The USA Cycling Cyclo-cross National Championships are already underway in Austin, Texas, with the four UCI categories set to take place on Sunday, January 11. What should have been a temperate day of 'cross after several years of freezing cold races looks instead to be one of the most miserable days in recent history, with temperatures just above freezing and rain or sleet predicted for race day. The course has less elevation than the past two years in Madison and Boulder, but has some tight, off-camber sections and fast turns that will cause havoc in the wet. Cyclingnews looks at the riders to watch in the battles for these four stars and stripes jerseys.
Jeremy Powers (Aspire Racing):
The defending national champion has been the dominant rider in American cyclo-cross this season. Although he's curtailed his racing in the States to just C1 events, he's dipped deeper into European 'cross, and the added level of difficulty of what he's faced overseas will give him an edge in Austin. The course looks like it will be fast, similar to the Louisville races where he has performed well, and the short distance from the last turn to the finish line will make a long sprint finish, like the one he lost this year to Danny Summerhill, unlikely.
The only things that might stand in Powers' way are crashes or mechanicals, as fitness and technical skills don't appear to be an issue. Tight off-camber sections could prove tricky if the expected rain soaks the course, and as the course is trammelled by hundreds of competitors in the masters and junior races leading up to Sunday's elite events, the grass will be worn away, bringing rocks to the surface that could cause a puncture. Even Powers will need some luck on Sunday.
Danny Summerhill (K-Edge-Felt):
Twice a national champion in the U23 ranks, twice a junior national champion, and a silver medalist at the 2007 Cyclo-cross World Championships as a junior, Summerhill is the only American rider to have beaten Powers in a US race this season, and he will be the rider to watch in Austin on Sunday.
Summerhill has put a focus on the road at the expense of 'cross since joining the elite ranks, but has immense talent on the dirt. Last year his results at nationals were scuttled because of illness, but this season he has racked up four UCI 'cross wins, including a sweep of the Derby City Cup in Louisville, on a course with a similar profile to that in Austin. The only question is whether his training for the road season has sapped his speed.
Jamey Driscoll (Raleigh-Clement):
The winner of the Pro CX calendar, Driscoll has been consistently good this season, racking up six UCI 'cross wins and landing on or near the podium in most domestic races. The Raleigh-Clement rider had an especially strong run in late November and December, following up his win on the third day at Jingle Cross with a sweep of the CXLA weekend and a win in the Waves for Water 'cross in Tacoma.
While Driscoll isn't the punchiest 'cross racer of the bunch, he has a strong 'diesel engine' and is tough to get rid of. A podium finish is a distinct possibility, but he will need Powers to make mistakes in order to get to the top step.
Jonathan Page (Fuji-Spy Optics):
At 38, Page is getting toward the end of his career, but he won his fourth national championship just two years ago, so he has shown that he's still a very viable candidate for victory. Page has spent the better part of a decade getting his knocks over in Belgium at the hands of the best riders in the sport, proving himself as tenacious, wizened and tough.
Page has won all four of his national titles on muddy, slippery courses, and his skills will come in handy in the predicted cold and wet conditions. From his results in Belgium, it's not easy to know where his form is, but his 18th place in the Namur World Cup, just two spots behind Powers, means he isn't far behind the top American riders.
Ryan Trebon (Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld):
The lanky Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld rider has been largely absent from the 'cross scene this year due to some serious spinal injuries from a crash in September, so it's hard to assess whether he will be in the mix come Sunday. However, there is something to be said for freshness, and Trebon will be on the upswing as most of his competitors have been worn down from months of competition. Unlike his teammate Tim Johnson, Trebon seems to have recovered from his injuries, and finished second to Zach McDonald in the recent Resolution Cross Cup.
Over the past 12 years, Trebon has been on the podium at 'cross nationals every year but two, winning two national titles (2006, 2008) and finishing second six times. Like Page, his form is a bit of an unknown, but he can never be counted out, especially on a course that requires a lot of power.
Katie Compton (Trek Cyclo-cross Collective):
With 10 national 'cross titles in a row, Katie Compton is the undeniable favourite for the win on Sunday. Yet all winning streaks must eventually end, and over the past two months Compton has become increasingly vulnerable. An illness in November knocked Compton off her game, and she has not won a race since she claimed the Pan American Championship in Kentucky on November 2.
She has been hampered by persistent breathing issues which throttle back her top power, but even Compton at 90 per cent is a tough rider to beat. Just as she demonstrated with a bronze medal in the Namur World Cup, she can use her experience to get results even when she is not at her best. She will be helped by bad weather and a slower, technical course where she can use her world-class skills to get an advantage over riders with higher-revving engines.
