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After a back-and-forth battle with his Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com teammate Curtis White, Stephen Hyde emerged with his third consecutive U.S. cyclocross national championship title Sunday. With a superior display of bike-handling skills, Hyde dispatched White on the penultimate lap of the muddy course. Gage Hecht (Alpha Bicycle Co.) was third in Louisville, Kentucky.
“It feels like I left my back out there on the course and maybe some of my legs,” Hyde joked. “It feels fantastic. It’s been a hell of a season, not a hell of a season like in years past,” he added referring to the many injuries that disrupted his plans.
From the gun, it was clear that White and Hyde would emerge as the day’s top riders. White got the holeshot, and he was joined by Hyde, Hecht, and Cody Kaiser (Lange Twins). Pre-race favorite Kerry Werner (Kona-Shimano) was quickly out of the picture following a bobble.
A few other riders mixed into the front group on the first lap, including Maxx Chance (Full Cycle), Grant Ellwood (Boulder Cycle Sport), and Anthony Clark (Squid).
“On the first lap, I was just trying to battle to stay with Curtis [White] and Stephen [Hyde],” said Hecht. “I got stuck behind a few little slip-ups on the first lap and lost them, and I didn’t have people to pace off.”
Drew Dillman (SDG-Muscle Monster) had a rocky start but took advantage of all the running sections of the sloppy course.
“I felt really good running. I had a terrible start and then made it all up on the run,” Dillman said.
“I might have overdone it with the run, so I kind of checked myself. A couple guys passed me. … I was just trying to stay smooth, and I knew my strong suit was the run so on all the pedaling sections I was trying to take it easy to save it for the run.”
However, the pecking order was quickly established with the two Cannondale riders off the front and Hecht giving chase. After the first lap, Werner had moved up to fourth.
For a moment on the second lap, it looked like White had made a fatal error. On the course’s high-speed descent, about halfway through the circuit, he clipped a post holding up the barriers on the left side. White crashed heavily behind Hyde. The defending national champ quickly extended his lead.
Hyde’s win wouldn’t come so easily though. White chased back to his teammate and they were together by the end of the lap, thanks in large part to White’s strong running on the muddy hills.
Perhaps the crash affected White’s confidence because, on the following lap, he was under pressure on that same descent, forced to chase hard again to stay with Hyde.
The same scenario repeated itself on the fourth lap, indicating Hyde’s technical skills and fearlessness.
Recognizing the risk of letting Hyde control the race from the front on the course’s most challenging corners and descents, White fought hard for the race lead with two laps to go. The Cannondale duo went back and forth before the pivotal descent. Hyde bobbled and lost the lead. Then White let his guard down at the right-hand corner at the end of the descent. Hyde slipped by along the barriers and made his winning move.
But wasn’t entirely smooth sailing to the finish. Although White looked to be fading, Hyde had a near-miss on the finish stretch, heading out on the bell lap. He slid sideways and barely put a foot down in time.
Then, after the first trip through the pits, he had a minor crash on a short descent. Fortunately for Hyde, White rode that same section quite slowly, so the gap did not close.
Hyde rode home alone to victory and was quick to hug his friend and teammate White who took second alone.
Hecht finished third after a lonely but very consistent race. He could have raced the under-23 race at just 20 years of age, but he chose to step up to the elite race this year, and the decision paid off in spades.
“I didn’t really know what to expect,” Hyde said. “I came here with a goal to land on the podium and came away with that. I’m just really excited.
“I was just riding threshold the entire time, just going as hard as I can, trying not to crash.”
Dillman had a breakthrough ride to finish fourth ahead of former four-time national ‘cross champion Jeremy Powers. Plus, he did it in front of a crowd of friends and family as a Louisville local.
“Through those limestone steps it was was a tunnel of people, and everybody was yelling ‘Dillman!'” he said. “Having all those people there cheering for me at the top, probably the most painful spot, definitely motivated me to keep going and keep pushing.
Chris Case contributed to this report from Lousiville, Kentucky.