“As Americans we get a lot of shit, complaining about the rankings. What did I get today, 15th, 16th?I’m ranked 15th in the world, perfect. I want better, I really want better.” Tim Johnson said after he crossed the finish line in 16th place at the Hoogerheide World Cup.
Earlier this cross season, the Americans were dominating the top of the UCI rankings which caused a lot of mumblings and complaining. For the 2010/11 season, the UCI changed the points awarded to UCI races, World Cups went from 300 down to 200 points while a Category 1 race winner gained 80 instead of 60 and Category 2 races went from 30 to 40. Which meant that the winners of the early US cross races made their way to the top of the standings with Jeremy Powers at the top for a couple of weeks.
After a good start at Hoogerheide, Johnson was battling in the top 5 on the first few laps of the race, even leading the chase group on the second lap and holding to his top 10 but then in the final 15 minutes, he ‘ran out of energy’. All in all, a good finish but Johnson and Team USA want more.
Johnson, his teammates Powers and Jamey Driscoll and Jonathan Page (Planet Bike) will line up as the Elite Men’s US team at the big daddy of them all, the Cyclocross World Championships in St Wendel, Germany this weekend. The fifth member of Team USA, Ryan Trebon will not be starting the race due to illness.
In order to get more, the Cannondale p/b Cyclocrossworld.com changed its schedule this year, adding more trips to Europe to compete in World Cups. Johnson did two trips before the US Nationals in December.
For Johnson the schedule still needs to be fine-tuned. “The first trip was fine, it did work out okay. I followed it up with a good Louisville, the early part of November was good.”
The second trip in November was not good. “That was due to circumstance, not because of the trip, I got sick over the break going into Fort Collins so I didn’t really train and then I went from Fort Collins straight to Europe and that first race in Aspere I did well but then I paid for the next month.” Johnson got sick and carried that all the way through Nationals.
It’s a learning process. “If I could do it all over again, I wouldn’t go to Koksijde or Aspere, I would have stayed home, I would have focused on getting better and then training instead of just trying to do everything.”
The 3-time US Cross National Champion thinks that trying to do everything including the travel is the reason he was sick. “I thought I could do more than I could which is fine, you have to learn somehow that would be the thing that I would change for sure.”
Rules. The good news is that the team and many in the cross world is looking to expand its footprint and testing new approaches to make that happen. The bad news, the UCI rules are sometimes not conducive to that goal.
“The good part is that the UCI, the USGP, the American promoters, everybody wants the sport to get better so we tried to race a bigger sport this year and then they decided to change all the rules and caused this big problem. And then they just decided the other day to not change any of the rules, and now we’re stuck after getting shit on for the last few months, right back where we started, so it’s great. It doesn’t make any sense at all.”
Back in November, the Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com team had to make a choice, go back to Europe and race the World Cup or stay in the USA and race the US Gran Prix of Cyclocross races. At that point, Powers was leading the UCI rankings and Johnson was not far behind. With sponsor commitments and a desire to support American races, the team raced in the USA which caused some to complain, again.
A few months ago, the UCI proposed a new rule, no C1 race on the same weekend as a World Cup which would have made it easier for the North Americans to travel and race in Europe. But then, they reversed their decision.
“We went to a USGP instead of a World Cup. But if the same thing happens next year again, we’re going to have to make a decision again, instead of just following through with the rule change, making it one World Cup, one C1, you can’t do both on the same weekend, we’d be fine, we’d be able to bounce back and forth, do whatever. But now we’re going to have to decide which way to go which will be difficult.”
So which way is he leaning right now if he had to make the same choice, World Cup vs USGP race? “I can’t say.” smiled Johnson.
Given all that, and his result at Hoogerheide, Johnson is “very satisfied” with his year so far. “If you’d ask me at Nationals, I wasn’t satisfied at all.”
Resting after Nationals and skipping the European Christmas Cross season worked for him. “Nationals was a race that I went into knowing that I wasn’t really playing with a full deck and I didn’t have a full gas tank, I tried as hard as I could and it just didn’t go great but after not tearing myself apart and getting back on track and trying to train and trying to rest and trying to do things right, it’s paying off so I’m happier.”
