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Cyclocross

Elite ’Cross Championships preview

On Sunday, December 13th, Ryan Trebon (Kona-FSA) will defend his cyclocross national championship on his home turf in Bend, Oregon. Defending women’s champ and leader of the world cyclocross UCI points, Katie Compton, will having a go at her sixth national championship in a row.

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On Sunday, December 13th, Ryan Trebon (Kona-FSA) will defend his cyclocross national championship on his home turf in Bend, Oregon. Defending women’s champ and leader of the world cyclocross UCI points, Katie Compton, will have a go at her sixth national championship in a row.

Since 2000, Trebon, Tim Johnson (Cannondale-cyclocrossworld.com) and Todd Wells (Specialized) have each won a pair of cyclocross national championships, and Jonathan Page has won three — and they will all line up at the start line on Sunday in top form.

Course and Conditions

Earlier in the week, Bend was hit with a snow storm and the temperatures have remained below freezing, so a lot of that snow is still on the ground. Some of the masters riders have already had a go at racing on the course and have successfully worn through to some tacky grass in some sections of the course — others are still covered in a layer of ice.

The overall impression from riders and officials is that the course is technical, varied, and most importantly, a lot of fun. Some of the features include off camber corners, tight U-turns, stair run-ups, quick, steep descents, and minimal straight-aways.

After getting a few laps in with hundreds of riders, Johnson commented, “I thought it was a really good course. It had plenty of hard corners. It had some of those small ride-ups. I think it’s not overly technical but the snow makes up for it. Whatever is going to fall over the weekend — It’s going to be a mess.”

If the weatherman is correct, snow is expected late Friday afternoon and should continue, on and off, through the men and women’s elite races. Unlike the national championships in Kansas in 2008, where it began wet and dropped below freezing, creating frozen muddy ruts, the temperatures have been consistently cool, so deep, muddy ruts are not likely to form.

“It’s really a bike handlers course,” says Wells, who racked up a first and a second place finish at last weekend’s fast USGP finale in Portland, Oregon.

Men’s Favorites
As with the popularity of cyclocross in the U.S., the depth of the elite field has consistently grown over the past decade. It’s no longer a battle between a few top guys—there are now six or seven guys that can win on any given day.

Sure, the USGP series, the NACT series and the USAC rankings can give you a good idea about who is a good cyclocross rider, but each race is unique and may or may not favor one rider to the next. Perhaps better indicators about who are the favorites for the national title are the course conditions and recent rider performances.

The expected sloppy conditions on the technical nationals course probably suits a rider like Johnson the best, as he has a lower center of gravity and he has performed well in the past in sloppy conditions. However, based on his good, but not great performance in Portland last weekend, where he has won in the past, riders like Wells and teammate, Jeremy Powers appear to be arriving at a better peak for nationals—but then again, the conditions were dry and fast in last weekend and Johnson has typically won in Portland when it has been slippery and wet.

“I would call myself a contender,” says Johnson. “I think a lot of the same guys will be up there. Jonathan (Page) is riding better. Todd (Wells) showed that he is riding well. I think those two guys are heavy favorites. Ryan is the hometown boy but the conditions, as they are—he won’t be at an advantage.”

It’s a common echo in elite cyclocross that Trebon isn’t a great bike handler, but that simply is not true. He has won every type of cyclocross race on U.S. soil that there is to win and he has an exceptionally strong engine to compensate. He is a cross country mountain bike champion, the current cyclocross national champion and he’s competing on his home turf. Even though Trebon’s results as the USGP finale were not stellar, most anyone that was there could tell you that he was probably the strongest rider on the first day, where he led more than the first half of the race, dragging along Powers and Wells and eventually paid for it later in the race. Trebon is on form and at home, which makes him a deadly contender.

