Jeremy Powers won the elite men’s Pan-Am Championship Sunday, barely besting Stephen Hyde and Jamie Driscoll in what may have been the most thrilling American cyclocross race of the year.
Trek Factory Racing’s Katie Compton won the elite women’s Pan-Am jersey with yet another dominating performance, while two up-and-coming teammates battled back from mechanical mishaps on Saturday to take their own victories on the second day of the Cincinnati Cyclocross Festival.
The course at Devou Park was a stark contrast to the speedier course at Kings CX the previous day. Several racers compared Devou to more-difficult European courses, with its rolling power sections, tricky off-camber slopes, and naturally, lots of mud. The age-group riders earlier in the day battled slippery lines and gummed up derailleurs, but sunshine and an unseasonably warm November day helped dry the course by the time the Pan-Am Championship races began Sunday afternoon. Although many churned and greasy sections remained virtually unrideable.
The difficulty of the climbs, corners, and run-ups was visible on the riders’ faces. But they had plenty of fan support to get them through the extra-difficult sections of the course — especially going up “Shamrock Hill,” a slick, nearly-vertical mound that forced riders to dismount and carry their bikes as they climbed up the muddy slip-and-slide. Pan-Am Plunge, a twisty 70-foot, off-camber drop, also caused the riders consternation each trip around the course, with the sounds of squealing cantilever brakes echoing through the Ohio hills.
Spencer Petrov (Cyclocross Network) took the early lead in the Juniors race, with a few riders on his heels, and Eric Brunner (Boulder Junior Cycling) and Saturday’s winner and reigning Pan-Am champion Gage Hecht chased closely at the beginning, but Petrov would eventually claim victory.
For Petrov, who was leading Saturday’s race until an untimely mechanical in the second lap, earning the victory on his home course and in front of family and fans was especially sweet.
Petrov’s teammate Drew Dillman also suffered a mechanical in Saturday’s race, but battled back to finish in the top 10 in the men’s elite Field. On Sunday, he would capture the win in the elite men U23 field after putting a big dig in on eventual second-place finisher Curtis White (Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld) with four laps to go.
“I was hitting the punchy stuff hard, but White didn’t seem to have it today,” Dillman said. “I noticed I had a gap on the steep climb after the Pan-Am Plunge, so I went for it. Knowing him, I didn’t want it to go down to a sprint finish or even to the last lap.”
The elite U23 women’s field splintered on the first lap, driven by an aggressive pace set by Ellen Noble (JAM Fund). Noble attacked early and went hard after nearly all the entire field went down in the first 30 seconds of the race. As the race went on, the gap between her wheel and the second-placed rider grew to over a minute.
“I went down hard in the beginning, but luckily so did everyone else,” Noble said. “That section had been closed for pre-ride, so when we made it to it, every rider crashed including myself. That crash terrified me because I was leading and didn’t know whether other girls had gone down. I thought my race was done. But I got up and started running as hard as I could and was first out of that brutal section. By the end of the first lap, I had nearly a minute. I knew if I could stay upright and not have a mechanical I could do it because I felt very confident on every part of the course.”
After winning Saturday’s elite women’s race, Katie Compton was unsure if she had enough life in her legs for a repeat performance the next day. She needn’t had worried, as the huge effort didn’t have much of an effect. She pedaled around the course seamlessly with an unfading, machine-like effort, hitting it hard from the beginning and never looking back.
Georgia Gould (Luna Pro Team) and Kaitie Antonneau (Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld) and a few others were strung out behind Compton, but couldn’t quite match her power or skill. Antonneau had an exciting race, and didn’t stop pounding the sticky mud for a moment. She dropped back into fourth place briefly before passing the other riders and finishing second.
But for all the electrifying racing on the day, it was Stephen Hyde’s gutsy performance and Powers’ impressive show-of-force that will have cyclocross fans talking until nationals. Hyde grabbed the holeshot at the onset of the elite men’s race, setting the stage for a one-on-one battle with the reigning national champion for the majority of the contest. The two traded turns at the front, managing to stay a handful of seconds in front of a charging Jamey Driscoll (Raleigh Clement). On the last lap, Hyde and Powers each put in massive attacks, with Powers eventually outlasting the younger rider. Driscoll was also able to pass the Cannondale rider, who would have to settle for the third step on the podium. The trio would finish within seconds of each other in the closest race of the weekend.
“We were playing cat-and-mouse for nearly the entire race, but we knew [Driscoll] was back there and how good he is at metering his effort,” Hyde said. “By the last lap, I was so blown [after Powers’ attack], he was able to get around me.”
Trying to steal a few seconds, Powers took a big chance going down Pan-Am Plunge, nearly overcooking the descent.
“I was either going to gain some time or end my season prematurely,” Powers said with a smile afterward. “Each of us had problems [due to the challenging course]; no one had a flawless day. The elevation and technical sections were so challenging, everyone almost lost it at some point.”