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Cyclocross

2003 ‘cross nationals preview: Mud, sweat and gears

On Sunday, December 14, one man and woman will be crowned elite national cyclo-cross champions in Portland, Oregon. And while nothing is ever guaranteed in bike racing, there are three near-certainties for the weekend: The race will be contested in wet, muddy conditions; the crowd will be downing plenty of race sponsor Portland Brewing Company’s beer; and the winners of both events will likely have been previously crowned national ‘cross champion. The forecast for the weekend is rain followed by rain and then more rain. Local Cross Crusade promoter Brad Ross is known as a beer-drinking,

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By Neal Rogers

Looks like rain...

Looks like rain…

Photo: National Weather Service

On Sunday, December 14, one man and woman will be crowned elite national cyclo-cross champions in Portland, Oregon. And while nothing is ever guaranteed in bike racing, there are three near-certainties for the weekend: The race will be contested in wet, muddy conditions; the crowd will be downing plenty of race sponsor Portland Brewing Company’s beer; and the winners of both events will likely have been previously crowned national ‘cross champion.

The forecast for the weekend is rain followed by rain and then more rain. Local Cross Crusade promoter Brad Ross is known as a beer-drinking, mud-churning hellman of the Northwest, so spectators can expect nothing less than the very best the Cross Crusaders can offer. No word yet as to whether the race series’ “Black Knight” will be out on the course with money dangling from his back pocket….

At the start line of the elite men’s race will be four returning national champions: Mark McCormack (1997), Marc Gullickson (1999), Todd Wells (2001) and defending champion Jonathon Page (2002). The only national champion of recent times who will be absent is 2000 national champ Tim Johnson, who has transitioned to the road and will officially be a member of the Colavita-Bolla cycling team in a matter of weeks.

Johnson, the only American to medal at the world cyclo-cross championships, had entertained thoughts of attending this weekend’s race as a commentator, but is currently in Florida training with members of the Canadian national team. This weekend will be the first ‘cross nationals Johnson has missed since he first attended in 1995, when he won the junior category. Last year he finished sixth, one spot off the podium.

According to the Cross Crusade Web site, the course at Portland International Raceway is relatively flat and fast. “The start will use the raceway for approximately 1/4 mile,” the description reads. “A sweeping left-hander will take the racers off road onto a natural dike. Several off-camber sections will follow (pit #1 is at the top) with a flat serpentine section to follow. The bulk of the course will run through and around a large expo area to optimize spectating opportunities. The finish is wide and paved.”

'Cross Nationals race director Brad Ross knows how to get into the spirit

‘Cross Nationals race director Brad Ross knows how to get into the spirit

Photo: Neal Rogers

When asked for a prediction of this year’s winner, Johnson answered diplomatically: “Thinking about the [flat] course, I think it’s going to be last-lap break, unlike last year where Jonathan Page blew everyone away. It’s either going to be someone going solo with a lap to go, or a full-on sprint.”

No doubt, it’s looking to be one of the more tightly contested nationals in memory. Mongoose-Hyundai’s Wells is the highest-ranked American on the UCI standings in 18th, with Gullickson (Redline) ranked 26th. But Page, ranked 31st, has once again spent the season racing in Europe against much stiffer competition. Barring a serious mechanical, a likelihood given the expected conditions, smart money is on Page. Last year in the mud of Napa, Page took off early, putting 20 seconds on the chase by the third of 11 laps, and if he’s healthy, there’s no reason to doubt he could do it again.

Other riders to watch include the season’s revelation, Ryan Trebon (Easton-Kona-CCA), 22, who has beaten Wells, McCormack and Gullickson this season; Trek-VW cross-country vet Travis Brown, who spent the December 6-7 weekend sweeping both the ACA and USCF Colorado state championships; and either of Clif Bar’s young stars, Andy Jacques-Maynes and Jackson Stewart.

In the women’ race, defending champ Ann Knapp will have her work cut out for her if she plans on defeating five-time ‘cross national champ Alison Dunlap, who sat out the event last year — but is back with a vengeance — after missing the 2003 cross-country season with a separated shoulder. Dunlap is undefeated in the United States this season, when racing against other women (she spent part of her buildup racing the men in Colorado) and is ranked third in the world, taking second at the November 16 World Cup event in St. Wendel, Germany.

Clif Bar’s Carmen D’Aluisio, 36, is the second-highest ranked American on the UCI rankings, in seventh, with her Clif Bar teammate Gina Hall, also 36, in ninth. Should Dunlap falter, look for either of these soon-to-retire teammates to fill the void.

For a dark-horse pick, I’ll throw Rachel Lloyd’s name in the hat. At ‘cross nationals Lloyd has finished third (in 2001) and second (in 2002), and she handily beat both Hall and D’Aluisio at the Coyote Point Bay Area Super Prestige UCI race, the final West Coast UCI race before nationals. Like Hall and D’Aluisio, Lloyd is considering retirement after the world championships, and a stars-and-stripes jersey would be a crowning accomplishment in her career.

In the U-23 ranks, Jeremy Powers (NCC-Bikereg.com) comes to the start line with a number-one ranking ahead of Alan Obye (Balance Bar-Devo) and Matt White (NCC-Bikereg.com), with former junior national champion Jesse Anthony (Hot Tubes) ranked fourth. And with the impressive performances Powers has put in this season — he’s ranked eighth among elite men — you just gotta give him the nod as favorite.

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