By Jason Sumner
Near the tail end of an hour-long interview, Jonathan Page lets out a long sigh and admits he sometimes wonders why he and his family are still living in Europe.
During six full-time European cyclocross racing seasons, spent primarily in Belgium where he and his wife Cori own a small home, Page has endured a litany of pitfalls and heartbreaks. Among the lengthy laundry list are multiple broken bones, a major falling out with his now former team manager, and charges of an anti-doping violation, which he was subsequently cleared of.
“We’ve been through a lot,” said the 33-year-old New Hampshire native on a dreary January afternoon, while sitting in a coffee shop just off the main square in Oudenaarde, the small Belgian city he’s called home for the last four years. “There are definitely times when I wonder why I’m still here, why I haven’t packed up the family and moved back to the States.”
Metaphorically, the answer to this question, hangs in the basement of Page’s cramped basement, which serves double duty as laundry room for his wife and two small children, and as his one-man-team service course where he works on his bikes.
Hanging in one corner, almost tucked out of sight, is a 2007 world championship silver medal and accompanying photo montage with pictures from that race and the podium presentation. To date, it was the best day of Page’s career, a day when everything came together, and he beat all but one of the world’s best ’cross racers.
“It’s the magic time, it’s what I love and hate about cyclocross all wrapped in one,” he explains about what keeps his motivation high. “Even though I didn’t win the world championships that day, I had a great day and finally something worked out great for me.”
It’s a feeling he’s hoping to repeat on Jan. 31 at the 2010 world cyclocross championships in Tabor, Czech Republic. Page will start that race on the second row, behind all the main favorites. But if things go just right, he’s convinced anything could happen — again.
“If you have the day of your life, you never know,” he says. “I mean I was on the sixth row in 2007 and got a silver medal. There’s a lot of luck involved in this sport and eventually it’s got to be on my side.”
Page had no such luck at the most recent World Cup, held Jan. 17 in Roubaix, France. He says he botched the start, choosing a low line when all the favorites went high. After that he figured a top 10 was still doable, but then he punctured just after passing the pits and had to ride nearly a full lap on a flat. The end result was 18th place, 3:20 back of the winner and world’s favorite Zdenek Stybar.
“The only good thing is that I could tell the form was there, so when the luck comes — if it comes — then I’ll be there,” says Page, whose season highlights thus far include two World Cup top 10s and a third place finish at the U.S. national championships. “It’s been a good season but definitely not great, not yet at least.”
His next chance at greatness will come at the World Cup finals this weekend in Hoogerheide, Holland. Page calls the course a “true ’cross with lots of variety.”
“There are some steps, there’s a cobble finish, the crowds will be big,” he said. “And of course there are huge mud sections, really thick stuff. You’ll see guys get shot around because they pick a bad line or hit a rut wrong.”
Page says he’s typically done well at Hoogerheide because it suits his affinity for “the hard stuff,” he added. “Basically the crappier the better. I’d rather not have it be a criterium, so hopefully it’ll be a good morale booster.”
All told, six Americans will start the men’s elite race in Hoogerheide, with reigning national champ Tim Johnson, Jamey Driscoll, Jeremy Powers, Ryan Trebon and Troy Wells joining Page.
The Tabor course is more of a mystery. Page has raced there before, but missed last year’s world’s preview World Cup on a revamped course because he was back in the U.S. facing an anti-doping suspension after missing a post-race test at a previous World Cup. Page and his team of lawyers successful argued that a crash and resulting concussion — and not nefarious intentions — were the cause of the missed test. But even today there’s still a sense that he continues to play catch up after all the undesired drama.
“There’s going to be some changes in my approach next year,” said Page, who recently re-upped with primary sponsors Planet Bike and Blue bicycles. “I still need to figure out the best way to travel internationally. I have a lot of trouble with it. It’s easier to come here, but it messes with training and racing. I’ve been doing this for a long time but I’m still learning.”
And in the end, that’s what’s kept Jonathan Page racing cyclocross in Europe.
“I haven’t quite gotten enough out of this sport yet,” he said. “I’ve still got some dreams that need to be realized.”