Summerhill a favourite to win cyclo-cross stars and stripes

With his impressive double wins earlier this month at the two-day Derby City Cup in Kentucky, where he toppled US cyclo-cross national champion Jeremy Powers (Rapha-Focus) from his streak of UCI C1 race wins, Danny Summerhill (K Edge-Felt) has set himself up as one of the favourites for the US National Championships in Austin, Texas in January.

Before Summehill can try for his first-ever elite stars-and-stripes jersey, the 25-year-old who races on the road for the UnitedHealthcare UCI Professional Continental team is going to take a month off to indulge in some well deserved rest and relaxation.

“I'm home and just taking my off-season now for the next month,” Summerhill told Cyclingnews this weekend while Powers added another C1 victory to his palmares at Jinglecross in Iowa. “I have team camp for UHC in December, and then I'll hit Nationals after that.”

That may seem like an odd path to Nationals for the only US rider who has beaten the defending champion this season but Summerhill is understandably near the end of his fitness tether. The Colorado native piled up 54 race days with UnitedHealthcare this season, starting in March with European WorldTour races like E3 Harelbeke and Paris-Roubaix, then finishing up in August and September with a run through North America's biggest stage races.

Along with putting in the yeoman's work for his teammates, Summerhill grabbed three top-10 finishes at the Tour of Qinghai Lake in China and was active at the Tour of Utah, winning the jersey for most aggressive rider on stage 3. He finished in the top 10 four times at the Tour of Alberta on his way to finishing eighth overall there.

Summerhill concluded his road season with an 11th place finish at the Thompson Bucks County Classic in Pennsylvania on September 13, then started his cyclo-cross season across the country at the Boulder Cup in Colorado the very next day. He's added 13 race days since then, competing at a mix of national and local events. In those 13 days he's won nine times, including victories in UCI races at the Derby City Cup, Cincy3 Harbin Park in Ohio and Ellison Park in New York.

Summerhill dethrones Powers from C1 winning streak

Summerhill's biggest cyclo-cross win of the year came during the C1 race on the first day of the Derby City Cup when he took down Powers, whose only loss in a US C1 race up to that point came at the hands of Belgian Sven Nys during CrossVegas in September.

“I've had a lot of good opportunities to try and beat him but I had to wait for the last one, I guess,” Summerhill said. “I was awfully happy that I can say I was the first to dethrone him from his dominance this season. As cool as it has been to watch him just be like a machine, it was also fun for me to be able to say that I beat the machine.

“Last year I had set my goals on winning a C1, and that didn't end up happening,” Summerhill said. “I won a big UCI race but it wasn't a C1. So this year I finally got that monkey off my back. And the fact that I was able to make it a double weekend, which is also a first for me, was pretty cool too. That was fun. It's a bummer that the luck that I was missing earlier this season, like at Boulder Cup and some of the other races where I had Jeremy there with, just didn't really go in my favour.”

After struggling at the Cincy3 Cross Festival the weekend before in Ohio, where he won the first day but then slipped to fourth and ninth during the following two days, Summerhill started to wonder if he would be able to pull off his longtime goal of winning a C1 race before his form slipped away.

“I didn't know, especially after Cincy, where I was just struggling,” Summerhill said. “So I just dug a little deeper because it was my last two races of the year, and I was able to find a little more power in my legs, I guess. But in general there was no form that I came into. It was just riding the wave of the road season that I've had until now.”

Summerhill's success this season has established his position squarely among the very top of the discipline in the US, partially fulfilling the promise he showed when he won a silver medal at the Junior World Championships in 2007. Will he ever focus his cyclo-cross exploits on the European scene the way that Powers is this season and Jonathan Page has done for years?

“Definitely. Someday,” he said. “I tell a lot of people that someday I'm probably going to be like Tim Johnson, where I ride a long and hopefully fruitful career on the road, racing Grand Tours and at the highest level on the road at the WorldTour, then eventually kind of settle down, if you will, and specialize back where my roots all started, which is in 'cross.”

The more immediate goal is obviously performing well at Nationals before the long road season begins with UnitedHealthcare.

“I'll get some base miles and then hit Nationals the same as I did last year, just hopefully I can hit it not sick,” Summerhill said. “I had Nationals in my backyard last year, and I was sick as a dog. So I'm hoping that I can be a bit more lucky with the pre-race prep and not come in with a fever and all that nonsense.

“But at the end of the day, I love racing 'cross, and my time will come for a National Championship, whether it's this year or some time down the road. I'm more just looking forward to racing again. The results aren't really the thing to focus on, it's more just another day of playing in the dirt.”

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Growing up in Missoula, Montana, Pat competed in his first bike race in 1985 at Flathead Lake. He studied English and journalism at the University of Oregon and has covered North American cycling extensively since 2009, as well as racing and teams in Europe and South America. Pat currently lives in the US outside of Portland, Oregon, with his imaginary dog Rusty.