Gage Hecht (Alpha Bicycle Co) claimed his sixth national championship title in cyclo-cross and his second in the junior 17-18 category on Sunday at the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina. The Colorado rider overcame a bad start to take the lead by the end of the first lap and then soloed to a narrow victory over Denzel Stephenson and Eric Brunner (Boulder Junior Cycling).
Spencer Petrov, who was expected to challenge Hecht for the victory, faded from second position to fourth after a mid-race crash.
"It feels amazing. I love the feeling I get from winning. It's great," Hecht said. "I knew the course would be technical and it would separate out quickly, so I wanted to make sure I was at the front of that separation from the get go. I didn't want to get stuck behind stuff. I didn't have a great start but was able to get up front."
Overnight rain soaked the arduous, tricky course, turning the course into a slipper mud-fest. The off-camber sections were particularly treacherous, and even Hecht crashed. But it was the riders who would make the fewest mistakes and take the best lines who would prevail. While Hecht had a healthy lead with one lap to go, Brunner and Stephenson closed to within seconds before the line, making for a nervous last lap for Hecht.
"I was super shocked by that, I knew they were strong, but I should have expected it more," Hecht said of their chase back. "But It was cool to see a bunch of Colorado guys up there with me."
Hecht kept his head down and kept pushing forward, and Stephenson out-sprinted his teammate Brunner for the silver medal just three seconds after Hecht crossed the line. Petrov was 35 seconds behind in fourth, with Hecht's teammate Evan Clouse rounding out the top five.
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Laura Weislo has been with Cyclingnews since 2006 after making a switch from a career in science. As Deputy Editor, she coordinates coverage for North American events and global news. A swimmer in her younger days, Laura made the change to cycling later in life, but was immediately swept up by a huge passion for the sport. Riding for fitness quickly gave way to the competitive urge, and a decade of racing later she can look back on a number of high profile races and say with confidence, "I started". While her racing days are over for the most part, she continues to dabble in cyclo-cross and competing against fellow pathletes on the greenways of Raleigh, North Carolina.
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