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U.S. Cycling This Week: Johnson’s planned slow start rolls into Gloucester

2011 Crusher In The Tushars. Photo: Chris SeeCyclocross season is in full swing in the U.S., but one man from Massachusetts is easing into fall. Local boy Tim Johnson (Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com) is among the main players at the Gran Prix of Gloucester this weekend, but is looking past October toward a rematch with the Koksijde, Belgium, course that beat him down in 2010. On the other coast, USGP of Cyclocross leader Ryan Trebon (LTS-Felt) will be among the muddy faithful opening another season of the Cross Crusade in Portland on Sunday.

The New England World Championships, otherwise known as the Great Brewers Gran Prix of Gloucester, rings in October on the Atlantic Coast. Gloucester, as it’s known, is supremely important to a number of riders in the men’s and women’s elite fields.

Multiple-time junior and U23 national champion Jesse Anthony (Kelly Benefit Strategies-OptumHealth) will trumpet his ’cross swan song — for now — as he turns his full focus to a booming road career. Nicole Duke (Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com) will make her East Coast debut with her new local sponsor and test the torn ligament in her right middle finger suffered at last week’s USGP Planet Bike Cup.

For riders like Nicolas Bazen (Big Mat) and Andrea Smith (LadiesFirst), Gloucester is the first opportunity to tally points in the first Shimano New England Professional Cyclocross series. Jeremy Powers (Rapha-Focus) will likely drive his mom’s beat Cadillac from his nearby home, but Gloucester is synonymous with no one more than Cannondale’s Tim Johnson.

Johnson adorns the race’s website, in his stars and stripes skinsuit and bib number one. He’s won Gloucester in each of the last two decades and one of two days each of the last two years. Powers recently said it was the only race the Cannondale squad went into with a plan to ride as a team for Johnson.

While Johnson lists Gloucester among the top races for himself in the United States, he entered this season differently than any before. Johnson walked away from full-time road racing this year, opting instead to prepare for cyclocross with a mix of endurance mountain bike and road events, as well as a number of charity rides. He has had a slow start to the season, slow by Johnson’s standards anyway. The 33-year-old has yet to win, finishing seventh at CrossVegas and sixth on the first day of the USGP Planet Bike Cup before going down on a rock and failing to finish Sunday.

Before CrossVegas Johnson said this would all be to plan.

“My approach is going to be a lot different this year. I’m not expecting to come out of the blocks flying; instead I’m going for longer burn,” he told VeloNews. “I completely changed my recipe on how I go into the season for the last however-many years and everything is geared for long term.”

Johnson came out firing hard in 2010, winning a day at each of the first two USGP stops and by November earning a front row start position in Europe. The fatigue of multiple trips across the pond drained him, however, and at the Koksijde World Cup on November 27 he went from the front row to 32nd, two laps down. The 2012 world championships are on that same sandy course and Johnson is more conservative a year later with his travel and race planning.

Two weeks after Koksijde Johnson was in Bend, Oregon, to defend his national title. VeloNews joined him for breakfast on the eve of the race.

“At nationals last year when we had breakfast, I knew I would be dying the next day. I knew I’d be at my max and it wouldn’t be good enough,” said Johnson. “That last trip to Europe totally shredded me. That feeling was the worst feeling and it taught me a few lessons and I’m going to be thinking about that for a very long time.”

Johnson finished a distant fifth in Bend, never factoring and trailing in more than two minutes behind Todd Wells.

Despite his long view, Johnson would love a result in Gloucester. He knew two weeks ago that there might be detractors asking by now what happened to Tim Johnson.

“Perfect. I don’t mind. I’m still going to race as hard as I possibly can, try and win and help my teammates win,” he said. “I’m the only one piloting this bike racer here. I’m going to be absolutely burying myself like always but I’m not focusing on the USGP or the early season. I’m focused on nationals, the World Cup and world championships.”

After next week’s USGP New Belgium Cup in Colorado, Johnson will travel to the Czech Republic for the opening rounds of the World Cup in Plzen and Tabor. He’ll return to the States in late October and likely remain until after nationals in January. It is then, in early January, that he hopes to hit the form that will carry him through worlds a month later back in Koksijde.

But before he gets to the UCI world championships, Tim Johnson faces two days of the New England World Championships.

Great Brewers Gran Prix of Gloucester – Gloucester, Massachusetts
October 1-2 2:30 p.m. (women) / 3:30 p.m. (men)
40 min. (women) / 60 min. (men)
$2,706 (women) / $10,791 (men)
*UCI C1 Saturday, C2 Sunday
*Shimano NEPCX series

Ohio Valley Cyclocross Series #4 & 5 – Ohio
Gearfest – Dayton

October 1 1:46 p.m. (women) / 2:45 p.m. (men)
40 min. (women) / 60 min. (men)
Buckingham Financial John Bryan CX Classic – Yellow Springs
October 2 1:46 p.m. (women) / 2:45 p.m. (men)
40 min. (women) / 60 min. (men)
*Ohio Valley CX series

Cross Crusade #1 – Portland, Oregon
Alpenrose Dairy
October 2 1:00 p.m. (men & women)
60 min. (men & women)
*Cross Crusade series

Chicago Cross Cup #2 – Dekalb, Illinois
Hopkins Park
October 2 10:45 a.m. (women) / 1:30 p.m. (men)
45 min. (women) / 60 min. (men)
*Chicago Cross Cup series
* Unofficial Illinois State Single Speed Cyclo-Cross Championship (OUISSSCXC)

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