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Brunner wins men's US cyclo-cross title

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Eric Brunner wins the elite men's title

(Image credit: Snowy Mountain Photography)
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Scott McGill and Kerry Werner lead the field into corner 1.

Scott McGill (Aevolo) and Kerry Werner (Kona Maxxis Shimano) lead the field from the hole shot into the first corner (Image credit: SnowyMountain Photography)
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Kerry Werner and Caleb Swartz battling for 4th place at the end of lap 4.

Kerry Werner (Kona Maxxis Shimano) battling Caleb Swartz (Giant/Neff Cycle Service) for fourth place (Image credit: SnowyMountain Photography)
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Eric BRUNNER had a narrow lead on Gage Hecht after the New Beligum stairs on lap one

Eric Brunner had a narrow lead on Gage Hecht on the opening lap (Image credit: SnowyMountain Photography)
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Gage Hecht leads up the Mt ABUS on lap 1

Gage Hecht had the lead up Mt Abus on the first lap, Eric Brunner and the field close behind (Image credit: SnowyMountain Photography)
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Eric BRUNNER was 2nd wheel behind Ortenblad after pit one on the first lap

On the first lap of the elite men's contest at Cantigny Park in Wheaton, Eric Brunner and Gage Hecht follow behind Tobin Ortenblad (Image credit: SnowyMountain Photography)
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Eric Brunner gets a clean bike in Pit 1 on lap 6

Eric Brunner took a fresh bike on each lap (Image credit: SnowyMountain Photography)
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Defending men's elite champion Gage Hecht (Aevolo) negotiates the sand pit as he chases race leader

Gage Hecht negotiates the sand pit (Image credit: SnowyMountain Photography)
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Curtis White (Cannondale - Cyclocrossworld.com) on the CX Nats course at DuPage County, Illinois

Curtis White would use a mistake by Gage Hecht to pass on the final lap and finish second (Image credit: SnowyMountain Photography)
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Stephen Hyde waves to the crowd after finishing ninth.

Three-time US cyclo-cross champion Stephen Hyde rolls across the finish in ninth place (Image credit: SnowyMountain Photography)
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Eric Brunner is your 2021 US National CX Elite Men's Champion

Eric Brunner realises he has won the elite men's title (Image credit: SnowyMountain Photography)
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Elite Men's podum, Eric Brunner, Curtis White, Gage Hecht

Elite men's podium (L to R): second place Curtis White (Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com), winner Eric Brunner (Blue Competition Cycles p/b Build), third place Gage Hecht (Aevolo) (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

Pan American champion Eric Brunner (Blue Competition Cycles) confirmed he is the rider on form, taking out the elite men's title at the USA Cycling Cyclo-cross National Championships in Wheaton, Illinois.

"It's been a dream the last month. I don't know what to say. Before Pan Ams I was pretty confident going in but it was a lot tougher conditions here and I didn't expect it to go that way," Brunner said.

"It's incredible. I think even Pan Ams hasn't sunk in yet, so I don't know what to think. I am definitely going to enjoy it the rest of this season and next."

Coming into the race with a target on his back, Brunner said he was nervous beforehand, "not because I thought I couldn't ride the course well, but with the mud, tight corners and conditions it would be important to get a good start and not be too far back."

Brunner overcame a first-lap puncture and then built upon a small lead with every subsequent lap.

While Brunner soloed away, the battle for second was much more heated. 

After holding about a half-minute lead on third place, Gage Hecht (Aevolo) had problems with his shoe on the last lap and was caught and passed by Curtis White (Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld), who claimed the runner-up spot 37 seconds behind the winner.

Brunner, the U23 champion at the last national championships in 2019, has made great strides after a year away from 'cross due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

After a few top-10s early in the season, he took his first win at the Kings Cross in Ohio and back-to-back victories in Massachusetts before winning the Continental title in Garland, Texas last week.

He carried that momentum into the first lap in Wheaton. After Tobin Ortenblad (Santa Cruz Bicycles) took the hole shot, defending champion Gage Hecht (Aevolo) briefly took the lead before Brunner made a pass at the main descent and then proceeded to carve out a bigger and bigger gap every lap.

Hecht briefly fought his way back to his road teammate on the opening circuit, but Brunner showed superior running strength and flawless technique. Despite missing his pedal on the third lap, Brunner had extended his lead on Hecht to 32 seconds.