Wells got off to a bad start earlier this season after he had to take a few weeks off to heal a nagging injury. He came into the late season as an underdog and stole the show at the USGP finale in Portland. His fitness is coming just in time for the most important race of the year and he is another rider that excels in sloppy conditions. It could be argued that he would have won the second day of the Portland USGP if it were not for the tactics of his the Cannondale-cyclocrossworld.com team. With fewer straight-aways on Sunday’s course, teams tactics will be minimal and individual performance will be key. When he won ’cross nationals in 2005 in Providence, Rhode Island, it was muddy and freezing. He has the fitness and he’s an excellent tactical rider, which makes him a favorite for another stars and stripes jersey.

“There’s drafting on the start-finish straight which is less than 15 seconds long,” says Wells. “The team tactics won’t come into play I don’t think.” On who he considers the favorites, Wells says, “Jonathan Page got eighth in the World Cup last week. He’s racing against the best in the world. I see him as the number one threat. The Cannondale-cyclocrossworld.com guys are riding well. I think you’re going to see a guy like Adam Craig do well if the course is as it was today.”

Stanley Portland Cup first and second place finisher, Powers, is another rider that is in good contention for the national title. He has been close several times and he is having the best season of his career having won the first and last USGP rounds and the final USAC points standings. He is a rider that can do well in most conditions and on a good day he has the ability to simply ride away from his competitors. Having yet to win a national title, there is no one as hungry as Powers and he’s right on track to land atop the podium in Bend.

As Wells mentioned, Bend local and mountain bike Olympian, Craig, is a dark horse for the cyclocross national championship. Craig is arguably won of the best bike handlers in the biz, and when his fitness good, he is another rider that can ride away from the field, as he did at the 2009 mountain short track nationals. Craig finished fourth at the USGP finale in Portland last weekend on a course that required huge amounts of fitness and not a lot of technical skill, which is the opposite of Craig’s ideal course, which means he should excel on the dicey nationals course.

Other potential podium finishers include Jamey Driscoll (Cannondale-cyclocrossworld.com), an underdog at the 2008 national championship who finished second to Trebon. Chris Jones, the Champion Systems rider came out of the woodwork this year to grab a few elite podium finishes, including a second place to Driscoll at Cross Vegas.

Women’s Favorites
Katie Compton is the heavy favorite to win the women’s cyclocross national championship in Bend, Oregon, on Sunday. If she wins, it will be her sixth cyclocross title in a row.

When asked if Compton could be beat, rising star, Amy Dombroski (Primus Mootry-Schlaam), replied, “Anything can happen, but she’s the best in the world.”

Dombroski is shaping up to be one of the strongest riders to challenge Compton this weekend. In the past it has been Luna rider, Georgia Gould that has given Compton a run for her money, but she has decided to take the rest of the cyclocross season off so that she can enter the 2010 mountain bike season fresh.

“I don’t ever assume that I’ll win,” says Compton. “Anybody can have a good day. I didn’t have a great day two weeks ago. I never go into a race thinking I will win because that’s when you get beat. I’m confident that I can win but it doesn’t mean that it is going to happen.”

“It’s going to be more of a technical course than a power course,” says Compton. “I’m going to race my best and make sure I race the course and do well technically because that’s where it is going to be won.”

It’s a tough job racing against the best in the world. Dombroski will have to ride the perfect race if she is going to challenge Compton. “My goal is to stay with Compton as long as I can,” says Dombroski. “I don’t want it to be the kind of thing where she rides away from us on the first lap, I want to be there.”

2009 road race national champion, Meredith Miller (California Giant Berry Farms) was off the front at the USGP finale in Portland last weekend for almost half the race. However, that course suited her to a T—she is a powerful rider that excels when high wattage is essential. Especially with the predicted weather, the course will be slick and staying up right will be just as important as a strong engine.

Dombroski says that Miller will be a strong contender, but the bad weather may play into Dombroski’s advantage. She is a great bike handler and a low center of gravity and she has the engine to back it up.

Other riders to watch out for in the women’s field will be Oregon native, Sue Butler (Cannondale-Monavie), who won a handful of races this year, including the Rad Racing GP in September. Mountain biker, Mary McConneloug (Kenda-Seven) and USAC points leader Maureen Bruno Roy (MM Racing) have had strong seasons and on any given day are potential podium finishers.

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