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Analysis: 5 things to watch over ’cross nationals weekend

The specialists versus the part-timers

It used to be the case that ’cross was something roadies did in the offseason to maintain fitness, avoid weight gain, and sharpen bike-handling skills. And while that’s still the case for many, at least at the top level of the sport we’ve seen the rise of the pure ’cross specialists. That is perhaps nowhere more evident than at nationals and worlds.

Make no mistake: There have been pros that have raced to great results both on the road and in ’cross. But these days they are more the exception than the rule. Boom and Stybar are perhaps the best examples of riders who have excelled in both disciplines, but both eventually had to choose one over the other.

Boom has been the ’cross world champion, a winner of the Tour of Britain, and a stage winner at Paris-Nice and the Vuelta a España. Stybar is a two-time world ’cross champ, but decided in 2011 to turn his attention to road racing; he has won stages at the Four Days of Dunkirk and the Tour of Poland. Boom and Stybar still do select ’cross races when they can, but it appears to be too difficult to be great at both. And since each rider has committed to road, ’cross specialists such as Nys, Albert, and Pauwels have taken full advantage and dominated the sport.

Closer to home, roadie-’crossers such as Tim Johnson (Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com) and Powers have each had mixed fortunes. Johnson stopped racing road to commit fully to ’cross, but after a disappointing 2011-2012 campaign, his results this year have been solid but still not as great as he would have liked. For Powers, even though he’s still racing on the road as a domestique, his narrowed focus on ’cross has led him to a national title, numerous victories, and some impressive results in European World Cups.

Still, even Powers has said that eventually he’s going to have to give up road racing to concentrate fully on ’cross. It’ll be interesting to see how riders focused more on road racing will fare against the ’cross specialists at nationals and, later, at worlds.

Riders like pro mountain biker Adam Craig (Rabobank-Giant Off-road) and neo-pro roadie Danny Summerhill (UnitedHealthcare) could upset the cart in the U.S. come Sunday, but no part-timer has a better shot at scoring national colors this weekend than cross-country racer Marco Fontana (Cannondale), should he be in the start grid when the light turns green in Italy.

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