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Race tech: US cyclo-cross national championships

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Todd Wells (Specialized) had his wheels neatly arranged in case they were needed.

Todd Wells (Specialized) had his wheels neatly arranged in case they were needed.
(Image credit: James Huang)
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Some teams made do with just a bucket of water to clean up messy bikes.

Some teams made do with just a bucket of water to clean up messy bikes.
(Image credit: James Huang)
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Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com had up to five bikes per rider on hand.

Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com had up to five bikes per rider on hand.
(Image credit: James Huang)
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The Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com crew waiting with bikes in hand in case their riders decide to come through the pits.

The Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com crew waiting with bikes in hand in case their riders decide to come through the pits.
(Image credit: James Huang)
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Mark Legg wipes off Katie Compton's (Planet Bike) bike after a wash in case it's needed again.

Mark Legg wipes off Katie Compton's (Planet Bike) bike after a wash in case it's needed again.
(Image credit: James Huang)
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Kona team mechanic Dusty LaBarr brings spare bikes, wheels, tools, a compressor gun, and even a spare seat and post (with height pre-marked) just in case.

Kona team mechanic Dusty LaBarr brings spare bikes, wheels, tools, a compressor gun, and even a spare seat and post (with height pre-marked) just in case.
(Image credit: James Huang)
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Pit location for this year's nationals wasn't ideal as both entries were situated at high-speed sections.

Pit location for this year's nationals wasn't ideal as both entries were situated at high-speed sections.
(Image credit: James Huang)
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SRAM neutral service mechanic Jose Alcala was ready with a pack full of spare parts.

SRAM neutral service mechanic Jose Alcala was ready with a pack full of spare parts.
(Image credit: James Huang)
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Jeremy Powers' (Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com) crew waits for him to come into the pits with one man waiting to catch the incoming bike and another holding the replacement in position.

Jeremy Powers' (Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com) crew waits for him to come into the pits with one man waiting to catch the incoming bike and another holding the replacement in position.
(Image credit: James Huang)
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(Image credit: James Huang)
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Powers blazes into the pits as his catcher gets ready for the release. Teammate Jamey Driscoll motors through to move into third.

Powers blazes into the pits as his catcher gets ready for the release. Teammate Jamey Driscoll motors through to move into third.
(Image credit: James Huang)
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Poetry in motion: Powers has unloaded his bike and is already unclipped and running towards his second bike.

Poetry in motion: Powers has unloaded his bike and is already unclipped and running towards his second bike.
(Image credit: James Huang)
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How many Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com guys do you see in this picture? It's not just the riders that win the race in 'cross.

How many Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com guys do you see in this picture? It's not just the riders that win the race in 'cross.
(Image credit: James Huang)
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New bike in hand, old bike already en route to be repaired.

New bike in hand, old bike already en route to be repaired.
(Image credit: James Huang)
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Powers mounts the replacement bike at full steam

Powers mounts the replacement bike at full steam
(Image credit: James Huang)
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Ryan Trebon (Kona) had two spare bikes on hand and teammate Barry Wicks had one as well.

Ryan Trebon (Kona) had two spare bikes on hand and teammate Barry Wicks had one as well.
(Image credit: James Huang)
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Team support crews stand at the ready waiting for their riders to come through.

Team support crews stand at the ready waiting for their riders to come through.
(Image credit: James Huang)
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Torn-off rear derailleurs were one of the modes of failure today.

Torn-off rear derailleurs were one of the modes of failure today.
(Image credit: James Huang)
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As is customary in 'cross, the pit area was two-sided. After riders pass by on side, crews shift everything over to the other side.

As is customary in 'cross, the pit area was two-sided. After riders pass by on side, crews shift everything over to the other side.
(Image credit: James Huang)
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Specialized's expo area was equipped with its own water supply and pressure washer.

Specialized's expo area was equipped with its own water supply and pressure washer.
(Image credit: James Huang)
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Some were slightly simpler with just wheels, a bucket of water and brushes, and tools.