As the song goes, it’s getting better all the time. For Johnson, the current American Worlds team is “definitely getting better” compared to previous teams.
“We have guys that are here because they really want to race here as opposed to years past where you may have people that were just filling spots or kind of there because they are there. Jeremy and Jamey are both riding great and they’re not joking around and they’re not here to put on a number and ride around for awhile, and be like ‘oh I did Worlds, it was great’. And Jonathan he’d had great results, yesterday he killed it and today he had a really good end to the race wasn’t he making up a bunch of time.”
In a previous conversation with Sven Nys (Landbouwkrediet), the king of cross stated that to getter and hit that next point, Americans needed to come live, train and race in Belgium. And Johnson agrees with that statement but once again choices had to be made.
“I totally agree but for the last ten years, I was racing on the road and cross was a part of what I did. So at the time I considered it but I decided not to, that was a decision I made in my career.”
Choices about making a living.
“I’m only one rider in the US who is going to be making these decisions and you know what, we may have five Americans who are going to do that, we don’t yet, at least we’ll have an opportunity to. Page has plowed a really, really tough path, he’s done so much because of the way he’s done it but, as the sport gets bigger, it’s going to be easier for people to make that decision.”
Three years ago, Page and his family moved to Belgium to live, train and compete. Others are also facing that same choice, but Johnson says “absolutely” that Americans can make a living a cross now.
Green Team for Worlds. Back in 1999, Johnson finished third at the U23 Cross Worlds, and his goal for this year is to finish top 10. For that to happen, he “needs to have a good race, it’s definitely possible for sure. That’s what I’d be happy with.”
Powers had a great cross season this year, showing consistency in his US racing, winning the overall at both the USGP and the NACT, for the first time in his career. Then disaster struck, once again, at Nationals where he crashed while battling at the front.
Powers went home, rested and recuperated and also skipped the Christmas Cross season. In his first cross race in 2011, he took the holeshot at Pont Château World Cup as a gift to his fans and then finished 19th.
Last Sunday in Hoogerheide, he was well positioned in 8th spot after the holeshot and then another crash which pushed him to the back. “I did the best that I could, I’m actually okay with it because I know I did a couple of good laps, I had to get my head out of my ass originally because I was so pissed off because it was a missed opportunity again and you don’t get a lot here.” Powers said after finishing 36th.
It’s obvious that Powers has good form right now. “It will be fine, I will get there. I’m not going to say that I’m not pissed because I am but what am I going to do about it? I rode the best I could, I got better every lap, I got more guys back, c’est la vie.”
Power’s only stated goal for Worlds this year is “to do well”. If everything comes together, this could be the year for Powers.
Driscoll had a good start at Hoogerheide, in 16th spot after the holeshot but then mistakes. “It’s the first race this big that I got a good start, that was nice but I basically wasted it though, not riding well, kept bobbling, a lot of sections out there that you have to nail.”
Surprising for Driscoll who is known for his diesel engine. We’ll have to see if he can power through one more cross race.
“I don’t know.” he replied when asked about Worlds. “I definitely faded a lot, I just faded a lot more that I would have. That’s racing as they say.”
And of course, there is a fourth member of the Cannondale p/b Cyclocrossworld.com team that will be racing in St Wendel this weekend. 19-year Kaitlin Antonneau, the U23 US National Champion will be lining up in the Women’s race in her first ever Elite World Championships.
She finished on the same lap as the leader with a 31st at Hoogerheide, a good result for her first ever World Cup. “I think it went okay. There was obviously a lot of things I did wrong and could work on but I think for my first time, I’m happy with it. That was really hard, there’s definitely a lot of things I need to do differently.” she said.
Bigger gears are one of the things to consider. “I was just told that I was spinning too much on the downhill. At home I always use small gears and I’m fine but here I need to do that so I’ll work on that, that’s the biggest thing probably.”
No goals for Antonneau at Worlds except to learn and took in the experience.
One phrase struck me during the conversation with Johnson. “We may not be the Belgian team but we’re the US team, what we can be right now.”
The US team is getting better year after year and will now test themselves against both their own past results and others at the Cyclocross World Championships this weekend. How will they fare? Time will tell.