It was 23 months ago that a 21-year-old Gage Hecht made an emphatic statement with his first elite men's victory in cyclo-cross - he did it on the big stage at the US Cyclo-cross National Championships at Steilacoom Park in Lakewood, Washington.
The now 23-year-old was hitting his stride in the final months with Aevolo, before moving to Human Powered Health the next two seasons, and is aiming to peak for a one-two punch with Pan-American Cyclo-cross Championships on December 4 and USA Cycling Cyclo-cross Nationals on December 12.
“I’m a little nervous to see how it goes. Of course I’ve only had one win so far this year, so we’ll see if I can pull out another one,” Hecht told Cyclingnews from his home in Colorado before traveling to Garland, Texas for Pan-Ams.
“Jim Lehman, my coach from Carmichael Training Systems, has really been working with me to help me get ready for these events, to peak for them rather than just being good all year. Hopefully that comes around for the next couple of weekends.”
So far this cyclo-cross season, Hecht has earned five podiums, including a win on November 20 on the first day of the North Carolina Grand Prix. He finished in the top 10 at the World Cup in Fayetteville and followed that with a second place in the four-event New England Cyclo-cross Series.
A three-time U23 national champion in cyclo-cross, Hecht also won the U23 title at the last three Pan-Am Championships. The event returns to the US for the first time since 2016, which was followed by two consecutive years in Ontario, Canada and a year off due to COVID-19. Racing will take place on Saturday for U23 and elite divisions on an established course used for Resolution Cross Cup.
“I think it will be interesting. I haven’t raced at the elite level at Pan-Ams yet. So to race a bunch of these guys in a championship event that is not nationals will be special. It will be cool to race Kerry [Werner]. I’m excited to see if he can defend it,” Hecht said about going head-to-head with the defending champion.
“It will be cool to be racing Pan-Ams in the United States for the first time in a couple of years. I raced there [Resolution Cross Cup] about three years ago in Texas. The course does have somewhat of a rise to it, but in general it is flatter than a lot of races. The way we are trying to prepare for Nationals and getting speed in this year, I think it will be a good course to warm up for that.”
On the road, Hecht has been racing with the Aevolo development team since 2017, winning the U23 national time trial crown in 2018 and taking the silver in 2019. Competing in the elite races at this year’s US Pro Road Championships, he was ninth in the road race and 12th in the time trial. He was second overall at the Joe Martin Stage Race in August and sixth in the mountains classification at A Travers les Hauts de France in early September, so his transition to cyclo-cross was not ideal.
“Honestly, this year we haven’t had a whole lot of prep for cyclo-cross. We had a lot of road stuff really late in the year. So I rode through that to make sure I was good there. While I really wanted to make the early-season stuff good, I kind of need to rely on that road fitness will carry me a little bit,” Hecht had told Cyclingnews before racing the World Cup in Waterloo, where he placed 21st.
“So I’m a little unprepared for all of this early-season ‘cross, but I think the road fitness is carrying over quite well and translates well. We’ll see how that improves all the way through Nationals and the Worlds. That’s the big priority this year is to race Worlds in the US. That’s an amazing opportunity that I maybe have twice in a career, if I am lucky. It’s pretty cool that I get to do it this year.
“I’d love to keep wearing the national jersey, and not have to change kits. That would be really cool to carry the stars and stripes for another year. I kind of got a nice easy two years of wearing it, with COVID. But now it’s really time to defend it and a real sense of defending and not just sitting on the couch and trying not to get sick.”
There was no couch sitting in 2021, which followed a year without racing in North America due to massive race cancellations related to the coronavirus pandemic. And before he heads to Spain at the end of February to begin road training with his new Human Powered Health squad, Hecht said he was very happy to have great support from Aevolo to finish his ‘cross season with Worlds in Fayetteville this winter.
“They are letting me go all the way to Worlds, so I’ll be with Aevolo until then. The mechanic has been helping me all year, and he’s planning to be there through Worlds. It’s been a great set up this year with Aevolo. I’ve been so grateful for those guys for helping carry me through, especially the extra COVID year was just amazing, where there just weren’t any opportunities, and so many people needed slots and they helped us out with that. And then to add ‘cross on top of that, it was pretty amazing,” commended Hecht about his fifth and final year with the development team.
“But as soon as I am done with Worlds, it sounds like I’ll be moving over to Europe and putting on some orange [for Human Powered Health]. I talked with Jonas [Carney] the director about a week ago and he wanted to make sure I got plenty of time off and had time to recover before heading to Spain. I’ll probably head over at the end of February, get on Euro time and start training on the road, get the base miles in, and start racing in mid March.”
A trifecta of big cyclo-cross in the US is his focus for now, and he’s trying not to look beyond the next stop deep in the heart of Texas for Pan-Am Championships.
“Even though Pam-Ams and Worlds are bigger events, I think most Americans are targeting the National Championships. It’s the biggest race I think a lot of us think we are capable of winning. We are stepping up in the world and getting better placements in the World Championships, but we are still not quite within reach. And of course with Fayetteville Worlds being in the US, I think we are going to put in a bigger effort, maybe more so than Nationals this year."
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Jackie has been involved in professional sports for more than 30 years in news reporting, sports marketing and public relations. She founded Peloton Sports in 1998, a sports marketing and public relations agency, which managed projects for Tour de Georgia, Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah and USA Cycling. She also founded Bike Alpharetta Inc, a Georgia non-profit to promote safe cycling for people of all abilities and ages. Tyson has been recognized for communications excellence with 10 Phoenix Awards, presented by the Georgia Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America. She is proud to have worked in professional baseball for six years - from selling advertising to pulling the tarp - and was recognized by a national media outlet as the first female depicted in a pro baseball card set (Ft. Myers Royals). She has climbed l'Alpe d'Huez three times. Her favorite road rides are around horse farms in north Georgia (USA) and around lavender fields in Provence (France). Her favorite mountain bike rides are in Park City, Utah (USA).
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