’re thinking the entire time and pushing yourself to the limit on a course that’s absolutely ridiculous.”
Sturm gave kudos to the course designers for creating a bit of everything.
Schaldach was proud to come home with a silver medal after a tough year of working her way back into form.
“This was my first non-collegiate or non-junior nationals podium,” she said. “It was singlespeed, so not the elite race, but it just felt great to have a full season come together for a moment like this.
“I got a bad concussion a little over a year ago. I couldn’t train that much until May, so I was slow to start the season. I had some moving moments on the podium realizing that in the last six or seven months I’ve come such a long way.”
Elite and U23Sturm would go on to place 12th in Sunday’s elite women’s race using all available gears on her bike. She crossed the finish line after five laps in 55:23. It was Clara Honsinger of Portland who won the race in 50:15. Rebecca Fahringer was second in 50:45. Katie Compton, who had won 15 consecutive national titles going into the weekend, was third in 51:36.
Schaldach would race to 17th in the elite women’s race in 56:15. Sophie Russenberger of Fort Lewis College was 20th in 57:15, while Durango’s Ellen Campbell was 32nd in 59:43.
“It’s hard mentally,” Schaldach said of racing singlespeed Saturday and the elite race Sunday. “We are used to racing two days in a row. Physically, I was kind of sore from crashing and shouldering a bike and running, but the hardest part is the mental component of getting back into the zone of racing.”
The elite men’s race was won by Gage Hecht of Parker. He completed seven laps in 1:00:32. Curtis White of New York was second in 1:00:49, and Stephen Hyde, a Massachusetts man who has won multiple cylocross national titles, was third in 1:00:55.
Cupp finished 15th in 1:04:46 for Durango’s top result. FLC’s Henry Nadell was 18th in 1:05:44, just ahead of Davoust, who was 19th in 1:06:05.
The men’s under-23 race was won by Eric Brunner of the University of Colorado. He completed six laps in 54:45 to finish ahead of Caleb Swartz, who was second in 55:29. Durango’s Keiran Eagen was seventh in 58:05. His FLC teammates Sam Brown and Harrison Buckley placed 10th and 16th, respectively.
Colorado Mesa’s Katie Clouse wrapped up a massive weekend with the women’s under-23 race win. She completed four laps in 42:12 to win by more than two minutes. Katja Freeburn of Durango was fourth in 47:07, and Tristen Musselman of Fort Lewis was seventh in 51:05.
Sturm was proud of the year she put together after her first singlespeed title a year ago.
She’s been a force in some of the biggest gravel races in the country with a win at the Belgian Waffle Ride. She also won the women’s road race at the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic, won a criterium road race on a gravel bike at the Sea Otter Classic and was second at her first Leadville Trail 100 MTB race a week before she took third in the inaugural SBT GRVL 140-mile gravel race in Steamboat Springs.
“I’m really proud of myself for this one,” Sturm said. “Something I haven’t dealt with before this year was going in with the pressure of defending titles. I’m glad to have my coach, Rotem Ishay, on my side helping me deal with the mental space for that. I’m proud of myself for all the types of racing I’ve done, from 140-mile gravel races to short, singlespeed cross races and everything between.”