On February 3rd, 2013, for the first time in history, the UCI Cyclo-cross World Championships will be hosted in the United States in Louisville, Kentucky. While American racers are accustomed to traveling across the Atlantic to compete in prestigious international events, European racers rarely travel more than a few hours by car to compete. It is for this reason that the American cyclo-cross community is hoping this will be the year their elite men will shine at the World Championships and maybe, just maybe, they will upset the Belgian apple cart of domination.
Early season results prove motivation is high amongst the Americans to do well on a year that may very well be a once in a lifetime opportunity; a home court advantage at Worlds.
A few Europeans have ventured across the pond to try their hand at cyclo-cross in America over the past few years and Cannondale p/b Cyclo-crossWorld Team Director Stu Thorne said one thing stood out to him during their visits: "They were less prepared than when they are home."
Thorne, however, is confident the Europeans will be more prepared for Louisville, but he's convinced it will not be as easy as they're used to. "There's a lot of speculation right now about how they're going to do it. I'm pretty sure of one thing, and that's that each rider won't have all the comforts he's used to at home. Maybe two riders will have to share a camper instead of each having his own," he added, laughing.
The following is a list of five elite men from the USA, in no particular order, who stand the best chance to climb onto the podium in Louisville:
The current US National Champion has come out swinging this season already having won seven of the 10 races he's entered, including a star-studded UCI C1 CrossVegas and four UCI C1 events, his most recent weekend included back to back wins in the USGP in Fort Collins. Powers has made it known that he is aiming for top-5 finishes at the World Cups in the Czech Republic at the end of October and his more recent 7th place in Tabor showed this is not out of the question.
The World Championships, however, have not been historically kind to Powers. In the past four years, he has finished 35th, 41st, 16th, and 26th. In Powers' favor this year, however, is the fact that he has won three of the last four USGP events on the Louisville grounds. While the World Championship course has yet to be finalized, we can assume it will share features from the USGP courses and this will add to the "home court advantage" for Powers.
Photo: Dave McElwaine
The two-time US National Champion has shown that when he is firing on all cylinders his power is almost unmatchable.
Trebon doesn't seem too concerned about the effect of the travel on the Europeans. "I travelled further than they will just to get home after Gloucester," Trebon said. "Either way," he added, "I don't want to do well in spite of other people's problems."
While Trebon has experienced considerable success in the US, he has struggled at the World Championships, except for last year in Koksijde where he was the top American, finishing in 18th place. Before that, Trebon missed the 2011 Worlds, finished 50th in 2010 and was a DNF in 2009. Like Powers, however, he has also done well at the Louisville USGP events finishing 2nd in three of the last four races.
When asked if he would prefer a muddy or dry course, Trebon said it won't matter to him. "If it's dry, it will be fast and a group will form. The Europeans are very aggressive and it's hard to stay in the top ten if there's a group. If it's muddy, the Europeans are fast in that, too, "he said, laughing a bit, "So either way it will be a hard race."
Johnson is a six time US National Champion and one of the few Americans to actually stand on the podium of a World Championship event. Johnson took the bronze medal in the 1999 U23 Worlds and according to him, "Anyone who has won a medal knows what's it's like and will be hungry for one again."
Johnson has yet to crack the top-10 at an Elite World Championships though he came close in 2010 when he finished 14th and he looked poised to crack the top-10 at the 2011 World Championships in Sankt Wendel when a crash ended his race early.
After a sub-par season last year, Johnson claims to have made a lot of changes this year, saying, "I've finally tailored my training and race schedule to give me the best shot possible in Louisville this year."
Unlike Trebon, Johnson thinks the travel will have an effect on the Europeans, especially if the weather is as unpredictable as it usually is at that time of year. "It's difficult to have perfect, easy travel," said Johnson. "You can't ignore this disadvantage for the Europeans and for us, because it's at home we won't have any crazy travel, the surroundings are familiar, we know the course, and we'll have the crowd support."
For once, resources will be in the Americans' favor, according to Johnson, so the more chaotic the weekend is, the happier he will be.
While Page's results haven't been as impressive lately as in years past, his peers all agree he is never to be counted out of a World Championship event. Like Johnson, Page also stood on the podium when he won the silver medal at the 2007 Elite World Championships in Hooglede-Gits.
At the 2011 World Championships in Sankt Wendel, Page was riding in the top-3 for the first few laps when a flat tire relegated him to 35th place. He was able to claw his way back by the end of the race to finish in the 12th spot proving he still has what it takes to race at the highest level.
Page has, unarguably, the most experience racing against the Europeans as he has lived in Belgium for a number of years. Page is living in Belgium at the moment, but plans on returning to the United States well in advance of the Louisville event. "My biggest advantage will be that I will have gotten used to the time change and I will have recovered from the travel." He also agrees with Thorne and Johnson about the negative effects of travel on the Europeans.
Wells is coming off one of his most successful mountain biking seasons of his career during which he finished 7th in the Elite World Championships, won the Pan American Championship, finished 4th in the Windham, NY World Cup and finished 10th at the Olympics.
Wells never shows up to an event unprepared and while his spot on the World Championship team isn't yet guaranteed, his past performances indicate he will be prepared to race well at the US National Championships to earn that spot.
Historically, Wells has raced less than half the schedule of his full-time US cyclo-cross competitors but in his last five trips to the US National Championships he has won one title and finished outside the top-5 on only one occasion.
Wells has a career of international mountain bike competition working in his favor when it comes to racing with the world's best and he also agrees that a World Championship event on home turf is an excellent opportunity. When asked to describe why Wells should be considered a threat at the World Championships in Louisville, Tim Johnson put it simply, saying, "He's a world class cyclist."