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For the second year in a row, Drew Dillman was the top American Men Junior rider at the Cyclocross World Championships on Saturday. On the sandy and very tough course at Koksijde, Belgium, Dillman finished 14th besting his result of 21st last year. Both he and USA Jr Cross Champion Logan Owen rode together for most of the race until Dillman was able to pull away on a downhill sandy section on the final lap.
“I was really nervous, I’ve been reading a bunch of books and stuff to calm me down, a bunch of theological and spiritual books.” said a happy Dillman after the race. He added that he drew strength from his faith. “I’ve been praying a lot the last two days, me, Curtis and Logan all prayed together right before the race and I thought that was really cool, they showed interest. I was really happy to go with my God to do my best abilities and that’s what it’s all about for me.”
“I wish it would have gone better, I just didn’t have the best luck today.” said Owen who finished 17th. “Hopefully, I’m looking for a World Championship next year, but got to train harder, going to be second year 17/18 and go for the win.”
Not only is the talent so deep at the World Championships but the North American racers had to deal with lots and lots of and, uphill, downhill and off-camber sections. Finding the right can be difficult if not impossible which means a lot of running in ankle-deep sand.
Team USA trained for three days in a row to try and get comfortable with their sand skills. “All of us just walking to each other, letting us know ‘oh which line do you like better?’ We forgot about our old team, and we were Team USA I guess, working together and trying to do our best to do each other out.” Dillman said.
However, three days is not really enough time to learn the skills that some of the field have practiced for years. “It was tough.” Owen said about the sand. There was a lot of running but I wish I’d been here one more day to practice a little bit more but that’s not the luxury of being in America.”
Start position is always important in cross, and even more so when the first difficulty, a sandy kicker came soon after the holeshot. Both Owen and Dillman started in the third row with the other three Americans in rows further back.
“I was on the far left. I was going to try to shoot up on the left as fast as I could because I thought that would be the best one. I was probably around top 10 on the pavement but the time we got to the sand, it was just like a swarm up that little sandhill and I lost a couple of spots going over that first little sand section and then I gained them back.” Dillman said.
“That first sandhill just split everything up, kids were bobbling and falling over each other and the first five guys were able to ride it and everybody else had to run.” explained Owen.
A lead group was off the front to battle out for the rainbow stripes ultimately won by favorite into the race, Mathieu van der Poel of the Netherlands. Field split behind with Owen and Dillman together in a group. It stayed that way until the final lap.
“We were all together in a group and it was me and Logan on the front, we were kind of doing rotations. I know he’s a better sprinter than me so I wasn’t going to wait until the end and I knew that I was a little bit better at technical than him. In the lap before he had messed up in the sand downhill, so just confidence in my head that I was better at that one little sand section than he was.” Dillman said.
The moment came on X-Dune which starts with a steep climb, followed by false flat, a drop back up and the final drop to a grassy section leading to the finish pavement.
Dillman continued, “I hit perfect, I didn’t hit it that good the whole race and then the last lap, it was exactly the way I wanted it to so I just shot up it and then at the bottom I looked back and he wasn’t there and I was like ‘yes’, that whole group wasn’t there so I sprinted from there all the way to the pavement and once I knew I had it, I was happy.”
While Dillman hit the gas at the front, Owen had to deal with bad luck. “We had one kid on us and that kid just took me out on the downhill section before the finish and so I went down and all those guys passed. Luckily he kind of stumbled too and Drew got a good gap so good thing I could help Drew get a better placing.”
USA’s Curtis White finished 34th, Tobin Ortenblad was 48th and Cypress Gorry, 55th. Involved in a crash at the start when another rider took his wheel out, Gorry had to run to the first pit to get a new bike. By the time the bike exchange had been made, Gorry was off the back and had to ride solo for the rest of the race.
Canada’s Yohan Patry was disappointed with his 40th place at the race. “It wasn’t really good. I was feeling great before the start but I realized after two laps that I wasn’t feeling as good as I was expecting before the start. I guess, the level here is so high, it’s hard to be up there racing against those guys. Top 20 was my main goal today so I’m really disappointed.”
Starting on the fourth row, Patry lost time on that first sandy kicker. “I was expected third row call up but I got fourth row which is not that bad considering we’re eight rows here but still it was too far back and the first little sandy hill I got stuck, a Swiss guy crashed in front of me and I was pretty much done, I was barely top 50 at that point.”
He was also surprised to see that he was able to ride some of the sand sections that others were running. “I was 35th at some point and the guys around me were just running the sand, I was passing them. I was able to find good lines and how to ride the sand properly but still it was super hard and it was getting harder as the race went, the sand was still drying a bit, it’s been wet for a week because it was raining.”
Fellow Canadian Samuel Beaudoin placed 50th.