Twenty-year-old Gage Hecht (Alpha Bicycles-Groove Subaru) will compete in the Elite men's race next weekend at the USA Cycling Cyclo-cross National Championships in Louisville, Kentucky, forgoing the U23 race for a chance to win the nation's top 'cross prize.
Hecht, a Colorado native who races on the road with the Aevolo development team run by Michael Creed, told CXHairs.com that he has been considering the idea of racing with the Elites at nationals for most of the season. Hecht was fourth in the U23 nationals race last year in Reno, Nevada, but multiple wins in Elite races this year prompted his decision to step up.
"I had been talking with my director on Alpha Bicycle-Groove Subaru, Adam Rachubinski, since the beginning of the year about this possibility," Hecht told CXHairs.com. "Initially, I had my heart set on getting that U23 title because of my race last year in Reno. As the season progressed, I started gaining some momentum and getting results in some of the major UCI races."
So far this season, Hecht has taken Elite wins at Cyclo-cross Interlocken and Alfalfa's ElDora US Open in October before taking first and second over two days at the Cincinnati Cyclocross Weekend. He won the Silver Goose C2 race in Canada before taking the U23 Pan American Championship the next day. He followed that up with wins at the Cyclo-cross Westminster and a two-day sweep at the Resolution Cross Cup in Texas. On Saturday, Hecht took another UCI Elite win at the Ruts 'n' Guts opener in Tulsa, Oklahoma, taking out Curtis White (Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com) and four-time national champion Jeremy Powers (Pactimo-Fuji-SRAM).
"After winning the C1 in Cincinnati, I gained the confidence that I had the honest chance of winning at races around this caliber," Hecht said. "Sure, I am not going to win all the time, but with some luck I could find myself at the leading end of our American Elite races. On top of this, as I continue to grow, I want to give myself the best chances of being a successful professional cyclo-cross racer that I can. A good result in Elite nationals would be a great bullet point on my resumé."
Hecht added to his road resumé earlier this year with Aevolo, winning the time trial and criterium titles at the USA Cycling U23 national championships, then going on to take a solo stage win at the 2.HC Colorado Classic in August. He told CXHairs he doesn't believe his cyclo-cross campaign will have any affect on his road racing, as he will ride for Aevolo again next season. Hecht did admit that he relishes the role of underdog rather than being a favourite.
"This is a big part of it," he said. "Racing on the road with Aevolo for the past couple of years has given me the chance to compete as the underdog of the group. I have found I really enjoy being in this position. It gives me the chance to set my goals high and grow into a better rider."
As for next weekend, when he'll go up against the best in the US at the Joe Creason Park in Louisville – where he finished second to reigning US champ Stephen Hyde last year at the Derby City Cup – Hecht told CXHairs the course favours his style of riding.
"The track definitely favours a rider who can ride with power for a more extended period of time," he said. "The course presents a lot of long climbs and tricky, sometimes slippery descents. I think those power sections will help me out a bit. I find that I can draw from my road experience on these. I’m not sure what the sand will be like, but from what I hear of it, this obstacle will be a challenging one.
"I definitely would like to see some wet conditions. Not only do I feel that I perform well in these conditions, but the mud and the ruts really bring the little kid in me out, and I have a blast riding in these conditions."