One year after unusually heavy rains and heated tempers forced the USA Cycling Cyclo-cross National Championships in Austin, Texas to be rescheduled, the race has moved on to Asheville, North Carolina, where organisers promise the race will go forward no matter what mother nature can throw at them. With a devilishly difficult course full of punishing climbs, tricky off-camber turns and gnarly descents, the event will produce worthy champions.
All of the UCI categories - junior men, youth women (17-22), U23 men, elite women and men will take place on Sunday on the Biltmore Estate course, after five days of amateur categories churning up the grounds.
In the elite men's race, defending champion Jeremy Powers has shown he is still at his best, taking his most recent win in Tennessee last weekend after a fruitful trip to Europe for the World Cups. But Powers faces stiff competition from Stephen Hyde (Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld), the only rider to best him on home soil this year. Although fighting off a cold, Logan Owen (California Giant-Specialized), the 10-time champion who gave up the chance to continue racing in the U23s, has shown himself to be on par with Hyde and is eager to show himself against the elites.
If the Jingle Cross in Iowa, which used a similarly hill course, was any indication, the trio are the most likely to be on the podium. But there are others in the wings waiting to capitalize on any mishap or mistake by the favourites. James Driscoll (Raleigh-Clement), winner of the US ProCX rankings, has been consistent all season. Four-time champion Jonathan Page has come back this season from his Belgian base, and though he's only racked up one UCI win so far, experience counts when it comes to a championship race.
For the women, 11-time winner Katie Compton (Trek) remains the rider to beat, and a second place in the Zolder World Cup in December showed she is close to being back on her top form after a difficult summer. Kaitlin Antonneau (Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld) has been the rider most able to challenge Compton this season, although Amanda Miller and Crystal Anthony have had their moments, too. Elle Anderson, Georgia Gould, Meredith Miller and Rachel Lloyd can not be discounted, as all will be fighting for the last spot for the World Championship selection.
The U23 men's race will be a close battle between Curtis White (Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld) and Tobin Ortenblad (California Giant Cycling), now that Owen has opted to race with the elite men. White has been a regular visitor to the elite men's podiums this season and will be the odds-on favourite to take Owen's crown, though Ortenblad will surely make it a tough battle.
The new 'youth women' category combines the 17-18 juniors (who will be scored separately) with riders aged 19-22, giving Emma White a bigger challenge to repeat her national title. Last year's junior champion has taken a big step up this year, winning the elite races in Warwick, Northampton and Charm City, but will be up against JAM Fund's Ellen Noble, winner of the other elite races in Warwick and Northampton, and the Pan American U23 championship. Sisters Alison and Hannnah Arensman and Laurel Rathbun will also be major contenders.
USA Cycling has put a big emphasis on junior development for the past several years, and the result is a hugely talented field of riders who will compete for the 17-18 men's title. Defending champion Gage Hecht returns and will face off against Spencer Petrov. The two both scored top 10 results in the December World Cups - Petrov was fourth in Namur, while Hecht was fifth in Zolder and sixth in Namur. They are on a level above Eric Brunner, Denzel Stephenson and Cameron Beard, but on race day anything can happen.
The racing begins on Sunday with the juniors at 10:30am eastern time, followed by U23 women at 11:30, U23 Men an hour later, and then elite women at 2:30pm. The elite men complete the racing at 3:40.
Tune into Cyclingnews on Sunday for live streaming of the elite events.
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