The US Cyclo-cross Nationals have gotten underway in Verona, Wisconsin for the second year in a row, awarding titles in the singlespeed and masters categories in the first two days.
Racing is once again being shaped by an uncharacteristically temperate climate and a mix of snow and mud. The open Swiss-style course runs across much the same lines as the 2012 course in Verona's Badger Prairie Park. Stand out features include a steep slipper climb dubbed the Koppen-Badger and a railroad tie run are up custom made for the long legs of a rider like Ryan Trebon.
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Jeremy Powers (Rapha-Focus) heads into this year's race as the overwhelming favorite after a dominating performance at the Chicago Cup New Years Resolution race, and his string of early season victories. Powers is the most decorated and feared rider going into Sunday's race. "Everyone wants’ to win," said Jamey Driscoll, "But realistically Jeremy has been so far above me, in particular, and everyone else racing this year in the US."
A slew of strong performances in Europe over the last several weeks by cyclo-cross pioneer Jonathan Page has increased his odds of taking the Stars and Stripes to live in Europe for a year. Page excels in the muddy, wet, conditions found in his adopted home of Belgium, but so does Tim Johnson (Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld) who grew up racing the same inclement conditions as Page in New England. Johnson brings a strong team to Wisconsin that includes Sunday's Chicago Cups New Years Resolution winner Driscoll and former national champion Ryan Trebon. The field includes several dark horses who are looking to grab a spot at worlds in Louisville such as Danny Summerhill, 2013 new singlespeed national champion Adam Craig (Giant), and Chris Jones and Zach MacDonald of the (Rapha-Focus) squad.
After clinching the World Cup title in Rome last weekend Katie Compton (Trek Cyclo-cross Collective) comes into nationals as the overwhelming favorite. Cyclo-cross legend Steve Tilford laughed when asked his thoughts on the women's race. "Even if she’s (Compton) jet lagged with one arm behind her back she’s winning that race. That’s an easy prediction. She hasn’t lost nationals in a decade." Compton, an eight-time national cyclo-cross champion, casts a long shadow over the remainder of the field which is expected to battle for second.
Compton's primary challenge is likely to come from Georgia Gould (Luna) whose 2012 season included medals at the Olympics and World MTB Championships. Also on the front row will be Crystal Anthony, Nicole Duke, Meredith Miller, Maureen Bruno Roy and Compton’s protégée, Kaitlin Antonneau (Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld), who finished second overall and won the U23 title in 2012. Given the race is in her home state, she will be extra motivated for another big performance.
After recent victories at Chicago Cyclocross Cup’s New Years Resolution events Elle Anderson (Ladies First) and Arley Kemmerer (Charm City Cycling) are both showing good form and could prove to be outside podium contenders.
Yannick Eckmann's (California Giant Berry Farms/Specialized/California Giant Cycling) series of strong finishes from the Bend USGP races the New Years Resolution will put a big target on his back for the U23 crown. Eckmann was Tim Johnson's pick for for the U23 win after Eckmann passed him at the New Years Resolution race in Chicago last Saturday.
"Yannick is flying," said Johnson after Sunday's race "So I’d be betting on him." With Zach MacDonald opting to ride the Elite race, the only rider challenging in Eckmann’s class at the moment is Kerry Werner (BMC U23 development MTB Team.) Werner will also be racing in the Collegiate Division 1 race for Lees-McRae, making him one of the few double threats at nationals.
The 17-18 junior men’s race will be a battle between eight-time national champion Logan Owen (Team Redline), and long time nemesis Curtis White (Hot Tubes). Owen and White finished 1-2 at a UCI race in Namur, Belgium last month, marking them as the next generation of American cyclo-cross stars.
Junior Men and U23 Men’s races will both be held on Saturday January 12th , and the both the Elite Men’s and Women’s races will be held on Sunday January 13th. With temperatures expected to drop into the 20’s over the weekend the elite battles on Sunday should offer a slippery and challenging course for America’s best cyclo-cross racers.