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While three riders at the front of the race were locked in a battle for the rainbow stripes, American Zach McDonald was also in a battle, one against time. After a bad start, McDonald put in an amazing surge to move up from the mid 30s in the field to ultimately cross the line in 12th place at the U23 Cyclocross World Championships in Koksijde, Belgium on Saturday afternoon.
“I just couldn’t get into my pedal, botched a start again. You know I’ve been f*cking myself a lot there and I did it again. That’s pretty much it.” McDonald said a few seconds after crossing the line.
One lap into the race, with the field already exploded, McDonald was sitting in 33rd. His thoughts at that point were simple, “Either quit or keep going.”
“And so I decided to see who I could pick off on the first lap then kept on going from there, just catch groups. I never rested on the start/finish area, I just never rested anywhere other than a few seconds here and there and then just charged. The only nice thing is that I was alone for a little bit on the second half and I could ride all the sand sections and took off a lot of time there. I hit the first long sand section, looked back and everyone that was there with me was all the way back. I was riding well, interested to see lap times.”
He just kept moving up, top 25, top 20, top 15. A crash forced him to switch bikes and re-double his chase where he set the fourth fastest lap time of the race on lap 5. With one lap to go, top 10 was in his sights with two riders ahead of him also engaged in their own private fight.
“I tried to catch them but I screwed up one of the sand section but I wasn’t going to catch them anyway, they were battling each other.” he said. “They weren’t going to go easy on any of the flat sections…. it would have been nice to catch them for top 10.”
A definite improvement from his 23rd place at last year’s U23 Worlds. “I’m way more fit than I was last year. In St-Wendel I was always dangling off the front group whereas here, I was way in the back. I think the fitness is there, I just haven’t been able to, there’s only been a few races this year where I’ve been able to pull everything together. I know I can start, the question is actually doing it consistently. The races where I pulled it off together were Cincinnati, Elite Nationals, when it comes together, it comes together, I just haven’t been able to get it all in one race.”
Given all that, he said that he was not disappointed with his race. “I’m not that disappointed, it’s my own fault you know?”
Fellow American Cody Kaiser finished 36th in the race and improved on his earlier result of 52nd at the Koksijde World Cup in November.
“I felt good riding in the sand.” Kaiser said. “I was passing guys each lap, I was catching one, two guys. Nothing to say that I wish I could have done more so that was good. I finished better than I did when I was here in November, finished better than last weekend in Hoogerheide.”
The numerous sand sections, uphill, downhill, off-camber, change the rhythm to the racing. “It’s just really demanding.” Kaiser said of the course, “There’s never off the gas. Even the downhills you have to be on the gas because otherwise you’ll just stall. You’re always on and the spots where you want to go harder where it’s easy for us to go hard like on the pavement and the mud sections, you don’t because you have to save it all for the sand, you want to save all your bullets for the sand and so when you’re on the pavement, you’re trying to go easy for recovery. ”
Overall Kaiser was satisfied. “My goal was top 35 because I’ve never been 35th in Europe but 36th is close enough, next year will be better.”