A storied junior career was missing one key accomplishment – a national championship. Over the weekend, she walked away with two.
Long a force in women’s mountain biking, Ruth Holcomb finally got her chance to line up at a USA Cycling Mountain Bike National Championships race Friday in Winter Park. Between broken bones, mononucleosis and the COVID-19 pandemic, Holcomb hadn’t race in a junior women’s cross-country race at ages 15, 16 or 17. In her last year as a junior before she moves up to the under-23 ranks, Holcomb finally got her chance.
It didn’t come without a delay, though. A medical emergency on course delayed the start of Friday’s event for more than a half hour after riders had staged in the start area. It had Holcomb questioning whether her run of bad luck was about to continue.
But when the race finally started, nobody could keep up with the speedy Durango woman, as she made her way up the big climbs at elevation and mastered the descents on the way to victory.
On the podium, she finally put on the revered Stars and Stripes national championship jersey she had waited her entire career to win.
“For the past three years, I’ve tried to keep my head in it, remind myself I would have another opportunity before my days as a junior were over,” Holcomb said. “When I got in the start gate, I felt ready and like it could finally be my day. Then we had the delay. I was like, ‘Man, something really doesn’t want me to ever get to the start line of this race.’ Once it started, it became a day I will remember forever.
“There are always bigger goals in this sport, but to win this jersey, it is symbolic. I achieved this goal that I’ve had since I was 12 years old. It took me this long, but I am really excited to finally get this jersey and prove I am the No. 1 17-18 girl in the country.”
Holcomb finished three laps in 1 hour, 17 minutes, 14 seconds. That was 51 seconds in front of Lakewood’s Sofia Forney. Durango’s Bailey Cioppa charged hard to finish third, 2:25 behind Holcomb, her fellow Bear National Team rider.
Also representing Durango, Lauren Aggeler placed seventh, 7:31 behind Holcomb, and Aleah Austin would place 12th, 10:10 off the winning time. There were 63 riders in the race.
At altitude at the Trestle Bike Park, Holcomb said it was important to not start too fast and to pace herself. She was able to sit back until she saw other girls who did go out too fast start to fade.
“Girls started blowing up left and right, and it was my time to make a break,” she said. “I hammered up the first climb into the descent and got the initial gap going into that first descent.
“There was a lot of sitting at the heart rate threshold. You didn’t want to go any harder or any easier. On the downhills, I would go as fast as I could go without falling or getting a mechanical. It was a game of going as hard as you could and then holding it back.”
Two days after her cross-country triumph, Holcomb won another national title, this time in the women’s junior 17-18 short-track race. She built a commanding lead with five laps to go and was able to stay steady to the finish line.
Holcomb will get another crack at this year’s world championships in late August in Italy before she moves up to the U23 ranks.
“I had a rough start in Europe this year, and I am hoping to do better than that at the world championships,” she said. “I am training hard and not sure where I will stand going into that race, but a top 10 or top five would be an amazing way to cap my junior career.”
Junior Women 15-16
Holcomb’s younger sister, Maggie, would finish second in the junior women’s 15-16 cross-country race Friday before she won the short-track national title Saturday.
In cross-country, she finished in 53:38, which was 2:13 behind the winning time of Andie Aagard of Highland, Utah.
In the short-track, Maggie won in 19:48, which was six seconds in front of Vida Lopez de San Roman and seven seconds in front of Aagard.
“I am so happy for her. She was nervous at her first national champs, but she went out and killed it,” Ruth said of her younger sister. “She’s going to be hard to beat next year when she goes up to 17-18. I will be a U23 and am lucky I don’t have to race her.”
Junior Men 17-18
Ivan Sippy claimed a silver medal representing Durango and the Segment 28 team at Friday’s junior men’s 17-18 cross-country race.
The young Durango star finished the three-lap race in 1:04:47, 41 seconds behind Littleton’s Brayden Johnson. Sippy was four seconds in front of Carson Hampton of Idaho to earn the silver medal.
“So proud of (Sippy) today,” said Segment 28 coach Rotem Ishay. “His performance, confidence and UCI points have been on a linear improvement this year. As his coach and team leader, I want to express my gratitude to the real people who shaped this kid not only to ride bikes really fast but also as a compassionate and genuine good person. So thank you, Durango Devo, and of course, the Sippy family.”
Sippy could not be reached for comment.