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By Neal Rogers
For the entire elite women’s race, and half of the men’s, the title sponsor of the Planet Bike Cup looked poised to sweep the top step of both podiums.
Held in near summer heat on Saturday at the Angell Park Speedway in the Madison suburb of Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, and doubling as the opening weekend of the sixth annual U.S. Gran Prix of Cyclocross, the Planet Bike Cup was looking like a two-fer for the home team until the dream scenario quickly went awry under a rolled tubular tire.
Reigning national champion Katie Compton took a convincing win in the women’s race, and midway through the men’s race Jonathan Page had bridged across to early leader Jeremy Powers to form what was sure to be the winning move.
But soon the trajectories of the two Planet Bike riders took very different turns.
While Compton, who opened an insurmountable lead over Luna’s Katerina Nash, opted for a bike change midway through her race to ride a power-measuring rig, Page found himself taking a bike change for a very different reason — he’d rolled a tire leading Powers up the course’s most difficult section, a steep hill with a series of subterranean railroad ties at the bottom referred to as “the Hillside Strangler.”
The mechanical cost Page more than 20 seconds and dropped him from first place to fourth, behind Powers, three-time world champion Erwin Vervecken (Revor-Baboco-Champion System), who is in the middle of his fourth trip to race cyclocross in the U.S., and current U.S. national champion Ryan Trebon (Kona).
And while Page eventually caught and passed Trebon, and nearly caught Vervecken at the line, the time lost to the mechanical and a pair of subsequent bike changes proved to be too much for the three-time national champion and 2007 world championship silver medalist.
Instead, the day belonged to Powers, who took off from the gun as if the race was 30 minutes instead of an hour, opening an early 10-second gap on the rest of a stunned men’s field.
“It wasn’t the easiest way to win,” Powers said. “Before the start I told (teammate Jamey Driscoll) that I was going to go ballistic from the start, and to just hang on.”
With its grassy course and unrelenting layout, some riders compared the Angell Park Speedway course to CrossVegas.
“It was kind of similar to CrossVegas, with no recovery anywhere,” said Luna’s Georgia Gould, who finished third in the women’s race.
Page agreed, saying the grass, tacky mud and rolling terrain meant there was no place for recovery. “It’s kind of like riding on a mattress,” he said, adding that he would race differently than in Vegas, where a two-man break went away and stayed clear. “This time I’m not going to let someone go up the road and then dilly-dally behind.”
Others, including Belgian Tim Van Nuffel, said the Wisconsin course was more like a European cyclocross course.
“CrossVegas was fun, but it was more of a show,” he said. “This was more of a real cyclocross course.”
Powers may have been joined at different times by two men who have stood upon the world cyclocross championship podium — early on by Page, and later in the race by Vervecken — but the Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com rider was the only man to spend the entire race at the front, churning out consistent five-and-a-half-minute lap times over the twisty course. Friday night’s rains left it tacky, but Saturday afternoon’s sunshine had riders rolling up the sleeves of their skinsuits and unzipping their tops.
“It’s pretty amazing to beat the guys in that group,” Powers said. “I am always hoping for a ride like this. I knew before the race that the course was good for me.”
Once Page had bridged across early on, Powers took a back seat, allowing the Planet Bike rider to set a strong tempo.
“I’d burned a few matches early, and Page was going really hard, so I let him drive it,” Powers said.
And though Vervecken bridged up to Powers with just two laps remaining in the 11-lap race, Powers never looked to be in difficulty, throttling it up the critical ride-or-run hill with one-and-a-half laps to go. It proved to be the decisive move of the day: Powers emerged from the grassy hill with a substantial lead, while Vervecken was clearly resigned to second place, looking behind to see his gap on Page rather than looking forward to reel in the runaway American.
“I had a good day today, but Jeremy was very strong,” Vervecken said. “He was riding the stairs (railroad ties), while I was dismounting and then jumping back on to ride the hill. He took 10 meters on me on the second-to-last lap, and that was it, he was gone. Really, Jonathan was stronger today than I was, too, he just had bad luck.”
Following his mechanical Page waged a valiant effort to regain his lost positioning, but was unable to make it across to the leaders. Instead, he rode with a struggling Trebon before leaving the Kona rider behind with three laps remaining.
“I tried to just keep calm and do my best under the circumstances,” Page said. “It’s my fourth time on the podium in my first four races, so I can’t be too unhappy about that. I know the form is there, so I’d rather have good condition and bad luck than bad condition and good luck. I think I showed I was the strongest guy here. It will show again tomorrow.”
For his efforts, Page was rewarded with the day’s most aggressive rider prize.
Meanwhile, Trebon made no excuses for his less-than-stellar performance, which uncharacteristically saw the Kona rider never once at the front of the field.
“Powers was hauling ass at the start, Page and Vervecken dropped me on the second lap, and I couldn’t make contact,” Trebon said. “After his bike changes, Page caught me and jumped me, and I couldn’t go with him. Today I was good enough to suffer, but not good enough to make a move.”
