The Pan-American Championships are a relatively new addition to the North American cyclocross landscape, with the first edition held in Cincinnati in 2014, but the annual November event has quickly grown in importance to rival American and Canadian Nationals.
On the line is a title, yes, but perhaps more importantly, a chance to wear the sharp-looking white and multi-colored Pan-American Champ’s jersey both at home and in Europe for the next year.
“It is for sure more than just a hard-to-clean skinsuit,” Rebecca Fahringer (Kona Maxxis Shimano) said about the jersey. “Frankly, it’s a financial bargaining chip. I would have more pull to get start contracts in Europe, would maybe be able to get more eyes on our program to inspire more sponsors to get on board, and it would be an auto qualifier for the world’s team and maybe even waive that dang steep fee. That alone is worth some pain and agony to do well in the race.”
Last year, Maghalie Rochette (Specialized x Feedback Sports) won Canada’s first Pan-American Championship and has had the jersey as an option alongside the Maple Leaf threads she defended last weekend in Peterborough.
“It’s been an honour!” Rochette said about wearing the champ’s jersey. “It’s a great privilege, and I felt proud to represent over the past year.”
The Pan-American Championships were first held in Cincinnati in 2014, 2015 and 2016 before moving to Louisville in 2017 as a test event at Joe Creason Park for the 2018 December Cyclocross Nationals. The event went truly pan-American in 2018 when it moved north of the wall to Little Lake Park in Midland, Ontario, located about an hour north of Toronto.
Little Lake Park is set on the north shore of, you guessed it, Little Lake, which is a small depression formed by melting glaciers. The resulting topography includes a low-lying beach area along the lake and a steep bowl-like hill surrounding it. [You can read our course preview from last year]
This year’s course will be largely the same, with a few changes.
The sand section where Rochette got her winning gap in 2018 is earlier in the lap, while the iconic stone stairs and ensuing descent have been moved to right before the finishing sprint.
“I just saw on the Silver Goose Instagram that there are over 70 steps per lap, using 3 staircases. So, it favors the ability to climb stairs, likely by foot,” Fahringer said.
Defending U23 Pan-Am Champ Clara Honsinger (Team S&M CX) described the well-balanced track. “It has a little bit of everything—mud, sand, woods, stairs. Maybe snow? I think the transitions from feature to feature will be really important. It’s all about carrying that momentum.”
“There are climbs that are fine while dry but tricky and likely runs while wet,” Fahringer added. “There is sand, and it is on a beach, so we make turns in the sand. There are only a few sections where you can lay down some power, the rest is keeping it smooth.”
The course is the course, but the wild card for the weekend, perhaps? Schnow. Schnowwwwww.
Last year, Pan-Ams took place the first weekend of November, and it was a pretty nice weekend. The following weekend, Canadian Nationals in Peterborough got epic snow cyclocross conditions.
In 2019, it appears the opposite might be true. It snowed Wednesday, and more sloppy weather might be in the forecast for Sunday.
“If you check the forecast, let’s talk about that. We are looking at snow,” Fahringer said. “That can mean a few things—hard, frozen ground; slick, slidey mud like Cincy; deep mud like Supercross; or maybe some magical grip-tastic scenario that only Canada can give us during snow. I think the conditions will dictate the day, and I super hope those stairs aren’t slippery with snow and toe spikes.”
Being at the top of the cyclocross world requires riding in all kinds of conditions. Snow, wet, dry, it is not about the conditions, per se. “We all vary in our performances in certain conditions, but I think the biggest variable is the immediate situation and how we each prepare for changes,” Honsinger commented when asked about the potential for ‘cyclocross weather.’
The U.S. World Cups were a major focus early in the season, but with the importance Pan-Ams have taken on, all the C1s, C2s and World Cups were a prologue of sorts for Sunday’s battle in Midland.
Last year’s Elite Women’s Pan-American Championship race came down to a battle of the two stars of 2018 in Rochette and Ellen Noble (Trek Factory Racing CX). Rochette got a gap late in the race that she held through the bell lap to bring home Canada’s first-ever Elite Pan-American Championship.
Clearly evident during Rochette’s winning ride was the home field advantage the Canadian riders had in Midland. Cheers went up from around the venue as home country riders went flying by.
“Canada is not a cyclocross nation yet, so it’s cool if I can have some results that help the cyclocross world be aware about all the good riders in Canada or that help people in Canada get excited about cyclocross,” Rochette said about racing at home in Canada.
Rochette returns as the Elite Women’s favorite in 2019. She has won all three North American UCI C1s, won the Jingle Cross World Cup and has spent much of the season near the top of the vaunted CX Heat Check Power Rankings. She is also coming off her second-straight win at Canadian Nationals.
That does not, however, mean Rochette is taking anything for granted.
“I’m expecting that they will bring absolutely all they have and that I will bring my A-game as well,” she said. “I expect it to be a great battle, which is totally what I want.”
There are several Americans with race resumes that suggest they are ready to wrest control of the Pan-American Champion’s jersey away from Rochette and Team Canada.