Rachel Lloyd (California Giant Berry-Specialized):
This immensely talented, natural athlete has had a on-and-off relationship with the top of cyclo-cross for more than a decade, but has never managed to step out of the shadow of two dominant riders: first Alison Dunlap, and more recently Compton. Lloyd has been on the podium of 'cross nationals five times, most recently in 2008 before she took her second break from racing.
Lloyd came back with a vengeance last year, and has been matching the best riders blow for blow this season: she won both Waves for Water races, and was impressive up against Katerina Nash in the Cincy 3 and Derby Cup races. Lloyd is fearless on a slippery course, and has as much or more experience than Compton.
Elle Anderson (Kalas-NNOF):
Elle Anderson, from San Francisco, is a dark horse favourite in the elite women’s race at the National Championships. She briefly graced the American racing scene at the start of the season with respectable results at CrossVegas and Super Cross Gloucester, both in September, before she headed of to Europe to compete in a full season with the Dutch team Kalas-NNOF. While overseas, she was fifth at the World Cup in Valkenburg, Bpost Bank Trofee Ronse, and the Superprestige Gieten. Last year, she was second to Compton in the elite women’s championship race in Boulder and is no doubt aiming to win her first national cyclo-cross title this year in Austin.
Kaitlin Antonneau (Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld):
Kaitlin Antonneau, from Racine, Wisconsin, won the under-23 women’s title in Boulder last year, and after dominating the under-23 ranks in recent years, she will embark on her first attempt at securing the elite women’s title in Austin. This year, she has had strong results on the US circuit with a second place in one of the races at the The Derby City Cup, and was fourth at the Pan American Continental Cyclo-cross Championships. She also secured seventh place at the World Cup in Milton Keynes behind winner Sanne Cant, runner-up Compton and third placed Nikki Harris. She went on to place eighth at Flandriencross and seventh at Druivencross.
Logan Owen (California Giant / Specialized):
Logan Owen, from Bremerton, Washington, heads into the under-23 men’s event as the defending champion. He had consistently strong performances this year while racing with the elite men in the UCI cyclo-cross races across the US where he stood on four podiums; Jingle Cross Rock, The Derby City Cup, and at the two Waves for Water Cyclocross Collaboration events. Owen has since built up his top form and experience during the third block of racing with the USA Cycling Development Cyclo-cross in Belgium and the Netherlands. “I am motivated and ready to defend my U23 Cyclocross National title this weekend!” he said recently on Twitter.
Curtis White (Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld):
Curtis White had a breakout season where he raced as an under-23 rider neck-to-neck against the top men in the elite men’s category during many stateside UCI events. The Delanson, New York native is currently ranked 15th on the USA Cycling Professional Cyclo-cross series, six spots ahead of Owen, after securing wins at the two NBX Gran Prix of Cross events and in one of the events at Baystate Cyclocross Weekend. He was also on the podium at Nittany Lion Cross, Baystate Cyclocross Weekend, Supercross Weekend and Super Cross Gloucester. His biggest win of the season was in the under-23 men’s category at the Pan American Continental Cyclo-cross Championships in November, where he took the title after outpacing Owen and Andrew Dillman. White recently returned to the US after completing the third block of racing overseas with the USA Cycling Development Cyclo-cross Program.
Gage Hecht (Alpha Bicycle Co/Vista Subaru):
Gage Hecht, from Parker, Colorado, is blossoming into one of the most talented junior cyclo-cross racers in the world and is no doubt the future of American cyclo-cross. He arrives at the championships in top form having secured multiple wins overseas during three blocks of racing with the USA Cycling Development Cyclo-cross Program. While in Europe, he won the junior race held in conjunction with the World Cup in Koksijde and was second at the Bpost Bank Trofee event in Loenhout. He also won the junior title at the Pan American Continental Cyclo-cross Championships along with Cincy3 Kings Cross After Dark and KMC Cycle Cyclocross Festival. Last year, he placed second at Nationals in the junior 15-16 category and this year he will be racing in the junior 17-18 category.
Gavin Haley (Red Zone Cycling):
Gavin Haley, from Santa Rosa, California, is competing in his second season in the junior 17-18 category, and much like Hecht, is also arriving at Nationals in top form after completing a season of racing in Belgium and the Netherlands, where he won the junior race held on the same day as the World Cup in Milton Keynes. Haley’s top performances this season include a second place at the Pan American Continental Cyclo-cross Championships, second at Cincy3 Kings Cross After Dark and The Derby City Cup.