USA Cycling's 26-rider contingent in Bogense, Denmark, for the 2019 UCI Cyclo-cross World Championships will be dreaming of matching Matt Kelly's rainbow jersey ride in the junior category at the 1999 Worlds in Poprad, Slovakia. Although many have come close and the stack of silver and bronze medals has grown quite tall, Kelly's gold medal stands as the pinnacle for US 'cross results.
The 2018-19 season has marked many firsts and personal bests for US riders, and the men and women representing USA Cycling in this year's junior, under-23 and elite categories will line up on Saturday and Sunday with visions of podiums, medals and maybe even jerseys pushing forward in their thoughts.
Racing begins on Saturday with the junior men's race, where reigning US champion Alex Morton is a rider to watch, along with Nick Carter, who placed second at Nationals in very muddy conditions similar to what riders could face in Bogense.
In the U23 race, two-time Pan Am champion Gage Hecht will be in the spotlight, along with national champion Spencer Petrov and Lance Haidet. All three placed in the top 20 at the final UCI World Cup race last week in Hoogerheide, in the Netherlands.
Saturday will culminate with the elite women's race, where 2018 Worlds runner-up Katie Compton and Kaitie Keough, currently ranked sixth in the world, will make runs for the podium.
Sunday will start with the U23 women's race. Clara Honsigner, the reigning Pan Am and US champion, placed second in the U23 category in last week's World Cup in Hoogerheide and will be a rider to watch. Juniors Katie Clouse and Maddie Munro will race in the combined category and could also be in the hunt for medals.
The weekend will culminate with the elite men's race, where three-time US champion Stephen Hyde will compete alongside teammate and Pan Am champion Curtis White, who will make his elite world championships debut.
The US team lost Elle Anderson and Magnus Sheffield from the roster. Anderson is out due to illness, while Sheffield crashed in Pont-Chateau and broke his collarbone.
USA Cycling offered Anderson's spot to reserve Courtenay McFadden, but McFadden was already travelling home to the US after racing in Europe, so she declined the spot. Sheffield was not replaced because he is the Continental champion and gained his start by virtue of that title, separate from the country's allocated number of starters.
The US team travelled to Europe after Nationals, and riders have been competing in the World Cups and other series races. Results at the final World Cup in Hoogerheide could bode well for this weekend. As per the usual, the best US results came in the women's race, with Compton finished second and Keough sixth. Rebecca Fahringer was 18th.
Petrov scored a US-best 13th place in the U23 race in Hooherheide, while Hyde and White were 24th and 26th, respectively, in the elite men's race.
Setting themselves up well for Worlds
Cyclingnews recently spoke with former US pro and current cycling commentator Tim Johnson, along with Jesse Anthony, USA Cycling's new cyclo-cross manager, about the US team in Bogense and how well they could perform.
"It's going to be a fast course, and I really hope Katie Compton will be able to go head-to-head with Worst and Vos and all the other women that are just out there showing it," Johnson told Cyclingnews by phone from the USA Cycling offices in Colorado Springs.
"I don't think that Neff is going to be the favourite as much as people would like, just because there's not as much elevation gain and there's not enough technical riding for her really show through. So I think she's going to be kind of pinned, and I think that puts a lot on on Vos as really the head-and-shoulder favourite."
As for the men, where Dutchman Mathieu van der Poel has been dominant this season but Belgian Wout Van Aert has been able to foil him at Worlds three years in a row, Johnson is realistic about the US riders' chances for a medal and is hoping for a good show from the top riders.
"I think America's favourite is Wout [Van Aert]," Johnson said. "We all want him to do battle to the bitter end, and if the bitter end is 58 minutes into the race, we'll be a happier fan base for that.
"Stephen [Hyde] is really a question mark because of how he's going to be able to ride after not racing that much," Johnson said. "I know that he's one of the most dedicated trainers out there. So if you're going to have to show up sharp, which he will, he's got a good shot at doing that."
"Curtis [White] had a really good ride the other day," Johnson said. "He just kept missing these groups that were forming, but he's got a lot of speed and he's got a lot of ability to kind of get the most out of himself. I'm just looking for him to have a really good start, and then he'll be able to have the race he wants after that."
Anthony, who only recently filled the new cyclo-cross manager position with the US governing body, is with the US team in Europe. He agreed with Johnson that Hyde's injury-abbreviated season leaves the US champion as somewhat of a question mark, but the lack of racing means he could also have fresher legs than most of his competitors.
"I see an opportunity for him to be really fresh or the freshest going into this race," Anthony said by phone last week form the team's base in the Netherlands.
"I think it wasn't good for Stephen on the Christmas block, and then he didn't do Pont-Chateau, [but he did do Hoohgerheide -ed.], so hopefully that is enough of a tune-up for him. But we saw him come back toward the end of the US season before nationals, and he was riding really well. I honestly think he can have a really good race.
"Curtis [White] has been riding really well all season," Anthony said. "The question is, does he still have some energy after he came out swinging pretty hard early, and then he's been going all season, but he's been super consistent and really good this year."
The team's results at the penultimate race of the World Cup last month in Pont-Chateau were disappointing overall, but the results among several riders were back by Hoogerheide, and Anthony hopes that bodes well for the entire team.
"I think a lot of riders were dealing with fatigue from that Christmas block, but I think Pont-Chateau was the race to have a bit of an off weekend," he said. "I think it was good to get some of that fatigue out of the way. They went down to Spain and trained, and I think the same goes for Kaitie Keough. She got a bit of a slow start in Pont-Chateau, and I think that was just a manifestation of the fatigue she had from training. After that she was riding the same lap times as that front group for so long.
"We've seen that Katie Compton and Katie Keough have the ability to beat all these riders on the right day, and I see them setting themselves up well for the world championships. It's really all about Worlds for them, and that goes for the entire team."
USA Cycling roster for UCI Cyclo-cross Worlds
Kaitie Keough (Cannondale p/b Cyclocrossworld)
Katie Compton (KFC Racing p/b Trek and Knight Composites)
Ellen Noble (Trek Factory Racing CX)
Samantha Runnels (Squid Squad)
Rebecca Fahringer (Kona Maxxis Shimano CX)
Curtis White (Cannondale p/b Cyclocrossworld)
Kerry Werner (Kona Maxxis Shimano CX)
Stephen Hyde (Cannondale p/b Cyclocrossworld)
Anthony Clark (Squid Squad)
Cody Kaiser (LangeTwins/Specialized)
Clara Honsinger (Team S&M Cyclocross)
Katie Clouse (Alpha Bicycle Co / Groove Subaru)
Emma Swartz (Trek Cyclocross Collective)
Maddie Munro (Boulder Junior Cycling)
Gage Hecht (Alpha Bicycle Co / Groove Subaru)
Spencer Petrov (Cannondale p/b Cyclocrossworld.com)
Brannan Fix (Alpha Bicycle Co / Groove Subaru)
Lance Haidet (Donnelly Pro Cyclocross)
Sam Noel (Cannondale p/b Cyclocrossworld.com )
Cooper Willsey (Cannondale p/b Cyclocrossworld.com)
Alex Morton (Cannondale p/b Cyclocrossworld.com)
Nick Carter (KCCX Elite Cyclocross Team)
Andrew Strohmeyer (CTS Cycling Team)
Jared Scott (Boulder Junior Cycling)
Lucas Stierwalt (Lionhearts Junior Racing)