Only three days until the best American cyclocross races battle it out for the Stars and Stripes at the USA Cyclocross National Championships on Sunday in Verona, Wisconsin. There are four strong favorites coming into the race, Jeremy Powers (Rapha Focus), Ryan Trebon (LTS/Felt), Tim Johnson (Cannondale-cyclocrossworld.com) and Jonathan Page (Planet Bike). Defending champion Todd Wells (Specialized) will not be racing.
The expected tundra-like icy temperatures have not materialized, and instead we have been treated to warmer than usual weather and sun. That has meant changing conditions, hourly sometimes, at the venue on a course that can be best described as power and finesse. Power due to all the climbs, and finesse due to the slick, greasy corners – still wide – on some spots including the bottom of the stairs and the approach to the barriers. Many of the slippery spots are at the end of fast descents, hang on to your hats.
We caught up with the three US-based riders, Powers, Trebon and Johnson, earlier this week to get their thoughts on Nationals.
Page’s form is another unknown. The only one to be based in Europe, Page has had a rough season but seems to be coming into form finally with two top 10 finishes the past two weeks. However, Page will also be flying in which often results in a lack of fitness.
Ryan Trebon. Forced to take a seven-week break due to a leg injury, Trebon is the freshest of all the riders, and he showed that his fitness is strong by sweeping his comeback races last weekend at the Chicago Cyclocross Cup New Year’s Resolution races. Trebon has won the Elite title twice in his career, so far.
On paper, the course suits Trebon with its power sections. “We’ll see.” he smiled. “The weather can change drastically and the course will change over the week. Page has been riding and steadily improving over in Europe racing. I don’t know, we’ll find out right?”
Trebon elected not to return home to Oregon after Chicago and stayed in the Midwest. “Resting as much as possible, getting ready to race. I’m just continuing to train, doing what I need to do. “
For Trebon, the fact that it’s Nationals doesn’t add extra pressure. “I like to go out there and race and do well at Nationals every year. I’ve had good luck, I think that every year since 2004 I’ve finished second place or won, I don’t know I have a pretty good record at Nationals, I just want to have a good day and ride well. If it means I win, then I win, if it means that I finish third, I finish third, I can only control what I’m doing and what I do, what everybody else does is….” Trebon gestured to say out of his control.
He continued, “There’s a lot of things that need to come together on the right day, everybody has been riding really well. The race doesn’t look super challenging, it looks more tactical, it’s always a crap shoot, it’s harder to control those races, it’s hard to win them but if I have good fitness and ride the bike well, I think I have a decent chance.”
Jeremy Powers. It’s been the year of Powers with a top 10 at the first World Cup, the overall USGP win, and many other victories (see last interview). But one victory has eluded him all his career, a national title.
In an earlier conversation (see Powers – “I actually have bigger fish to fry”), Powers said that he might be coming into Nationals over-trained with an eye on the World Championships later this month but he is hoping that his two second place finishes in Chicago are a good sign.
“If I continue to open up and make the leap that I made in the next couple of days with some rest.’ Powers said of his Chicago weekend. He went home to Massachusetts for a couple of days and to get away from all the talk of the Powers’ curse.
“I hope that I can break this little curse or whatever that I have, I’ve been trying every year and I go as fit as I can be, truthfully there’s not anymore that I can do. I do hope that I’m able to do well there and race the best race and have good luck.”
After heartbreaking races these past years, he simply can’t afford to put as much mental energy into the race, but obviously Powers still wants to win.
“The one thing that I hope for for Nationals is that it’s a course that’s like every other course that we do. I’m not going to say anything about any organization or any promoter or any of this, I just want it to be a race that’s a real freakin bike race. Every year, we get to a place, it’s something that we never do, it’s something like the promoter went to above and beyond to put in a flyover that’s like a 1,000 feet high with twistys going down, it’s like what are you doing?” he said.
“I just want it to be a regular cross race with regular conditions, something that we do week in and week out and if it’s that and I race my best race and I don’t win then I’ll be alright, If it’s something that’s like, we have the winter storm on the century, it blows it, there’s three feet of snow, it’s 55 minutes of an hour race that we’re running, if it’s something like that then I’m just going to be pissed again. If it’s a bike race and we race as hard as we can and I don’t win, c’est la vie.”
Tim Johnson. Johnson has had an up and down season, but the multi-time National Champion can never be written off. While Powers and Trebon stayed in the USA, Johnson traveled to Belgium to race during the Christmas Holidays but didn’t achieve his desired results.
For Johnson, it does change something that it is Nationals. “I am going in with all that I have but I don’t have a whole lot to show for it. I’ve had a pretty mediocre year, all over the place with results and now I don’t know where I stand and I’m definitely cautiously optimistic, I think that given a chance I think that I can win it but I wouldn’t put a whole lot of money on me right now. “
Was that Johnson playing mind games? “This is legit.” he replied.
“I know that the last time I won, I was absolutely capable of winning and it was just up to me to put it all together but right now, I don’t really feel that I’m entirely capable so it’s going to take more than just being in the right place, it’s going to take a lot more luck and all that.”
As far as favorites, Johnson picked Page. “Ryan will be the most fit no matter what but Jonathan is probably the strongest minded and certainly is showing fitness capable of being there to win the race.” he said. “Jeremy has shown himself to be riding well enough to win but I don’t think it’s going to be his year, I think Ryan is riding as strong as I expected so I’d put him and Jonathan as odds on favorites.”
Both Johnson and Trebon agree on one thing, no outsider will surprise with a victory. “I don’t think so.” said Trebon. “It’s been the same people the last seven years. It sucks that Todd is not racing but understandable.”
Who will win? We’ll find out on Sunday afternoon. It should be a doozy.