Halfway through the US Gran Prix of Cyclocross, there’s another tight race for the series lead. This past weekend, Robin Eckmann (Clif Bar) and Cody Kaiser (CalGiant) battled for the jersey in the Men’s Jr 17-18 series. Going into the Derby City Cup, Kaiser had won the two previous races with Eckmann finishing second both times.
The rain on the previous days turned the course into a muddy, slow slog for the Saturday morning race held hours before the Elite Women and Men were scheduled to start. A group of three riders, Yannick Eckmann and his brother and Clif Bar Development teammate Robin Eckmann and Chris Wallace (KCCX) quickly separated themselves in the first lap of the 40-minute race.
“At the beginning, I tried to stay behind people just to see how they ride and then do it, and then we had somehow a gap.” explained Yannick. “Just keep the pressure up and push through the hard parts, through the muddy sections hard and try to stay away.”
Kaiser was further behind in the chase group, after “a little bit of a rough warmup.” He continued, “I couldn’t ride the course, so I just had to charge from the back, one time I think I was sitting in fifth, started picking some guys off. Kind of get used to riding in the mud again, its my first race back. Once I got warmed up to it I was able to start picking guys off.”
Two laps later, the oldest Eckmann, Robin had faded back and only Yannick and Wallace remained at the front. With two laps to go, Yannick put the hammer down and dropped Wallace.
“After the start line at the backside, through the mud, I just hammered through there because that was the hardest section, muddy, heavy, slippery and everything, I did everything I could to break away there.” said Eckmann.
Meanwhile behind him, Kaiser started moving up, picking off riders as he went.
“The last two, almost three laps, I got past Jeff on the run up,” said Kaiser about dropping Jeff Bahnson (Thule/Van Dessel).
Once he had picked enough riders to move up to third, Kaiser’s strategy to catch Wallace was simple: bike changes.
“I started chasing pretty hard and once I was in third, I figured that the key was going to be a clean bike so I was taken bikes every half lap just trying to catch him. So it ended up working out because the last lap, I took two bikes, Chris didn’t take any and this last stretch was the best.”
Yannick continued solo to win the race. Kaiser caught up to Wallace at the flyover and made his move going into the final straightaway to the finish to get second place.
On Sunday, the race became a duel between Yannick Eckmann and Cody Kaiser as the race winner would become the series leader. The Clif Bar Development brothers employed tried-and-true tactics, send a rider off to force a chase and tire your opponent.
Robin took the holeshot and was off solo. Behind him, the chase group which included Kaiser, Wallace, Bahnson and Yannick was created.
“When he gets tired, I’ll go.” simply stated Yannick, which is exactly what he did. Once his brother has been caught, after being off the front for two laps, Yannick powered away from the lead group.
Kaiser played it cautiously at the beginning. “Basically, playing the defensive card, I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t out in the wind too much, want to protect the jersey and then slowly Yannick was pulling away so I attacked, we dropped Robin, we dropped Jeff and it was Chris and myself chasing down Yannick.”
Wallace and Kaiser chased together until three laps to go. “I made an attack, Chris pitted and we dropped Chris, it was Yannick and myself.”
The final three laps was a duel of tactics and force between Eckmann and Kaiser.
“I had a good gap, just tried to keep it up, tried to break down mentally Cody, but my legs faded in the last lap. I tried my best to keep him off but then from the stairs, he passed me and took off. ” said Eckmann.
“I was sitting back, didn’t want to put myself out there, didn’t want to let him know I was there, that’s kind of hard here.” said Kaiser. “Then on the last quarter lap, we went over the flyover and he ended up single-stepping each one, I double-stepped it, got a little bit ahead of him and that was it.”
Eckmann tried to stay on Kaiser’s wheel. “I stayed him until the straightaway to the finish, the muddy section. I just didn’t have any power left in my legs and he had a lot. He just took off right there and he was gone.”
Kaiser was able to drop Eckmann to take the win and keep the leader’s jersey. Yannick Eckmann finished second, Wallace was third.
The battle is not over, with 4 races left in the series and only 20 points separating Cody Kaiser from Yannick Eckmann. The next races, in Mercer, New Jersey and Portland, Oregon should be muddy affairs, which both of the racers profess to dislike.
“I like dry and fast. I’m not used to the mud, I don’t race in the mud, I’m from Colorado.” added Yannick with a smile.
“I’ve never had the best mud handling skills and the last man standing ended up winning.” commented Kaiser.
Well put, Mr Kaiser, the last man standing indeed.