Three months ago, American Drew Dillman was surprised to find himself battling for podium spots at the Greenware US Gran Prix of Cyclocross Derby City Cup in Louisville. Before then the 16-year old, in his first year racing in the Junior 17/18 category, had not been thinking of the Cyclocross World Championships.
Fast forward to last weekend where Dillman was the highest-placed American at Worlds in St Wendel, Germany, coming in 21st.
After a slow start, Dillman found himself moving up. “A lot of people went down on the off-camber, I must have passed like 20 people right there, that was the biggest boost I’ve ever had. I ran through it and didn’t slip at all the first couple of laps and I passed so many couple that first lap. I was kind of worried because I didn’t have a good holeshot, all those people crashing there was awesome for me. I saw where people were crashing and I went the other way.”
42nd at the holeshot, Dillman had made his way to 12th spot after three laps. “12th is pretty awesome.” he said when I told him after the race.
But then he crashed on that tricky and treacherous off-camber. “I slid off on that off-camber stuff, I was stuck there for awhile, you can’t get up that stuff at all, I had to turn around and go back and use the tape.” He added, “Man, 12th, oh man that is so awesome.”
He did lose a lot of time on that fourth lap and found himself in 23rd but he never gave up. “I saw Yannick [Eckmann] crash, I saw [Jeff] Bahnson crash, I saw everybody crash, everybody’s crashed at least once. Just to be up there was pretty awesome.”
After the eye-opening race and result in Louisville, Dillman continued to battle in the US and made his way to Europe to keep on racing with EuroCrossCamp over the Christmas holiday. His first race, the Kalmthout World Cup was tough.
“At Kalmthout I got 58th and that entire week I was just in a hole just all week, didn’t think I could do this.”
And then another eye opener.
“Then I went to Zolder and I was up there with Bahnson and [Bjorn] Fox, and they were doing really good and I was right up there with them. They did really good and I was up there with them and that was the moment I was like wow, I can hang with these guys. And today man I was racing with Yannick Eckmann and he’s always been like minutes in front of me, today I was right there with him and I was like ‘whoa’.”
One thing that has impressed about Dillman is his state of mind and the way he just seemed to adapt to European racing, taking it all in stride. Where does a 16-year get that mental strength? His answer was religion.
“Somebody died about a year ago so, that’s affected me and after that I became really religious because I knew that guy.” he said. Then a friend, Shelley May told him something that stayed with him. “On my way over here before I left, she said ‘you can do all things through the strength of Christ’ and I kept telling myself that the entire race, just repeating it, repeating it. I think that’s what kept me going really hard.”
American Jr Champion Jeff Bahnson has faced challenges in his European racing trips this year. He, along with Gunnar Bergey, had the trip from hell back in December when it took them three days to travel from Philadelphia to Belgium. They slept at the airport, used planes, trains, boats and cars to finally make it to the USA house in Belgium. And then once there, no luggage nor bikes.
Then right before Worlds, illness. Bahnson has been fighting a sinus infection but he said he was feeling better for the race.
Well known for his technical skills, the 17-year old was a bit disappointed when he saw the course had iced up overnight before the start of the race.
“I was actually kind of bummed today at first because it just seemed that everything was frozen and it was so fast, I was kind of hoping for mud like on Friday but it turns out, the spot where the sun was hitting, it was getting slick.” he said after the race. ‘There were some technical spots where people were going down. Just the turns after the descent because you have so much speed and there’s a nice patch of ice right before the second pit too. That turn can almost turn you into the pit accidentally.”
Bahnson was fighting in the top 20 after a couple of laps on Saturday but then the hard course with its tough climb started to take its toll.
“I’m pretty happy with my race today, it went a lot better than last year. I felt more together today, my fitness felt alright except that the hill was getting pretty hard the last couple of laps. It’s a hard course even though it’s pretty fast, there’s a lot of elevation change.” he said right after crossing the line in 25th.
All in all a good season for Bahnson who finished 2nd overall at the USGP and claimed the Stars & Stripes at the US National Cyclocross Championships in December.
The third American junior in the race, Bjorn Fox finished 50th.