Tim Johnson (Cannondale p/b Cyclocrossworld.com) is optimistic about his chances of defending the stars and stripes jersey despite coming down with an illness just days prior to the start of the USA Cycling Cyclo-cross National Championships to be held on Sunday in Bend, Oregon.
"I'm trying not to think about it too much because if you spend all your time worrying about being sick and worrying about what could happen then that takes time away from trying make it the best day you can," Johnson told Cyclingnews.
"Being sick at any time sucks but at least it is still early in the week and I can still get some riding in. The weather has been bad with snow on the ground so it's not like everyone else is getting in tons of miles outside. I can only do what I can."
Johnson highlighted the tough competitors that he will battle against during the elite men's 60-minute race, starting with his two teammate Jeremy Powers, who recently won overall series titles at the US Gran Prix of Cyclo-cross (USGP) and the North American Cyclo-cross Trophy (NACT) and Jamey Driscoll, who won two events at Jingle Cross. He also picked out former national champions Ryan Trebon (Kona-FSA) and Todd Wells (Specialized) as a pair of favourites.
"I have more than enough of a fight on my hands with Jeremy riding so well and Ryan and Todd being right there," Johnson said. "It's tough because we got done with a series like the USGP where you put in so much time and effort with traveling and you do everything to make it happen.
"Then we switch over to just one day, an all-out effort for just one hour like nationals. It's so much more compressed and there is so much more at stake in a short period of time.
"The list is really tight with Jeremy, Todd, Ryan and Jamey," he added. "But I think Todd may have been hiding a little bit of form for some reason or another and I expect that to pop out and give us a whole lot of trouble. The way that Ryan is riding, I'm sure that he is 100 percent fit and will be a whole handful."
Notably absent from the start list is the 2007 UCI cyclo-cross world championship silver medalist Jonathan Page (Planet Bike) who has won the national title on three previous occasions. He is currently racing and living full-time with his family in Oudenaarde, Belgium. He announced earlier this season that he would not be making the trip back to the US for nationals this year.
"It's too bad that he's not here," Johnson said. "I talked to him about it in Koksijde and asked him if it was true that he wasn't coming home and he said he wasn't. It's too bad because he's done a lot for American 'cross by wearing the jersey for as many years as he did.
"He's done well at Worlds and has been a guy that you can never take for granted because he is always going to push you to the limit. I think it's really too bad that he's not here and I hope he comes back next year. I think US 'cross needs him here."
Racers will contest the national title on a new course in the Old Mill District near downtown Bend. Organiser Brad Ross lengthened the circuit and included several challenging introductions including two sets of stairs. Johnson is expecting prime muddy cyclo-cross conditions due to the thawing of a recent bout of snow and cold temperatures.
"It looks like it will be in the 40s [Fahrenheit] with a 30 percent chance of precipitation," Johnson said. "There is snow on the ground now but after 1,800 racers do five laps each it will probably be similar conditions to last year. It will be frozen and icy through Saturday and then turn into a mud slop on Sunday.
"I like it when it's really muddy and when it's a difficult course physically, tactically and technically," he said. "I'm definitely not the role of favourite because Jeremy showed himself to be that guy this past weekend in Portland. After the battle that we had, I think he is my number one favourite to be the biggest guy to battle with on Sunday."
Johnson recently returned from a European 'cross campaign that included the Superprestige Asper-Gavere and the UCI World-Cup in Koksijde.