USA Cycling will host the second cyclo-cross national championships of 2018, after the elite, under-23 and junior categories competed for the stars-and-stripes jerseys in Reno, Nevada in January, they will line up once again to race for the championship titles this weekend in Louisville, Kentucky. Stephen Hyde will try and defend his title for a third time in a row, while Katie Compton will attempt to add an astonishing 15th consecutive national cyclo-cross title to her long list of accomplishments.
The elite men's fields in the US have been decimated with injuries and illness, with defending champion Hyde and four-time national champion Jeremy Powers suffering setbacks. Last year's fourth-place finisher Tobin Ortenblad is out with a fractured collarbone, Jamie Driscoll is out with a broken leg, and Jonathan Page has retired.
It leaves the race more open and the pre-race predictions a bit hard to call, but Cyclingnews has picked four riders to watch from the elite men's field.
Stephen Hyde (Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld)
The defending US 'cross champion had a rough start to the season, crashing in the opening World Cup in Waterloo and suffering a fractured sternum. Just as he was recovering, he slipped on a run-up in Cinncinati and ended up with a concussion, sprained ankle and a dislocated rib.
But the 31-year-old seems to have put all of those injuries behind him, taking back-to-back victories at the NBX GP of Cyclo-cross in Warwick, Rhode Island, and the Joe Creason Park course is where Hyde claimed his Pan American Championship victory in 2017.
"It's a much different course (than Louisville's Eva Bandman) - there are almost no parallels drawn," Hyde told Cyclingnews. "It's very hilly - it has a lot of elevation gain and a much more slick mud texture, with mud and grass, as opposed to the silty river bottom sand like [Eva Bandman Park].
"I think it's a very challenging course, especially if it's wet. We didn't get rain last year for Pan Am's there but it was still wet enough that it became very soggy, very slow pedalling. It is really heavy, hilly course."
Gage Hecht (Alpha Bicycle-Groove Subaru)
Gage Hecht would be a favourite for the U23's, but the 20-year-old opted for the risky strategy of competing at the elite level in this year's championships.
Hecht turned heads on the road when he soloed away to victory on the opening stage of the Colorado Classic, and his style off-road is similar: when he sees daylight, he goes, and few can follow.
He dominated early in the season on the first day of the Boulder US Open, then again in the opening race in Cincinnati. Since then, he's been on a frightening streak - winning seven straight races from the C2 Silver Goose event in Ontario, where he topped Hyde, the U23 Pan American title, both days of the Resolution 'Cross Cup in Texas and Ruts 'n' Guts in Oklahoma.
One could say Hecht is up against a more experienced Hyde, but Hecht won his first national title in the 10-12 age group in 2009, before Hyde even started racing 'cross. With six titles already to his name in 'cross, Hecht is a real contender for the elite men's victory.
Curtis White (Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld)
Curtis White has filled the vacuum that last year's dominant riders left behind, winning seven UCI races this season including the Pan American Championships.
Fifth last year at the US national championships, White has stepped up his game, taking out back-to-back wins in Gloucester, Northampton, and at Supercross to seal the NECX Series.
The return of Hyde and the fact that Hecht will race in the elites in Louisville could complicate White's chances on the heavy, technical course.
Kerry Werner (Kona-Maxxis-Shimano)
Kerry Werner is another rider who has both benefitted from the more open elite men's fields while also putting intense focus into high-level cyclo-cross racing for the past few seasons.
A former U23 MTB national champion and cyclo-cross collegiate champion, Werner has ridden himself into two podiums at the elite level - coming third behind Hyde and Jamie Driscoll in Hartford in 2017, and this past January he was third again behind Hyde and Jeremy Powers.
Werner's results this year have been impressive: the 27-year-old swept the weekends in Roanoke and DC and clocked UCI wins in Nittany Lion CX, Charm City, Cincinnati and the final race before Nationals, the North Carolina Grand Prix.
Werner will have to go up against possible teamwork between White and Hyde, but he has shown himself to be adept on heavy, hilly courses.
Katie Compton at the Koksijde World Cup (Getty Images)
Compton aims for 15th consecutive national title
In the elite women's race, Katie Compton will line up with a goal of defending her 14-year title reign. She won her 14th title in Reno, Nevada, in January, but she will face some of the nation's top rising talents at the upcoming championships in Louisville. Cyclingnews picked four top contenders for the stars-and-stripes jersey in the elite women's race.
Katie Compton (KFC Racing-Trek)
Katie Compton is the number one American cyclo-cross racer participating on the world-class stage, and she has been for the last decade. She will line-up at the upcoming national championships in Louisville, as the out-right favourite to defend her title, and the coveted stars-and-stripes jersey that she has won for 14 consecutive seasons.
Compton is currently ranked second in the overall UCI World Ranking, behind world champion Sanne Cant, a position earned because of her strong performances at the UCI World Cup series. She had a slow start in the Iowa City round, but when the series returned to Europe, she finished third in Bern and then fourth in Namur. She also carries over her points from second place at the World Championships in Valkenburg in February, along with a victory in Nommay World Cup and top results in the DVV trophy series last calendar season.
Compton may have celebrated her 40th birthday this month, but she shows no signs of slowing down. After 14 seasons in the stars-and-stripes jersey, it would be hard to imagine anyone else wearing it, particularly as she lines up as the favourite to win it again.
Kaitie Keough (Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld)
If there is anyone who can rival Compton for the cyclo-cross national title in the elite women's race, it's Kaitie Keough. She trails Compton in the UCI World Ranking, in third place, and had a great start to the season with a World Cup victory in Iowa City.
She has'’t been able to translate that success in the European rounds this season, so far, however, with 10th in Bern her best performance. In American C1 events, Keough has done well, winning NBX GP, and podiums in Cincinnati and Charm City. She also had a victory at the C2 NBX GP, and a string of C2-level podiums at Silver Goose, Cincinnati, Charm City and Rochester.
Third at last year's national championships means that Keough will want to finally bring home that national champion’s jersey.
Ellen Noble (Trek Factory Racing)
Ellen Noble, ranked 14th in the world, is a rising star in women's cyclo-cross and a sure contender for the elite women's championships title in Louisville.
Noble was a runner-up in the under-23 category at the World Championships and winner of the corresponding World Cup. She continued with a smooth transition to the elite ranks, never more apparent than when she placed a narrow second to Marianne Vos at the World Cup round in Waterloo this September.
She just finished her first international season in mountain biking, too, and scored a spot on the expanding Trek women’s cyclo-cross program alongside Evie Richards.
At just 23 years old, Noble organises cyclo-cross camps for young women and is committed to breaking down barriers for women in cycling. If anyone has the guts, drive and determination to succeed Compton as the next US cyclo-cross champion, it's Noble.
Rebecca Fahringer (Kona-Maxxis-Shimano)
Scrolling further down the UCI ranking, there is a cluster of women who are challenging the top-level UCI events; Elle Anderson and Rebecca Fahringer, Samantha Runnels, Clara Honsinger, Sunny Gilbert, Courtenay Mcfadden and Crystal Anthony, who are all ranked among the top 40 in the world.
Andersen is not listed to compete in the championships race, but Fahringer stands a good chance of finishing on the podium, and on a good day, winning the title outright.
She was second to Keough at the NBX GP C1 event earlier this month, and has consistently placed in the top 10 at C1-level events across the US. She is also a consistent podium finisher in C2-level events, placing second in the SuperCross opener and then winning the second day’s event. She also stood on the podiums at NorthHampton International, DCCX and Charm City.