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Ashland native speeds toward Cyclocross World Championships

Looking ahead to the Cyclocross World Championships one month away, Clara Honsinger, 23, said it’s her “homegrown” approach to the sport that sets her apart.

The Ashland High School alum took second place in the Union Cycliste Internationale World Cup in Namur, Belgium, Dec. 20, and another second in Dendermonde Dec. 27 — closing the gap behind Netherlands champion Lucinda Brand to 15 seconds.

What began as a passion for riding with Portland friends and cycling mentors in 2015 propelled Honsinger toward her first professional contract in cyclocross this year.

“It’s definitely a different style of racing over here than back in the United States,” Honsinger said from her Netherlands house Monday. “You have to be all focused ahead of you and when people come and bump and push you around, you have to keep your eyes ahead and moving forward you definitely have the fight for every corner over here.”

While making her mark as an American competitor on the global cycling stage, Honsinger is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in nutrition through Oregon State University.

Honsinger continues preparation for three more races between her two silver-medal victories and the Cyclocross World Championships Jan. 30-31 in Belgium.

Honsinger has shared a house with two teammates and two mechanics at a cycling sports complex near Sittard, The Netherlands, since early November. Morning training rides last between 90 minutes and four hours — some days traversing the woods with teammates and others focused on long endurance rides through the surrounding hills.

Facing an unexpected cycling off-season brought by the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S., Honsinger focused her time building a “strong foundation” by training in the high-altitude landscape of northern Colorado over the summer of 2020.

Last year marked a pivotal moment in Honsinger’s cycling career, when she took home the Elite Women’s Cyclocross National Championship in Washington state. While international travel is an enjoyable component of the sport she hopes to continue, winning in her home landscape surrounded by friends and family stands out.

“It was this really momentous day in which it felt like everyone that had taught me to be a bike racer and helped me along the way were there cheering me along,” Honsinger said.

This year, she let go of expectations and settled into an “enjoyable” lifestyle alongside her peers. Evenings spent sharing dinner, taking care of each other and training together have made the experience fulfilling, Honsinger said, without as many social opportunities available for traveling athletes.

“It feels very sustainable, and I look forward to doing this for many more years,” she said.

As uncertainty brought by COVID-19 seeped into athletic contests worldwide, Honsinger said she wasn’t sure she would get the chance to race until the day she boarded a plane for Europe.

Beyond travel considerations, the sport itself has drastically changed to accommodate this year, she said. European race courses that typically bring thousands of cheering attendees are bare today, apart from bike racers and their support staff.

Still, race organizers have stepped up video coverage of racecourses in an effort to quench demand from dedicated cycling fans — cameras are placed around surprising back corners, Honsinger said.

In previous years, a trip to Spain between race dates offered a chance to “warm up and dry out,” she said. This year, the team is keeping its core group close and minimizing virus exposure risk by avoiding unnecessary travel.

Instead, Honsinger is focused on maintaining ideal physical fitness in preparation for the World Championships, which take place on a particularly challenging, sandy course. A two-week break from competition will be filled with sand training — keeping light on the handlebars and maintaining forward momentum to avoid getting bogged down, she said.

Over the years, each circuit has presented an opportunity to learn and push harder. Honsinger said the World Cup Namur second-place finish was significant in contrast to the same race last year, when she first raced in the national championship jersey.

“I had a good race there last year, and to come back and to get an even better result, to get second place at what is a really big, iconic race, felt really special,” Honsinger said.

Accepting the prize in an empty pavilion was “bizarre,” she said, but Honsinger hopes by next year, a roaring crowd can return to cheer for victorious cyclists.

Contact Ashland Tidings reporter Allayana Darrow at adarrow@rosebudmedia.com and follow her on Twitter @AllayanaD.

Clara Honsinger