Gage Hecht attacked early and never looked back.
Hecht, 22, won the men’s elite title at Sunday’s USA Cycling Cyclocross National Championships after leading for the entire race. Hecht simply had more power than his chasers along the muddy track, finishing ahead of Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com teammates Curtis White and Stephen Hyde.
“It’s amazing. This is something I’ve dreamed about since I was 10 or 12 years old racing here,” Hecht said after crossing the line in Lakewood, Washington. “It’s really exciting.”
The victory capped off a high-speed chase between Hecht and the Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld duo along the muddy, technical track. Hecht was fastest from the gun and sprinted to an early lead on the opening lap.
Behind, it was Kerry Werner (Kona-Maxxis-Shimano) who led the chase, with Hyde and White on his wheel. Werner put in a burst of speed near the end of the opening lap to catch Hecht, and the two rode on ahead, with White and Hyde chasing five seconds behind.
The battle seemed to be set between Werner and Hecht, two talented cyclocrossers with different strengths. Werner excels in mud and technical riding, while Hecht owns the most raw power of any rider in the field.
But on the ensuing lap disaster struck on a bumpy descent. Hecht hit a series of ruts and careened into the red course tape, and as he steered back onto the course, the tape snapped and came with him.
Werner seemed to get tangled in the tape, and flew off his bike and onto the muddy track.
The mishap was the defining moment of the U.S. men’s race. Werner lost Hecht’s wheel and was passed by White and Hyde; he eventually remounted his bicycle and battled for the top-five.
Ahead, Hecht powered away.
” I was just trying to hold onto things—I blew through the tape because there were some leaves that covered the rut,” Hecht said. “That freaked me out a bit, and I shot into the spectators. To see Kerry flip over his bike on the right side of me, I felt terrible, and I hate to see that happen. It messed with my head for a lap, and I got back into the swing of things a lap later.”
White and Hyde worked together along the course, and took turns putting in surges to try and bring back Hecht. At one point the gap was inside five seconds; the teammates looked as though they might close the gap entirely.
But Hecht’s superior power tipped the scales in his favor. After every lap he tucked into an aerodynamic time trial position as he pedaled along the long section of road, widening his gap to the chasers.
And at the beginning of the final lap, it became clear that the gap was no longer shrinking.
“The gap was growing at that point,” Hecht said. “Curtis may have been closing it down at the beginning, but I knew that going up to the top of the hill, it was going to be the end of the race. I was just laying down the last bit of gas there.”
The victory marks the biggest win of Hecht’s cyclocross career. He was third in the elite field at the 2018 USA Cycling championships, despite being eligible to race in the Under-23 division. In 2017 he finished second place in the Under-23 division.
“I haven’t won a national title in four years so it’s super exciting to get the elite [title],” Hecht said.
2019 USA Cycling Elite Men’s National Cyclocross Championships
- Gage Hecht, Donnelly-Aevolo, 1:00:32
- Curtis White, Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld, at 0:17
- Stephen Hyde, Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld, at 0:23
- Kerry Werner, Kona-Maxxis-Shimano, at 1:27
- Lance Haidet, Donnelly-Aevolo, at 1:40
- Logan Owen, EF Education First, at 2:03
- Grant Ellwood, Pivot-Maxxis-Stans, at 2:09
- James Driscoll, Mavic-DNA Cycling, at 2:20
- Maxx Chance, Blue Stages Racing, at 2:33