Although only those not paying attention the last few years would call her a ‘revelation,’ Honsinger has made the jump this year to consistently ride at the front of the domestic and international fields. Honsinger won the U23 Women’s Pan-Ams race in 2018, and this year, she finished on the podium at the Jingle Cross World Cup and captured wins at FayetteCross and the US Open of Cyclocross.
Last year, Honsinger entered both the U23 Pan-American Championships and U.S. Nationals as the favorite, and looking back on those hard-fought wins, she said the pressure of meeting expectations was very real. Racing with a target on her back taught her important lessons she hopes to bring to the start line on Sunday. “Honestly, the category races are much different than any of the Elite races,” she said. “It’s a much tighter and competitive field. You have to fight for every corner.”
Honsinger has topped Rochette at FayetteCross and the Waterloo World Cup, so there is a blueprint available for topping the typically fast-starting Rochette. “We have all demonstrated that we can win when everything comes together perfectly,” Honsinger said. “However, cyclocross doesn’t exist in a vacuum. I think it will come down to who can execute the cleanest race.”
Another rider at the top of her game in 2019 is Fahringer. The Kona Maxxis Shimano rider has made big strides this season in developing the killer instinct necessary to win races, and she has a sweep of the Parkway CX Trophy Series and a win at the Really Rad Festival of Cyclocross to show for her development.
“In years past I have thought I could do things, but because I never saw them happen I was never confident enough to make them happen—like win races,” Fahringer said. “This year, I have seen myself win races in a few ways, lose races in a few ways and have been able to pick apart why things shake out the way they do. It’s almost like I have a bit more clarity and maturity; I’m no longer the toddler throwing the tantrum just saying ‘But I waaaannnaa wiiinnnnn so why didn’t I?!’”
Throughout her steady rise to the top of North American cyclocross, Fahringer has also improved her finishes at the biggest title races. Eighth at Nationals became sixth became fourth and seventh at Pan-Ams became fifth became … well, last year was a disappointing eighth.
Finishing eighth was no doubt a disappointment, but maturing as an athlete also means learning from those disappointing days.
“Last year the course was really fast, and I had one big slide out that had me off the back of the group chasing,” Fahringer explained. “I was a bit disappointed, for sure, but at the same time, I am not sure what I expected going into the race. This year, I am familiar with the venue and course and have a better idea of what to expect. I have encountered a little bit of everything that course has to throw at me, and I am ready to deal with it as it comes.”
While the trio of Rochette-Fahringer-Honsinger has accounted for 15 UCI wins thus far this season, they are not the only riders to watch on Sunday.
Courtenay McFadden (Pivot – Maxxis p/b Stan’s NoTubes) has finished fourth at Pan-Ams each of the last three years (!). McFadden captured podiums both days of the DCCX weekend last month, and she has raced well at the C1 weekends in Rochester, Iowa City and Cincinnati. Finishing fourth at a massive race is bad enough, but three straight times? You can bet McFadden is heading to Canada hungry and motivated.
Rochette was not the only Canadian with an extra-special day in Midland last year. Clad in plaid, Jenn Jackson (Easton – Giant p/b Transitions LifeCare) had a breakout ride at Pan-Ams, finishing fifth and putting her name on the cyclocross map.
That result and a second at Canadian Nationals the following week last November helped earn the cross-country skier turned mountain biker a contract with the Easton – Giant team for 2019. Jackson has responded by consistently racing in the top 10 and scoring top 10 finishes at both the Jingle Cross and Waterloo World Cups.
After a tough September, Noble made her return to racing over the weekend at the Really Rad Festival of Cyclocross and rode well both days. After a flat marred Saturday’s outing, she bounced back with a podium finish on Sunday. After coming close in 2018, Noble returns to Midland with unfinished business on the Continental Championship stage.
The Elite Women’s Pan-American Championships race starts at 3:50 p.m. EST on Sunday. Saturday features the Silver Goose CX UCI C2. Check back here for results throughout the weekend.
The start list for Sunday’s Elite Women’s race is below.
Elite Women Start List: 2019 Pan-American Championships
|Alana Heise||Calgary – Canada|
|Allison Arensman||Brevard – United States|
|Amanda Nauman||Lake Forest – United States|
|Clara Honsinger||Corvallis – United States|
|Courtenay McFadden||Bellingham – United States|
|Crystal Anthony||Bentonville – United States|
|Ellen Noble||Easthampton – United States|
|Emily Werner||Advance – United States|
|jennifer jackson||Barrie – Canada|
|Maghalie Rochette||Ste-Adele – Canada|
|Natascha Piciga||Toronto – Canada|
|Raylyn Nuss||Lake Saint Louis, MO. – United States|
|Rebecca Fahringer||Concord – United States|
|Samantha Runnels||Sacramento – United States|
|Sarah Gilchrist||Edmonton – Canada|
|Siobhan Kelly||London – Canada|
|Taryn Davis||Kitchener – Canada|