Behind Trebon, Canadian Geoff Kabush (Maxxis-Rocky Mountain) and CrossVegas runner-up Chris Jones (Champion System) rode together, with Kabush winning the battle for fifth place.
Missing from the race was two-time national champion Tim Johnson, who separated his shoulder in a crash last weekend at Starcrossed in Seattle and was forced to abandon at Cross Vegas. Johnson told VeloNews via email he had to “sacrifice this weekend to make sure I’m back 100 percent sooner than later.”
“It kind of freaked me out, not having Tim here,” Powers said. “He is our team captain, and I’ve learned a lot from him. But Jamey came through for us in Vegas, and I was able to today.”
One thing is certain — with Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com’s young Americans Powers and Driscoll taking consecutive wins ahead of Europeans like Vervecken, Van Nuffel and Swiss star Christian Heule (Rendementhypo), who suffered an early mechanical Saturday, there is little doubt remaining that the level of ’cross racing in the United States is on the rise.
“The level in the U.S. has definitely improved,” Vervecken said. “Of course I’ve gotten a little slower, too, I’m 37 now. But the racers are better and the crowds are bigger and louder.”
One of those riders bringing up the level in the U.S. is Cal Giant’s Chance Noble, winner of the under-23 men’s race within a race.
A league of her own
Meanwhile, Compton proved that she’s in a class of her own racing in the U.S. She led the women’s race from start to finish, towing Nash along for a few laps before simply riding away from the Luna rider.
“I just tried to keep the pace up,” Compton said. “I wanted to make it a hard race.”
By the third lap Compton had a 20-second advantage over Nash; one lap later, that gap had doubled.
“I was just trying to stay on her wheel,” the 2008 USGP women’s overall winner said. “She was really smooth in the corners. She never really attacked, she just rode away from me.”
Trailing behind Nash was her teammate Gould, the 2007 USGP champion, who spent the majority of the race alone, behind the two leaders but ahead of a chasing group of four women battling for fourth place — Amy Dombrowski (RGM Watches-Richard Sachs-Radix), Sue Butler (Monavie-Cannondale), Deirdre Winfield (C3-Athletes Serving Athletes) and Alison Sydor (Rocky Mountain-Maxxis) who had started in the third row and briefly held Gould’s wheel before dropping back to the chase group.
Dombrowski, the under-23 national women’s champion, proved the victor in the battle for valuable UCI points, getting the jump on her competitors on the steep uphill section and holding the gap to the line; Sydor, who was voted the day’s most aggressive rider, was fifth.
Compton said this week’s CrossVegas, which she also won, and this weekend’s opening round of the USGP would be her only commitments to racing domestically before heading over to Europe to race all seven events on the World Cup circuit.
“I’d really like to improve on my third overall in last year’s World Cup,” Compton said. “So I am trying to use every race as a chance to improve. I’m really working on my run-ups and getting over the barriers.”
USGP of Cyclocross racing continues Sunday at the Angell Park Speedway. Those hoping for rain to slicken the course will be disappointed; a high near 78 degrees is expected with only a 30 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms after 4 p.m., the same time the men’s race ends.
- 1. Jeremy Powers, Cannondale-CyclocrossWorld.com
- 2. Erwin Vervecken, Team Revor-Baboco-Champion Systems
- 3. Jonathan Page, Planet Bike
- 4. Ryan Trebon, Kona
- 5. Geoff Kabush, Team Maxxis-Rocky Mountain
- 6. Christopher Jones, Team Champion Systems
- 7. Jamey Driscoll, Cannondale-CyclocrossWorld.com
- 8. Jesse Anthony, JAMIS
- 9. Andy Jacques-Maynes, Bissell Pro Cycling
- 10. Tim Van Nuffel, Rendement-Hypo Cycling
- 1. Katie Compton, Planet Bike
- 2. Katerina Nash, LUNA
- 3. Georgia Gould, LUNA
- 4. Amy Dombrowski, Richard Sachs, RGM
- 5. Alison Sydor, Team Maxxis-Rocky Mountain
- 6. Sue Butler, Monavie-Cannondale
- 7. Deirdre Winfield, C3-Athletes Serving Athletes
- 8. Alison Dunlap, LUNA
- 9. Devon Haskell, BH USA
- 10. Kristin Wentworth, Planet Bike
- 1. Chance Noble, California Giant /Specialized
- 2. Joseph Schmalz, KCCX-VERGE
- 3. David Hackworthy, Bianchi-Grand Performance
- 4. Adam McGrath, THULE/Van Dessel
- 5. Kyle Fry, MCOR
- 6. Luca Lenzi, The Pony Shop
- 7. Jack Hinkins, Ridley Team
- 8. Logan Van Bokel, Mesa Cycles Racing Team