Massachusetts native Jesse Anthony, a seven-time US cyclo-cross champion, has a clear passion for the discipline but like many of his compatriots who must balance a full road season with 'cross, the time may soon come when he will have to choose one or the other.
Anthony dominated the 'cross scene as a junior and espoir, but after making a successful transition to the road, the full season of racing began to wear on him when it came to 'cross. The results which his earlier seasons portended never materialised in the elite ranks of 'cross, and failing to strike the right balance, Anthony says he may face a tough decision to choose one sport or the other in the near future.
"I can see that decision coming into play soon. Or, at least sacrificing a significant part of either one of those seasons. As it is now I don't go to Europe, I haven't done ['cross] worlds for a few years, so in that regard I've sacrificed a little 'cross racing to race road," Anthony told Cyclingnews after clocking up one of his best results of the season, a fourth place at the Portland Cup earlier this month.
But while encouraging, his result in Portland followed a string of disappointments as he tried to squeeze some more life out of his road-weary legs.
"When it came time for the cyclo-cross season I was hanging by a thread and just coming off a stint of hard road races followed by a three-week sinus infection. After a round of antibiotics I went straight from the USPro road race national championship in Greenville to 'Cross Vegas in Las Vegas three days later.
"I was coming off some good form, but my gas tank contained only fumes. I survived 'Cross Vegas, finishing in the top 15, but another three days later I completely cracked at the first round of the USGP in Madison, Wisconsin."
A bit more rest and some very specific training helped Anthony take wins in the two Granogue 'cross races in October, but the wind went out of his sails later that month. His result in Portland would be his best against a stacked field, and while he was satisfied with a 10th place at nationals, after reflecting on the season it was clear what went wrong.
"When I look back at it all I don't wonder why I struggled this 'cross season. I simply overextended myself," he explained. "I tried to emulate Tim Johnson in the 2007-2009 seasons. He was racing the same 10-month schedule. Somehow he could handle all of that racing throughout the year, but I'm not Tim."
After spending much of 2009 trying to come back from a bout of mononucleosis, Anthony earned a spot on the Kelly Benefit Strategies road team this year, and said proving himself as a worthy member of the team took up most of his energies in the 2010 season.
"After being injured twice in 2008 and sick with mono for most of 2009, I had a lot to prove to the cycling world and to myself in 2010. This spring I was really focused on getting results early in the road season, and the hard work paid off when I had a few great rides in March and April."
The early season Vuelta al Uruguay was the launching pad for the season, where Anthony claimed top tens in three stages. A second place overall in the Tour de Korea followed, showing that he was well on his way to his goal of repaying his team "for their faith and investment in me".
Anthony returned from a trip to Europe in August with the overall trophy from the Festningsrittet, a Danish three-day stage race.
"I learned so much this year, from beginning to end. The most obvious lesson that I can point out is that I will be best off by narrowing my focus to a few months out of the year and really going full-gas during those times," he said, explaining that this may lead to the difficult decision to scale back his emphasis on the 'cross season.
"I feel the only road or only 'cross decision coming into play for me soon, but at this point, even after a disappointing season for me, I can't give up on cyclo-cross. The sport is getting so much bigger and so much cooler here in America, and there's nothing like the feeling of finishing a 'cross race freezing cold and covered in mud asking yourself why the heck you just did that, when you have the biggest smile on your face and you can't wait for next time.
"The 2010 'cross season overall was not what I hoped for, but again, I know I put forth my best effort all fall," he continued. "I love cyclo-cross and I enjoyed and appreciated the great experiences I had during this past season. Right now I'm taking some time to digest everything that happened, talk to some people whom I trust and have a lot of experience with this stuff, and I'll move forward into 2011 with a fresh set of goals and ambitions."