From afar, Stephen Hyde made his 2017-18 cyclocross campaign look easy.
Hyde won four of seven rounds on the inaugural US Cup-CX series, taking the series overall and its $10,000 prize purse. The Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com rider scored head-turning results on the World Cup, and even spent a few weeks training alongside reigning world champion Wout van Aert in Spain. And Hyde did all of this while maintaining his usual grin and affable post-race attitude.
Of course looks can be deceiving.
“I’ve had a really weird year,” Hyde told VeloNews in the week before USA Cycling Cyclocross National Championships. “I’ve had a hard, struggling year for me.”
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As defending national champ, Hyde will start Sunday’s elite men’s race as the favorite to win. Attaining that favorite status, however, has come after a season plagued by sickness, injuries, and mechanicals. Hyde fell ill right before the start of the 2017 season, which sidelined him during a few important weeks of training. Rather than enter the season’s opening World Cup rounds on top form in September, he was forced to rebuild after time off the bike.
After 10th place in the 2016 JingleCross World Cup, his 23rd-place result in that race this year was a disappointment.
Hyde rebounded from those early challenges. He found his form in October, winning the second day of US Cup-CX/Charm City following a third-place the day prior. Then, Hyde went on a five-race win streak, sealing up the series overall and winning another Pan-American championship.
Hyde traveled back to Europe on a high but was quickly set back by mechanical problems at two World Cups in a row, Bogense, Denmark and Zeven, Germany.
After his sojourn to Spain with van Aert, Hyde notched his two best World Cup results in Belgium, 11th in Namur and 13th in Zolder. Then, one of his old nemeses, patellar tendinitis cropped up. Hyde bowed out of the December 30 Superprestige night race in Diegem, Belgium and flew home on New Years.
“You can get sick, get injured, have bad mechanicals, and still fight back. I have confidence in my fighting spirit. I’m in a good headspace going in,” Hyde said about his looming title defense at national championships.
He resorted to a number of conventional therapies for his knee issue, seeing a physical therapist, getting massage therapy, and using kinesio tape. Hyde also sought encouragement from van Aert, who is becoming a close friend.
“With this knee problem, I was texting him, and he told him about the knee problem he had before worlds,” Hyde said. “He was like, ‘You can do it.’”
Van Aert battled tendonitis throughout the 2016/17 season, skipping the Hoogerheide World Cup just a few one week before the world championships. At the time, he told Sporza.be, “The knee pain is serious, and I am taking no risks,” after deciding to rest. The Belgian recovered and won his second rainbow jersey in a row in Bieles, Luxembourg.
“It was cool to get to know [Van Aert] more. Everybody struggles,” said Hyde. “That was really cool; it’s really reassuring.”
Hyde might actually know more about Van Aert’s current condition than that of his rivals for cyclocross national championships. Of the contenders, he was the only one to race the Kerstperiode Christmas races. The rest of the top American men opted to stay home and train.
“They’ve been training, and I’ve been racing — it’s difficult to compare those two things,” Hyde said. “We have this big blackout period where everyone is out training. Everyone is secretly squirreled away behind their scooters getting ready.”
Hyde pointed to a few rivals that he’s watching, such as Tobin Ortenblad (Santa Cruz-Donkey Label), winner of 11 UCI races this season in the U.S. Hyde said Kerry Werner [Kona] could also challenge for the victory in Reno.
“Kerry’s always a really good technical rider, I think this course could suit him,” Hyde said.
Hyde will also watch for Jamie Driscoll (Donnelly Sports) who nearly snatched away his nationals title last year. “Jamie lives at altitude he’s super consistent, he usually has really good form toward the end of the year,” he said. “He knows how to bring it for the end of the year.”
The typically effusive Hyde carried on, rattling off a few other names, such as Jack Kisseberth (JAM Fund), fourth in Hartford nationals last year, former national champion Jeremy Powers (Aspire Racing), and even his Cannondale teammate Curtis White.
Above all, Hyde embraces this challenge, ready to make it look easy like he did all the others. “I’m really excited for a battle. I thrive off of it.”