It was a muddy, mucky day in Lakewood, Washington, on Sunday at the 2019 USA Cycling Cyclocross Nationals, and spectators were stunned and screaming as they watched a new national champion win the women’s elite race for the first time in 15 years. Katie Compton, 40, who had won the race since she was 25, was unseated by 22-year-old Clara Honsinger—in her first elite win in her first year of racing! In the men’s race, Gage Hecht took his first elite national championship win over Curtis White.
Clara Honsinger Takes Her First Elite Victory
Becca Fahringer pushed the pace on the first lap, trading leads with Compton and finishing the lap in just over 10 minutes. The chase group was nearly 40 seconds back, led by former U23 champion and one of the race frontrunners, Kaitie Keough.
Fahringer and Honsinger started to build a small gap on Compton in the second lap—both have spent much of the year racing together, going two-three at Pan-American Championships in a tight battle—while local Courtenay McFadden dropped back into fourth position.
Honsinger had five wins to her credit this season heading into nationals, and had only lost to Fahringer in one race this season. Compton has had stellar European results and found herself in an unprecedented position toward the end of the second lap: 15 seconds off the lead pack. Viewers watching closely could see Compton slightly shake her head as she rolled through the finish.
In the third lap, Fahringer went down in an off-camber as Honsinger attacked and Compton continued to fall back.
Want to watch the whole race? See full replays on USA Cycling’s YouTube page here:
Hitting the final lap, it was clear that this would be the year someone would break Compton’s streak, and with more than 10 seconds back to Fahringer, Honsinger’s first elite national championship was almost certain to end in a win. Meanwhile, Compton attacked back into third place as she entered her last lap.
Honsinger hit the finishing stretch with plenty of time to celebrate her historic win, grinning ear to ear, celebrating with fans, and saluting the crowd. Behind her, Fahringer finished in second and Compton made the podium for third.
“It’s not a changing of the guard, it’s a progression, it’s just a switch-up. We’re all still out here racing together,” Honsinger said. “I haven’t even recognized [the win] yet.”
Gage Hecht Wins His First Elite Championship at 21 Years Old
Unsurprisingly, it was last year’s second place finisher Curtis White with the holeshot in the men’s race, sprinting off the pavement and into the field power-section. Three-time national champion Stephen Hyde was pushed back into eighth position and Pan-American Champion Kerry Werner fell into fifth position.
It didn’t take long before the riders at the front began to mix it up, with U23 Pan-American Champion Gage Hecht shifting into the lead in the first lap.
It took under three minutes for Hecht, three-time national champion Stephen Hyde, Pan-American Champion Kerry Werner, and last year’s second place finisher Curtis White to move into the top four positions, though much of the field remained hot on their heels. Werner was the first to reconnect with Hecht as the elite men sped down the technical descents and through the puddles and deep muddy sections on course.
The first lap of seven finished in just under 8:40. Lance Haidet was the only rider capable of hanging on to the group of four, and while Hecht and Werner continued to lead, teammates Hyde and White found themselves a few seconds behind and struggling to catch up. Near the end of the lap, a bobble for Hecht pulled tape onto the course. The tape caught Werner, who slid out in a minor crash, giving White and Hyde the break they needed to catch back up. As they hit the second lap, Werner was frantically racing to catch the group of three with Hecht still retaining the lead, recovering smoothly from his crash into the tape.
In the front, Hecht’s motivation was at an all-time high heading into the final three laps, holding a gap of several seconds to Hyde and White. Hecht’s lead from the very beginning allowed the 21-year-old to ride at his own pace, choose his lines without considering the rider in front of him, and focus less on chasing and more on riding consistently. Behind him heading into the final lap of the race, Hyde and White came back together yet again and continued to try to close the gap without any success.
With one lap to go, Hecht looked calm heading into the final minutes of the race with more than 18 seconds between him, Hyde, and White.
Hecht had plenty of time to enjoy his win, crossing back and forth to high five the crowds as he hit the finishing straight, celebrating with both hands in the air and a stunned look of happiness on his face. Behind him, White managed to keep Hyde at bay to take second, with Hyde mugging for the cameras as he came in for third. Werner rolled in for fourth with Haidet just behind in fifth place.
“It’s amazing, this is something I’ve dreamed about since I was 10 years old,” he said. “It’s incredible. It’s super exciting to get this in the elites. I was questioning it until the last descent, honestly.”
Hecht’s win is impressive not just because of his racing prowess, but because he’s the youngest rider in the field, having elected to race in the elite field rather than the U23 field earlier in the day.
For those keeping track, Hecht and Honsinger’s wins signal the first time in 15 years that both the men’s and women’s elite champions are younger than 24 years old.