After dominating last year’s US Gran Prix of Cyclocross Junior category where he won all eight of the races, Yannick Eckmann (Pearl Izumi/Shimano) is once again in the leader’s jersey but this time it’s in the U23 category. But this year, it’s a tough battle. Eckmann leads only by a slim six points on Zach McDonald (Rapha-Focus) after re-taking the jersey on the second day of the Derby City Cup in Louisville.
Eckmann, McDonald and Cody Kaiser (CalGiant) were locked in a three-way battle in Sunday’s race within a race.
“I had a better start than yesterday. I saw Zach riding in front of me and just thought I have to get that wheel and then he flatted. I put some pressure on, trying to get as big as a gap as possible right away so it’s harder for him to catch up.” explained Eckmann who was very disappointed when he lost to leader’s jersey to McDonald on Saturday. “Then it was just me and Cody and then Cody faded a little bit. I just went into another zone, just go up there, be up there and not lose anything.”
Eckmann was the first U23 rider across the line in 14th place followed by Kaiser in 17th and McDonald in 18th.
Not only is Eckmann leading the USGP but he’s been battling at the front of the Elite races in his first year as a under-23 rider, pulling out a fifth place at the C1 race of the USGP New Belgium Cup weekend. “In Ft Collins, the first day it was muddy and I felt really good that day. It was amazing there, over my expectations.”
He told podiuminsight that it “feels great” to be racing at the front. “I love it. When the USGP was here, four years ago or five, I looked up to Ryan Trebon, Tim Johnson, all the big guys, I wanted to race with them. I just wanted to race and have fun with them and now I’m here racing with them. I’m not quite as strong as Mr Trebon, yet.”
Yet. Did you catch that yet? When asked when he would beat Mr Trebon, Eckmann laughed and replied, “I don’t know, it can happen any day. Maybe he has a little bit worst day and I have a great day.”
Eckmann also made the first split at the Boulder Cup. Though he faded out of the lead group, Eckmann finished 9th in that race.
Stronger. While some find it difficult to adjust to the racing in the Elite category, Eckmann seem to have no trouble this season. “Yes I am pretty surprised but I love it.” he said about leading the USGP U23 category. “I just don’t want to overdo it.”
The 17-year old, who will turn 18 at the end of the month, is obviously stronger this year, a fact he attributes to his long road racing season.
“I had a good road season, rode a lot, traveling a lot to Europe too.” explained Eckmann who raced with both the Hot Tubes Junior Development Team and the German National team. “I was a few times in Europe which made me stronger.”
“I think I went five times to Europe. Two of the times were inside of four weeks so it was a lot of traveling. I did the National team race, Paris-Roubaix which I loved doing, I’ve looked forwards to doing that.”
All that travel did however impact his schooling. “Last Spring semester, I missed two and half months of school which was a lot. It took a while to make up, it took another two months to make it up. The teachers were flexible with me, I asked if they could cut down some homework for me so I don’t have to do everything. The important stuff, I took all the tests, the big stuff I made up. I took biking before school that semester.”
But school comes first again for the High School senior. “I’m not traveling as much this year due to school. It’s my last year of high school so I need to finish that, get good grades, it’s pretty hard to do both.” he said. “This semester really counts for colleges too so I do all the stuff into school and then for biking.”
Therefore he chose to travel to only the USGP races and CrossVegas races. Of course the two UCI races in hometown of Boulder were also on the schedule.
“I loved it.” said Eckmann about finally racing at CrossVegas, an event that he’s wanted to do for four races. “I was actually impressed by how well I did, that kind of opened my mind, ‘wow you can be good this year’.”
And he also changed his approach to the cross season. “I don’t really train for cross. I just go on the road and ride on the road to keep the endurance up, that’s the only thing I do basically. Maybe once every other week, I put cross tires on and go ride cross but other than that riding on the road.”
Though the German citizen will go to the Koksijde World Cup, racing for Germany next week. “Hopefully do good at it, then German Nationals and if I do well at those two races, maybe I can get an invite to the Worlds again.” said Eckmann, who hopes is to represent his country once again at the Cyclocross World Championships in Koksijde at the end of January. He finished 26th at the 2011 Worlds in St-Wendel, Germany.
As for the future, Eckmann says that he doesn’t know his plans for school yet. “I’ll still be in high school for Spring semester so I’ll still be in high school until May and after that, summer break. I’m still applying for colleges, I still haven’t decided quite where to go yet.”
He is not ready to chose one cycling discipline over the other. “I’m going to do road and cross both next year, to see where I am at the road level and just see which direction I’m going. I’m not sure which direction I want to go yet but I think if road works but still do cross.”
Eckmann, along with older brother Robin, will be racing on the road with the CalGiant squad in 2012.
But before all that, Eckmann will try to defend his USGP lead at the Deschutes Brewery Cup on December 10-11. It will be his first time racing in Bend, Oregon, a course that both McDonald and Kaiser know know quite well after racing at Cross Nationals for the past two years.
“I’m really excited, it looks cool. I’ll be ready for that day.” smiled Eckmann.