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Jonathan Page races on his home turf in Oudenaarde.
Former Worlds runner-up chases Louisville starting spot
The results from cyclo-cross rider Jonathan Page in his current European campaign have not left a big impression so far. Apart from a ninth place in a race in Dottignies that was not part of any series, the 36-year-old American never cracked the top-15. In the two World Cup rounds in the Czech Republic, the American was 29th and 32nd respectively. However, the former runner-up at the cyclo-cross world championships of Hooglede-Gits in 2007 improved on recent performances at the Superprestige round in Asper-Gavere on Sunday.
Always choosing his own program in the past, Page tended to skip the races at home in the USA to compete with the best in Europe. He even bought a house in Oudenaarde, at the heart of the Belgian cycling world. For a few years it worked out, but last year the results didn't come, and eventually the long-expected ending of his contract with Planetbike meant he was without a main sponsor for the 2012-2013 cyclo-cross season.
Few things kept the Page family in Belgium, and last summer they bought a house in the US. Still, Page opted to ride a European campaign as it was the cheapest choice. The races in the US often oblige riders to use flights whereas those in Europe are mostly within a two-hour drive from each other.
With no significant results this year and often confronted with other physical setbacks, Page's morale sunk.
"It's been hard to keep the confidence. Let's face it. I've had a few sleepless nights," said Page. "It was time to put up or shut up. This morning I told myself: 'F*** it, let's see where I end up.' I was sick of feeling like shit."
"Before the race, I discussed tactics with Franky [Van Haesebroucke, coach and mechanic]. I should pick my rhythm as I'm OK," Page said.
Van Haesebroucke noted that his rider had a good start in the top-15 but quickly lost ground.
"I didn't race in the first laps. Several riders fell. I just had to be patient. Finally I found some space to move forward," Page said.
A lot of riders dealt with broken derailleurs in the sticky mud of Gavere. Several riders were even forced to pull out of the race as they ran out of spare bikes. Page, too, had his share of bad luck as he broke his derailleur halfway through the race and fell back from a spot well inside the top-20 to around 25th.
The eight-lap long race took its toll on riders and equipment and eventually Page started making up a lot of ground and finished in 12th place. It was a huge boost for his morale and at the finish, Cyclingnews approached clearly satisfied mud-clad Page.
"This race reminded a bit of the one in Hooglede. Several riders lose their grip and start spinning in the mud. Just like in Hooglede, you had to pace yourself and then open the gas on other spots. I was often alone on the long sections towards the finish, but today I didn't care. My head was full of snot. I'm on antibiotics right now, and yesterday I've been sweating and snotty. This [result] is very good for my head though, but now I need confirmation," Page said.
Part of his motivation to do well is to capture a selection for the cyclo-cross world championships which will be held for the first time ever in the US, with Louisville, Kentucky hosting the event.
While Page's selection had been obvious in the past, it became less so in recent years. With few results in the bag this season, Page started doubting, too. "The next two weeks are important if I can confirm I'm on the right track."
To get one of the six spots on the US team, there are several criteria to take into consideration. Being the national champion provides for an automatic selection as does being one of the the top-three American riders in the UCI rankings. Currently those top three racers are Jeremy Powers (Rapha-Focus), Ryan Trebon (Cannondale - Cyclocrossworld) and Timothy Johnson (Cannondale - Cyclocrossworld); Page is fifth. Next, athletes with a top-15 result in a World Cup round are selected and for now, only Powers has claimed that result. The next criterium is the accumulated amount of points in selected C1-races on American soil, which Page mostly doesn't take part in. The path toward Louisville seems clear: Page has to get a top-15 result in a World Cup round.
Next weekend will bring the third round of the World Cup of Koksijde, host to the cyclo-cross world championships last season. On Sunday, there's the fifth Superprestige round in Gieten, Netherlands, and the following week there's the next World Cup round in Roubaix, France.