For an uncomfortably lengthy stint of the current cyclo-cross season, Jonathan Page faced the grim prospect that perhaps something which had previously been a given in his years in the elite ranks, a start at the 'cross world championships, would not come to fruition. And this of all years, the first time in the history of the cyclo-cross world championships that not only would the event take place outside of Europe, but on American soil in Louisville, Kentucky.
Adding insult to injury is the fact that Page is the only American to ever stand on the podium at the conclusion of an elite men's cyclo-cross world championship, a milestone achieved with his silver medal performance at the 2007 Worlds in Hooglede-Gits, Belgium.
"It became quite apparent that there could be a world championship in America without Jonathan Page," Page told Cyclingnews. "It's not that I wasn't trying, I was sick from late October into almost the middle of December. Basically there were two respiratory infections, and I had to go on antibiotics two times in a row and that's just never good. I could not afford to stop racing so I would go to the races and suffer, but I wasn't even in the same race, so to speak."
The season had already commenced under trying circumstances as Page had lost his title bike sponsor and scrambled to make ends meet with secondary sponsors. Still, Page found some success in his usual early season block of racing in the US with a pair of second place finishes plus six other results in which he was never worse than eighth, but after traveling to his residence in Oudenaarde, Belgium, for another European campaign, the results were nowhere to be found, curtailed by health issues.
But Page is nothing if not resilient, particularly with his back against the wall. Come late December the only means for Page to ensure an automatic Worlds team selection was to place top-15 at a World Cup. Jeremy Powers, Ryan Trebon and Tim Johnson seemed to be locks for the automatic bids earned by being the top-three ranked US riders on the UCI standings, and at this point Page wasn't planning on attending US nationals in mid-January, where the winner would also earn an automatic bid.
Flickers of form began to flourish with a 12th place result on December 22nd at Belgium's GP Rouwmoer, but the following day provided the elusive automatic bid - a 15th place finish in Namur, Belgium at the fifth round of the World Cup. Six days later he finished fifth at the Versloys Cyclo-cross and on New Year's Day he notched another top-10 with a ninth place at the GP Sven Nys.
Then Page received a lifeline to contest the US 'cross nationals in Wisconsin, setting into motion a season-salvaging string of events. "After my bicycle company [sponsorship] went through we were in some serious financial difficulties, so it wouldn't have been financially responsible of me to come back [to nationals]," said Page. "I wasn't planning on it, but ENGVT and Bob Downs of Planet Bike pitched in, they got me to the start line and I didn't have to worry about any financial burdens. I couldn't say enough and thank them for what they've done."
Resplendent in an ENGVT skinsuit, the 36-year-old Page soloed to his fourth elite national championship win on a frigid, icy parcours, a long nine years since he'd previously earned a stars-and-stripes jersey. "This is the most satisfying victory of the four [elite] nationals wins. Myself and my family went through a lot this season and it feels good and gratifying to finish in the top spot. It's good for the whole family and the people who've supported me. It's a thanks to them, more than anything."
More good news arrived this past Wednesday, as Page, who rode to his fourth national title on a bike with its logos taped over, announced that he'd received bike sponsorship from Fuji, who'll support him through Worlds to the end of this season (Page still has eight races in Europe to contest following the world championships).
"On Saturday, about one hour before the race in Cincinnati, Miray [Galvez], the representative from Fuji, called me up and asked what I was looking for. I told them and then I wanted to see if they could do the turnover time and we agreed that we should try to figure it out. Then I went bike racing."
And race he did, finishing fourth at the Cincinnati Kings International, just 23 seconds down on 2012 world champions Niels Albert.
"They called me back and said they'd like to do it and yesterday afternoon (Wednesday), I got some bikes." Page now has an arsenal of Fuji Altamira CX 1.0s, Shimano-equipped and utilising cantilever, not disc, brakes.
Following a block of frigid training post-nationals in New Hampshire, where Page, his wife and three children resided at his mother's house, Page and family arrived in the Louisville area last Sunday, one week prior to his world championship event.
"Planet Bike pitched in again to help keep the family together, otherwise it would be a long time that I would be away. Once again, they came to our rescue." With his family gathered in Louisville, the Pages were able to celebrate their youngest daughter Pearl's second birthday on Thursday together as a family.
"So far I'm very happy, the people here are very nice. The city of Louisville seems to be behind it, I've had an interview with the local television channel. All and all it's good. It's fun to go out and look at all the pretty horses and ride around in the countryside."
Page is the only member of the US's elite men's Worlds team who's never raced turned a pedal in anger at Eva Bandman Park, the venue for this weekend's historic 'cross world championship. His teammates Jeremy Powers, Ryan Trebon, Tim Johnson, Danny Summerhill and Jamey Driscoll all contested the US Gran Prix of Cyclo-cross weekend this past November, with Powers winning both days and Trebon, Summerhill and Johnson all finding the podium as well. Indeed, Powers estimates he's done 500 to 600 laps at the venue in recent years. Nonetheless, Page has been in Louisville since Sunday and has conducted his own recon of the Worlds venue.
"It depends on the weather, of course. I like the looks of the course and I'm just happy about being in America and racing the world championships is very exciting," said Page. "I'm optimistic. I've been pretty much healthy and have got nothing but good thoughts. There's nothing to lose and everything to gain."
Page speaks of "magical day", those rare outings every cyclist dreams of where the bicycle seems to pedal itself, such as the American experienced during his legendary 2007 'cross Worlds. "I know it normally the day before whether I'll have a good day or not," said Page. "I didn't have a magical day at nationals and haven't really had one this whole season, so I've saved it for the big day on Sunday [The race has moved to Saturday. - ed.], that's the way I'm thinking of it."