A course that was heavy with thick mud for the elite women just two hours earlier dried up in the wind and proved to be faster with somewhat better traction for the elite men, where the top three riders turned out sub-10 minute lap times.

With Brunner, Hecht and White settling into status quo for the six of the seven laps, the biggest battle in the race was for fourth between former Pan Am champion Kerry Werner (Kona-Maxxis-Shimano) and Caleb Swartz (Giant/Neff Cycle Service). On the penultimate lap, Werner got the better of Swartz, while Drew Dillman (Rigd-Leitner) finished sixth.

While much of the top men and women will travel straight from Chicago to Europe for a block of World Cups, Brunner has opted to to miss the trip but will return for the World Championships in Arkansas.

"I'm going to skip Europe this year, I came in hot from the road season and cracked," said Brunner. "I wasn't feeling good physically and mentally. It's nice to come around, but I need a little rest then I'll ramp back up for Worlds."

Results
Pos.Rider Name (Country) TeamResult
1Eric Brunner (USA) Blue Competition Cycles p/b Build 1:08:30
2Curtis White (USA) Cannondale p/b Cyclocrossworld.com 0:00:37
3Gage Hecht (USA) Aevolo 0:00:40
4Kerry Werner (USA) Kona Maxxis Shimano cx Team 0:03:21
5Caleb Swartz (USA) Giant/Neff Cycle Service 0:03:44
6Andrew Dillman (USA) Rigd-Leitner 0:04:40
7Brannan fix (USA) fix Racing 0:05:18
8Lance Haidet (USA) L39ion of los Angeles 0:06:01
9Stephen Hyde (USA) Steve Tilford Foundation Racing 0:06:32
10Cody Cupp (USA) Riders inc 0:06:51
11Tobin Ortenblad (USA) Santa Cruz Bicycles 0:07:04
12Scott McGill (USA) Aevolo 0:07:23
13Ross Ellwood (USA) Alpha Bicycle co. - Groove Silverthorne 0:07:24
14Grant Ellwood (USA) 0:07:57
15Jonathan Anderson (USA) j Moneyz Racing 0:08:15
16Eric Thompson (USA) Mspeedwax.com 0:08:21
17Brian Matter (USA) Linear Sport Racing 0:09:38
18Cody Kaiser (USA) Langetwins / Specialized 0:10:26
19Ben Frederick (USA) Ornot/Thesmallmonstersproject/Ritchey
20Max Judelson (USA) Voler/Clif/hrs/Rock Lobster
21Terol Pursell (USA) Forever Endurance
22Keiran Eagen (USA) Team Segment 28
23Mark Myles (USA) be Real Sports
24Kaler Marshall (USA) Team Walla Walla
25Isaac Neff (USA) Neff Cycle Service
26Joe Schmalz (USA) Steve Tilford Foundation Racing
27Jacob Leblanc (USA) Competitive Edge Racing
28Andrew Giniat (USA) the Pony Shop p/b Kpmg
29Tayne Andrade (USA) rio Grande Elite Cycling Team
30Andrew Wulfkuhle (USA) Voler/Clif/hrs/Rock Lobster
31Finnegan O'Connor (USA) Comp Edge Racing
32Casey Hildebrandt (USA) Donkey Label - Broken Spoke Racing
33Rory Jack (USA) the Pony Shop p.b Kpmg
34Matthew Riley (USA) Linear Sport / Trek
35Jacob Peterson (USA) max Mortgage - c3 Bike Shop
36Bjorn Selander (USA) Mnjrc
37Jack Tanner (USA) Forever Endurance
38Kolby Preble (USA) Team Segment 28
39Nick Lando (USA) Competitive Edge Racing
40Josh Bauer (USA) Angry Catfish - Endura
41Frederick Junge (USA) Broom Wagon Works
42Adam Saban (USA) Saban Training Academy
43Thomas Fuller (USA) Lindenwood University
44Kobi Gyetvan (USA) Fort Lewis College
45Mitch Ropelato (USA) Cannondale
46Phillip Smith (USA) Momentum Racing
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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. As former elite-level road racer who dabbled in cyclo-cross and track, Laura has a passion for all three disciplines. When not working she likes to go camping and explore lesser traveled roads, paths and gravel tracks.

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