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Zach McDonald, Yannick Eckmann face final battle for U23 crown in 2011 U.S. Gran Prix of Cyclocross

BEND, Oregon (VN) — Jeremy Powers and Katerina Nash may have the elite series titles locked up heading into the final day of the Exergy U.S. Gran Prix of Cyclocross in Bend, Oregon, but one classification is closer than ever. Zach McDonald and Yannick Eckmann are locked in a two-up dogfight for the men’s U23 title and will take the quarrel to the Deschutes Brewery Cup Sunday afternoon.

McDonald (Rapha-Focus) took the U23 series leader’s jersey back from Eckmann (Pearl Izumi-Shimano) after a commanding U23 victory at day one of the Deschutes Cup on Saturday. The two have traded the overall lead all season after Eckmann blazed his way through the series stops in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, and Louisville, Kentucky.

Eckmann held on for third place Saturday, 17th in the elite men’s field, after runner-up Cody Kaiser (Cal Giant-Specialized).

2011 Deschutes Brewery Cup, day 1, McDonald and Jones
McDonald leads Jones late Saturday Photo: Wil Matthews | www.wilmatthewsphoto.com

This puts McDonald at 308 points for the series, 10 points ahead of Eckmann going into the final race of the series. Kaiser sits  third with 248.

“I was a little surprised (Eckmann was so far back),” McDonald said. “But at the same time, he’s going through the same thing I am now where our quarters and semesters are finishing up right now.”

McDonald and Eckmann are in a position not unique in the U23 field. Both are full-time students — McDonald at the University of Washington and Eckmann at Boulder High School. But the rocky Bend course, with a back section covered in fine, black dust, doesn’t care about their workload at school.

“There are a lot of dusty, tricky corners out there, and anything can happen. It only takes a couple mistakes. You look at (Chris) Jones: he only had to go down once to get out of that group,” said McDonald. “On this course once a gap opens it’s hard to drill it back to the group with the wind.”

McDonald had a little help after a slow start on Saturday: Troy Wells (Clif Bar) and Rapha teammate Jones worked with him for the second half of the race before the Rapha men shed Wells and took pulls on the fast course to claw their way out of no-man’s land to the chasing group of five.

2011 New Belgium Cup, day 1, Yannick Eckmann
Eckmann surprised with fifth in the men's elite race at the New Belgium Cup. Photo: Wil Matthews | www.wilmatthewsphoto.com

Eckmann’s companion? The wind.

“I slipped out of a pedal at the start and then I think the second lap my shifting stopped working,” Eckmann said. “I was in a gear that started spinning out really fast. I took a bike change and I rode with my pit bike for like two laps. Then I was pretty far back and was alone.”

Bend saw strong winds most of the day and a headwind blanketed two long straightaways as sunset neared Saturday night. Riding alone, Eckmann was at a serious disadvantage. He eventually finished 1:43 behind McDonald.

“There’s always another day tomorrow,” Eckmann said.

There is just one more day for Eckmann to become the 18-year-old overall champion of the USGP in his first year as a U23. That day is Sunday.

If Eckmann wins the U23 classification Sunday and McDonald places second, they will tie on points and Eckmann will win the series overall because of a tie-breaker going to the final day’s best result. If McDonald wins, he takes the series title outright.

“I’m focused on my race and getting the jersey back. I want the overall win for the season,” Eckmann said.

But as McDonald said, anything can happen out there. There is but one more day; look for the most contentious battle of the USGP finale a little ways behind the front of the elite men’s race Sunday afternoon.

Brian Holcombe contributed to this report.

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