By Fred Dreier
It took Tim Johnson seven years to return to the top of American cyclocross, and it was fitting that the Massachusetts native grabbed his second-career elite ’cross title on a snowy day in Kansas City.
Johnson took his first elite title in a freezing blizzard when the Midwestern metropolis last hosted ’cross nationals in 2000. And while the 2007 edition lacked a whiteout — sunshine peaked its way through the clouds to melt Saturday’s snowfall — the result was the same. While the country’s other top ‘crossers faltered in the crud, Johnson use his smooth technical skills to simply float his way to victory.
“It feels so good to say I’ve won this thing. That was seven years ago when I won here, and it’s a long time coming,” Johnson said. “I don’t think anyone had a flawless race today — just to get through it was the way to do it.”
The race’s crux proved to be a challenging section of mud-covered frozen wheel ruts located midway through the 1.9-mile lap around Wyandotte Country Park. On the penultimate lap, Johnson approached the section with three-time elite champ Jonathan Page (Sunweb-Projob) glued to his wheel. While Johnson navigated the bumps, Page spun out and tangled in the course tape, losing the Cannondale rider’s wheel. Page remounted only to find his chain covered in mud and hanging loose from his derailleur. While he eventually got sorted and mounted a valiant chase, the Sunweb rider came up short.
“I was in control except for one little bobble, and that was the bike race,” Page said. “I just ran out of real estate. That’s ’cross, I guess.”
Indeed Page, who lives and races in Europe full time, asserted himself as the strongest rider in the 170-strong field. The runner-up at the 2007 UCI world cyclocross championships, Page briefly dueled at the front of the race with reigning champ Ryan Trebon (Kona-Yourkey.com) and Jeremy Powers (Cyclocrossworld.com) before pulling clear by the end of lap one.
Powers couldn’t maintain the pace and faded. Trebon saw his hopes at a repeat title erased after an errant rider at the back of the pack lost control on a doubled-back section of the course. The rider spun through the course tape and into oncoming traffic, striking Trebon head on and sending the Kona rider tumbling awkwardly to the frozen earth. In a scary scene that almost produced more crash victims, volunteers and medical staff cordoned off the fallen Trebon, who was unable to move from the middle of the course for several minutes.
“He hit me and went down and I shot up in the air and fell a long way down,” said the 6 foot 5” Trebon from the medical tent. “It hurt like hell.”
Mountain-biker Todd Wells (GT), the 2001 and ’05 cyclocross champ, slowly picked his way up to Page’s wheel, and spent three laps duking it out with the three-time champ. The battle between the two produced numerous tangles, and even a few thrown elbows.
“Page was banging into me like it was some juiced-up Euro World Cup race,” Wells said. “I figured if Johnson caught on, at least one of us could beat him.”
After a slow start Johnson speedily picked his way through the field and into third place by the race’s midpoint. The Cannondale rider frequently took clean bikes from the tech pits, and eventually pulled his way into striking distance of Wells and Page.
“At a race like this you got guys who give everything to get in front of you, but they can’t keep up that pace,” Johnson said. “To get behind guys like [Steve] Tilford at the start, I wasn’t worried because it’s an hour-long race.”
Johnson eventually made contact with the two front-runners, and after Wells lost pace after a handful of bobbles, Page and Johnson were left to duke it out.
Johnson, whose season began with the 2007 Tour of California in February, plans to tackle three rounds of the UCI world cup of cyclocross before hitting the January 26-27 UCI world championships in Treviso, Italy.
“I’m a cyclist, I race and ride year round,” Johnson said. “I’d love to shoot for a top-10 [at worlds].” Compton Makes it four
Much of the hype before the women’s elite championship centered on whether Katie Compton (Spike-Shooter) was losing the considerable edge she held over the women’s field for three straight seasons. Compton, the national champion since 2004, delivered her answer on the opening lap of the women’s 45-minute contest, dropping her rivals en route to a solo victory.
“I’m glad that I had a little more to give today. I just went to the front and rode and heard there were gaps behind,” Compton said. “Everyone else has gotten stronger this year. You gotta be inside your game to win these days.”
