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Analysis: Elite American men chase varying degrees of success in Louisville

How the race is run

With such variable conditions in Louisville this week, it’s difficult to say how the track will set up for Sunday’s men’s race. Temperatures topping out near 25 degrees on Friday will be followed by temperatures above freezing over the weekend. That could make for a progressively sloppier and heavier affair. This is cyclocross, and weather always plays a roll. But if they could get down on their knees and pray to the weather gods, the Americans would fall into two camps: give me heavy, or give me fast.

He wasn’t born in the mud like the Belgians, but Page has played in it more than any other American. His choice is obvious.

“I’m liking [these heavy, rainy conditions] right now,” he said. “The muddier the better.”

Likewise, Trebon hopes for rain.

“I don’t really like it when it’s frozen, but other than that I don’t think about it much,” he said. “I wouldn’t mind if that course was 10 inches deep the whole way around. The harder, heavier, and slower the course is, the better.”

Driscoll, Johnson, and Powers are rather indifferent, preferring to stick with the same game plan no matter the conditions.

“After the first lap I have to be in the top 15,” Powers said. “There will be a lot of bumping and shaking and the top 15 will be sorted in the first corner. That’s where I need to be; that would be great. Then I have to ride my own race. I know how this course wears on you.”

Powers knows this well; he has swept through four USGP races held on a very similar course in Louisville in 2011 and 2012.

Summerhill? He’s a roadie. He wants as hard a surface as he can get. When he realized that organizers had routed the course twice through the sand, he shook his head and cursed.

United or untied?

Unlike the national teams of other countries, like the Italians and Belgians, which can be seen on team rides cruising along River Road in Louisville near the venue, Team USA has no unified camp, no obligation to come together like you might expect. Was it a choice by USA Cycling to allow the riders their freedom? Or is the governing body unable to manage the team as a whole, given its budget?

“We can manage it, and I’ve told everyone that I’d like them to stay with us, but at the same time, teams like Italy and Belgium have a long history of mandating things to their riders. And we don’t,” Gullickson said. “Having said that, I encouraged people to stay with us, and having said that, all these riders have raced here every year for the last five or six years and some of them — like Katie [Compton] and Powers — have people they stay with every time. They’re very comfortable. And Katie and Powers are two examples of riders that are having a lot of pressure put on them and want to try to keep their routine as similar to them and most comfortable as they can.”

The riders agree that what’s best for them now is to do what they’re most comfortable with. Why go changing the routine, especially in a sport where routine is crucial to success? On the other hand, a number of the team members voiced a desire to see things go differently in the future.

“It’s a little sad that we don’t stay as a team. I wish for that. I would love nothing more than to pass on my knowledge to the younger guys,” Powers said. “But why would I do that, too? Why would I go with other mechanics and without the scooter right now?”

Powers’ sentiment was shared by most of the team. Trebon, however, remained relaxed about his race preparation, much like his aspirations.

“I much prefer to do my own thing, and train and relax here,” he said. “It’s easy being here since we know it so well. It’s comfortable, it’s convenient; nothing is a pain in the ass, which is the exact opposite of how it is every other worlds.”

Ultimately, what works for the riders is what will make for the most successful team. Gullickson was presented with either pressuring the team into staying as a cohesive unit or saying, “Go with your best instinct and do your own thing.” He chose to allow them to go with their own programs.

“These guys are professionals and for the biggest race of their career — the first worlds in their country — they don’t want to try something new,” Gullickson said. “My biggest goal is to win medals here, not to look like we’re a U.S. team. Who is to say looking like a U.S. team isn’t going to help those guys, but in their minds that’s not going to help them. We’re trying to keep them happy and fast.”

And if all goes according to plan, there will be six happy and fast Americans in Louisville on Sunday afternoon.

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