There are no other words to describe what Zach McDonald (Rapha Focus) did at the USA Cyclocross National Championships on Saturday. He dropped everyone early on in the race, pushed the pace for the next four laps to cross the finish line with over two minutes on second place.
What was going through his mind on the final lap as he was heading to his first U23 National title?
“Don’t crash and don’t hit a spectator.” McDonald replied with a laugh.
In 2010, McDonald was in heated duel with Danny Summerhill (Garmin-Chipotle) when he was taken down by a spectator.
He continued, “That was really it. Just keep it upright but the same time, I didn’t want to back down because if I backed down that’s when you start taking different lines and you’d start hitting ruts that you didn’t normally see so I wanted to make sure that I was still going hard through the corners and I backed off maybe a little on the straightaways to keep a bit for tomorrow. I never wanted to back off on the corners because that’s when you start taking different lines and that’s when you start hitting stuff that you didn’t know was there.”
The field quickly blew up with McDonald taking off with Cody Kaiser (CalGiant) who had taken the holeshot with Jeff Bahnson (Van Dessel) solo in third. Then, McDonald applied pressure on the first lap.
“I figured that it was going to be a 1-2 race. Once we had the gap on Bahnson and it didn’t grow anymore, it didn’t shrink anymore either so I kept trying to slim down to Zach and just hold on to second.” Kaiser said.
“I was able to grind it from there and then after the first climb, I wanted to keep it going on the second one, and that’s where I tried to really drive it in was on the hill, I wanted to keep the pressure, I definitely went hard the first lap to try and open it up because there’s some wind out there and I didn’t want Cody to be able to stay in my wheel and draft so I really wanted to open it up the first lap and then just settle from there, it worked out. It went to plan for once.” McDonald said.
Kaiser chased hard for a couple of laps. “I definitely eased up out there but it was definitely a well-fought battle I’d say, he was way ahead but I was fighting hard.”
Kaiser held on to second place.
“I was third place from the start and stayed there the entire race.” Bahnson said. “After that first climb, Zach was basically gone, and then I was just trying to stay on Cody’s wheel and then he gapped me. I wanted to get there but I don’t think I had the fitness for it.”
The conditions continued to vary during the U23 race which started at 1pm. Wind and greasy slick corners were a challenge.
“Most of the course is sheltered from the wind, but there was one section right after the stairs on the downhill, that open area, that was just like a wind tunnel.” said Kaiser. “I didn’t hit the deck at all and it was just one of those if you relaxed the jaw and the upper arms, let the bike go where it wants to go, it was better.”
For McDonald, the pit area was the most slippery. “I was just going for more consistency in the corners so I was slowing it down just to make sure I could hit the grass and not slid as much. We got the pressure dialed, both my bikes were running great. It was definitely a team effort, I was in the pit every lap just to make sure I got the clean bike, got the clean wheels and it worked out. It seemed to even dry out from the first lap, or maybe it was just because I was taking different lines on the first lap, my bike was definitely a lot dirtier on the first one.”
Obviously, McDonald was quite happy with his result. “It feels great, it was nice to finally have a clean race. It was a couple of years there that I had some bad luck and it feels great.”
“I felt good.” said Kaiser. “I did what I could do, I put in all my work into it and, this is where Zach is at his best and I’m glad I got to race in his best conditions. That’s how you can tell if you’re really the best so he was the best.”
Top 5 U23 Men
1. Zach McDonald (Bainbridge Island, Wash./Team Rapha-Focus) 52:44
2. Cody Kaiser (El Dorado Hills, Calif./California Giant Berry Farms) 55:05
3. Jeffery Bahnson (Newark, Del./Van Dessel Factory Team) 55:51
4. Jesse Keough (Sandwich, Mass./Corner Cycle Cycling Club-Champion System p/b Keough Cyclocross) 57:36
5. Joseph Welsh (Cordova, Tenn./Raleigh Allstars Cycling Club) 58:05