Some were slightly simpler with just wheels, a bucket of water and brushes, and tools.
(Image credit: James Huang)
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This was a pretty typical pit area setup for the day.

This was a pretty typical pit area setup for the day.
(Image credit: James Huang)
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Some of the handiest gadgets in the pit area are the Craftsman handheld compressor gun and the Nomad portable washer.

Some of the handiest gadgets in the pit area are the Craftsman handheld compressor gun and the Nomad portable washer.
(Image credit: James Huang)
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WD-40, Pam, and de-icer spray: standard fare for 'cross races in cold weather.

WD-40, Pam, and de-icer spray: standard fare for 'cross races in cold weather.
(Image credit: James Huang)
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Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com team mechanic Troy Laffer models the standard outfit for the pits.

Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com team mechanic Troy Laffer models the standard outfit for the pits.
(Image credit: James Huang)
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The neutral water truck was a popular item today.

The neutral water truck was a popular item today.
(Image credit: James Huang)

Success in 'cross racing can often rely on the performance of the team's support crew - not just the fitness and skill of the individual rider - and today's US cyclo-cross national championships provided a good example of that.

After a stupendously strong start, Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com's Jeremy Powers and Tim Johnson quickly established a solid gap over chaser Ryan Trebon (Kona). However, Powers crashed hard somewhere in the woods, leaving him with a twisted handlebar, a cocked wheel and a mouthful of proverbial dust as the other two riders passed him by.

Powers pulled himself together, though, and a smoothly executed bike change in the pit area kept him from losing any additional time and allowed him to keep a podium position at the finish. Though it goes without saying that Powers would have preferred to have stayed in the lead all the way through to the end for his first stars-and-stripes jersey, his fifth-place finish wouldn't have been impossible had his team not had a spare bike ready to go and a predetermined procedure for the change.

With three top racers on the team to care for, the Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com machine amassed a small army of people and equipment to support the effort, including at least five support staff, up to five bikes per rider - all meticulously prepared as usual - and countless wheels. More importantly however, there was a solid plan of action established well before the start whistle.

"Stu Thorne, the team director, is going to pass bikes for Tim [Johnson], Josh Anthony is going to pass bikes for Jamey, we have some other help that we've recruited to pass bikes to J-Pow [Jeremy Powers], we have a guy just to catch bikes and then I'll be on wash detail the entire race," said team mechanic Troy Laffey (pictured below) before the start. "So we've got quite the staff going on to give our guys as many tools as possible to have a successful race."

Kona's support crew was notably smaller for Trebon and teammate Barry Wicks but still seemed to have it together. For Trebon, team mechanic Dusty LaBarr brought "two bikes and a spare set of wheels, a compressor gun, and then some tools, chains, that kind of stuff. I try to be wherever is the best compromise between the best place for [the riders] to pit and the best place to get to the pressure washers, depending on if it's muddy or not."

Additional manpower came from Clement front man Donn Kellogg and Wicks' girlfriend.

Though riders seemed generally pleased with the course design, the pit location and amenities left much to be desired: entry on both sides fell amidst some of the fastest sections of the course and there were no provisions inside the pit area for either water or power. Most teams made do either with portable battery-powered washers or just a big bucket of water and brushes as the lone pair of supplied power washers were uncomfortably far away - and there was no clear path to get there, either.

"It's not ideal," said LaBarr. "I have a pressure washer over there so I'll just run across the course, I guess."

Laffey didn't seem all that concerned, though, as he simply made his own arrangements. His team's pressure washer still wasn't inside the pit area but was still notably easier to access.

"We have our own water supply, our own power supply, our own hoses - we want to be completely self-sufficient and not rely on borrowed or public equipment," he said. "We make sure we don't have to rely on anybody else. That's our motto."

Fortunately, the warm and breezy conditions on Sunday made for a relatively clean day, at least for the men - few riders swapped bikes at all and generally only because of mechanical issues, not mud - and the race organisers will have another year to figure things out before the event makes a return visit next year.