National Championships

Honsinger and Brunner Crowned Elite Cyclocross Champions

By: Katherine Santos  December 12, 2021

Clara Honsinger and Eric Brunner soloed away to win it all at the 2021 USA Cycling Cyclocross National Championships.

DUPAGE COUNTY, Ill. – With temperatures rising and course conditions changing each lap, the Elite Men and Elite Women saw strong fields that shattered early on in both races. Clara Honsinger and Eric Brunner both got out in front in each of their races early and never looked back.

    Elite Women

    There were thirty-six Elite Women on the start-list, today’s racing was sure to bring some excitement. In 2019, Clara Honsinger was considered an up-and-comer beating some big names to take the National Championship title. After a year without racing and still carrying the stars-and-stripes on her back, she was not ready to give them up at the 2021 National Championship.

    Honsinger said, “Honestly, I think I took it for granted that I got two years in this jersey without having to fight the second year, so coming into this race, I was like, ‘Holy cow, I feel very comfortable in this jersey. I don’t want to give it up.’ Having not raced with these women because I’ve been racing in Europe, I didn’t know what the field was going to be like. I just went at it full gas.”

    Honsinger went into the race with the target on her back, but that was not always the case. She said, “I feel like in most races, I kind of come out and people are like, ‘Wow, where did you come from?’ That’s how it felt in 2019 when I won; I was maybe not the underdog, but there were a few names people recognized before mine. It kind of felt like I jumped up and achieved a goal, whereas this kind of maintaining the goal, holding that standard that I set for myself. So it was a lot of pressure.”

    After a strong first half of racing, Honsinger was gone with nobody in sight. She finished 3:16 ahead of Pan-American Champion, Raylynn Nuss, who grabbed the silver. It was a battle for the bronze medal between Sunny Gilbert and Hannah Arensman who took it the whole way to the line in a sprint finish. The 2021 Singlespeed National Champion, Gilbert, would grab another medal for the event.

    Most of the athletes will be heading back to Europe for a big block of racing over the holidays right before the World Championships in the U.S. Honsinger is excited to bring the stars-and-stripes back to Europe. She said, “Racing over there, I think that’s how folks identified me. They’re like, ‘She’s the one in the Stars-and-Stripes.’ When I was heading back, I was letting people know I was going back to the United States, and they were like, ‘Come back with that jersey.’ So not only was it special to me to wear this jersey, I felt the pressure to come back and represent the United States in this jersey over there.”

    1- Clara Honsinger (Portland, Ore.; Cannondale p/b

    2- Raylyn Nuss (Lawrence, Kan.; Steve Tilford Foundation Racing)

    3- Sunny Gilbert (Niwot, Colo.; Blue Competition Cycles p/b Build)

    Elite Men

    After a busy month of racing, the Elite Men were ready for today’s race. After a fast start where Scott McGill led into the grass, racers were bunched up heading into the sandpit. Former national champion Gage Hecht was the first rider up Abus Hill, but Eric Brunner would soon pass him at the top. The newly crowned Pan American Champion Brunner took the lead and never looked back resulting in his first-ever Elite Men’s Cyclocross national title.

    Brunner commented on his major successes from the last two weeks. “It’s just been a dream the last month. I don’t even really know what to say. Pan Ams, I was pretty confident going into it, but it was a lot harder conditions today—heavier race, more unpredictable and less suited to me. I really did not expect it to go like that. I know I was strong, but a bit at a loss right now,” Brunner said.

    This was the first time a lot of the U.S. athletes have seen mud racing this year, Brunner was no exception. “I was a little bit nervous, not because I thought I couldn’t ride the course well, but just with the amount of mud, tight corners and wet conditions. I knew that it would be really important to start fast, be in good position and not be too far back myself if I made a mistake,” Brunner said. “It was a good bit drier than when I rode the course around noon today, so I was only pitting every lap until the last couple laps, and then I pitted every half lap. The first time I came in for a half lap, it was for a flat; I rode about a quarter lap on a flat rear tire, but that was fine. I didn’t lose too much time there.”

    At the end of the day, the former Collegiate and U23 National Champion would walk away with the Elite stars-and-stripes for the first time. Brunner continued, "It’s just incredible. I think Pan Ams hasn’t even sunk in yet, so I don’t even know what to think [about today’s win]. I’m definitely going to enjoy it the rest of this season and next season.”

    Brunner finished 37-seconds ahead of the next rider. The crowd was shocked to see Curtis White come across the line taking silver after Hecht held second the entire race until half a lap to go when he had an incident on the Belgian stairs.

    1- Eric Brunner (Boulder, Colo.; Blue Competition Cycles p/b Build)

    2- Curtis White (Beverly, Mass.; Cannondale p/b

    3- Gage Hecht (Parker, Colo.; Aevolo)