Pre-race predictions pitted Compton against Georgia Gould (Luna), as the Luna rider derailed Compton twice at the December 1-2 rounds of the Crank Brother’s U.S. Gran Prix of Cyclocross in Portland, Oregon. But Gould, who took the USGP series overall, admitted she faltered on the slick frozen mud which covered the lion’s share of the course.
“It was like the course tape was a magnet, and my bike was the other end of the magnet,” Gould said. “Some days you can ride your bike, other days you can’t.”
With Compton slipping of the front, Gould rode alongside Californian Rachel Lloyd (Proman-Paradigm), the 2007 Super D mountain-bike national champion. But Lloyd proved to handle the frozen slop better than the Luna rider, and eventually surged on to claim second place. The finish matched Lloyd’s best-ever finish at nationals — she finished second to Alison Dunlap at the 2003 national ‘cross championships in Portland, Oregon.
“I knew that if it was snowy here I would have a chance to win,” Lloyd said. “But I lost the race on the start — if I’m with Katie I can race with her on conditions like this. But I got swarmed at the start and had to play catch up.”
Coloradan Kerry Barnholt (Tokyo Joe’s) and Maureen Bruno-Roy (Independent Fabrication) duked it out for the fourth and fifth places on the podium, with Barnholt eventually finding an advantage.
For Compton, the victory comes after a season spent traveling between the United States and Europe’s World Cup races. The Coloradan took the second round of the UCI World Cup in Pijnacker, the Netherlands, proving she can race at the front of the elite women’s field. Still, Compton says she may decide to travel less next season.
“I want to promote ’cross racing here, because I think we’re coming along faster than Europe is,” Compton said. “It’s not like it’s easy to win against the competition here. I think I can get better here as well as I can get better in Europe.”
Race NotesVermont native Jamey Driscoll defended his men’s collegiate title from 2006. Driscoll spent much of the race playing catch up after Fort Lewis College’s Joey Thompson sped off the front from the gun. But after Driscoll caught the surging Thompson, the FLC rider flatted his front and rear tires simultaneously, and Driscoll escaped for the win. The victory, Driscoll said, was sweet redemption from his second-place performance in Saturday’s U23 championship event.
Lees-McRae College took home the women’s collegiate crown after senior Kacey Manderfield surged to the win. Manderfield is also the reigning collegiate track champion in the point’s race competition, as well as the U23 points race national title holder.
Wisconsinite Marko Lalonde took an impressive victory in the Single Speed category, holding off mountain-bike great Travis Brown. Lalonde took second in the Wisconsin cyclocross series riding on a single-speed bike. Lalonde took his win running a 44X21 gear ratio.
“If I raced a geared bike at this point, I don’t think I’d be any faster,” he said.
2007 USA Cycling National Cyclocross championships
Kansas City, Kansas – December 16, 2007Elite Men (Unofficial)
1. Tim Johnson, Cannondale-Leer-Cyclocrossworld.com
2. Jonathan Page, Sunweb-Projob
3. Todd Wells, GT
4. Barry Wicks, Kona-Yourkey.com
5. Troy Wells, Clif Bar
1. Katie Compton, Spike Shooter, 33:47
2. Rachel Lloyd, Proman-Paradigm, 34:09
3. Georgia Gould, Luna, 35:04
4. Kerry Barnholt, Tokyo Joe’s-Van Dessel, 35:40
5. Maureen Bruno-Roy, Independent Fabrication, 36:08
6. Sue Butler, River City Bicycles, 37:34
7. Shelly Olds, California Giant Berry Farms, 37:57
8. Melissa Thomas, Maxxis-Lightspeed, 38:03
9. Amy Wallace, RGM Watches-Sachs, 38:04
10. Wendy Williams, River City Bicycles, 38:06
1. Kacey Manderfield, Lees-McRae, 29:50
2. Steph White, University of New Hampshire, 31:30
3. Amanda Miller, CSU Rams, 31:45
4. Devon Haskell, University of Chicago, 32:18
5. Sabina Kraushaar, Fort Lewis College, 33:13
Collegiate Men (Unofficial)
1. Jamey Driscoll, University of Vermont
2. Joe Thompson, Fort Lewis College