For Austin Killups, the final straightaway of the Women’s Elite race at the USA Cycling Cyclocross championships in Hartford, Conn. Sunday was a microcosm of a breakout season. Grit and heart paid off in another strong result.
In this case, holding off Hannah Arenson through a driving snow shower that set the tone of both elite races on the final day of these championships to earn third place. She nets her first elite podium — and made her the first transgender woman to land a top-three spot in an elite event — at these championships.
“I came wanting a good result,” a pleased and spent Killips told Outsports afterward. “I was just proud to lay it out there and get the result I got, and I’m proud of where I landed.”
This result comes a month after Killips won her first professional race at the Northampton International. Her start Sunday sent the message that she was a threat for a second win. Killips and Nice Bikes teammate Caitlin Bernstein roared into the lead through the start-finish section and out towards the expanse of the course situated along the Hartford Riverfront.
Their fast start was swallowed up by a rotation of riders through the early corners and ended with Raylyn Nuss taking control. Behind the scramble was two-time defending cyclocross national champion Clara Honsinger in eighth place and racing for a third straight title.
Honsinger surgically moved up from eighth to sizing up Nuss from second place by the end of the first lap. She grabbed the lead from Nuss in lap two, and then widened the gap as the snow began to fall en route to a methodical win by 1:37 and her third consecutive national title.
“I really want to win this jersey, especially coming back for the third time,” Honsinger said. “I spend time studying the course finding the little seconds I can break out of it, and just trying to keep a clear mind and not letting all of the hype around it get to me,”
Killips made an early bike change to try to close the margin on the front two, but she found herself in middle of a slugfest for her third place with Arensman, who was also fighting to hold off Jenna Lingwood and Anna Megale. Lingwood is also a trans woman who earlier in the week rode to victory in the masters division women’s 40-44 championship race.
The snow led to marked changes in the conditions of the course lap-to-lap. Killips stumbled at points, but a mix of technical grit and a boost from loud supporters pushed Killips forward to take third.
When she found that she had locked up third, Killips’ intense scowl was replaced by an open-mouthed, giddy smile with snow swirling around her.
She celebrated at speed past the finish line and a lot of azure-salmon-cream-clad fans and allies cheered even louder.
At last year’s nationals in Illinois, she was a target of an anti-trans protest group because she was in the women’s race. The pre-event rumors of protests this year never materialized.
The brickbats were replaced by a booster club that followed her every move in a tough, successful ride and was an example of her hopes for the sport and her role in it.
“I just want my sport to be accessible,” she stated. “I care about women’s cycling and I want to grow the sport and be a positive influence.”
One would figure such an effort in these conditions would mean a well-deserved celebration and a rest. Killips said she’d celebrate, but maybe just for a day or two. She heads to Europe for more races in the weeks ahead.