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By Neal Rogers
Upsets were the theme of the day in Portland, Oregon, at the fifth round of the Crank Brothers U.S. Gran Prix of Cyclocross.
On a muddy day that saw brief snowfall turn to cold rain, pre-race favorites Ryan Trebon and Katie Compton, the reigning elite U.S. men’s and women’s national champions, were beaten by their top domestic rivals, Tim Johnson and Georgia Gould.
Racing was held at the Portland International Raceway, site of the 2003 and 2004 national cyclocross championships. The course, which was relatively flat, would have been a fast and uneventful track if not for the rains that fell throughout the week. Instead, racers were met with a figure-eight course that offered a mix of dirt, mud, gravel and paved sections as well as a few negligible “ride-or-run, your choice” hills and a barriers section through ankle-deep slop. Bike changes were commonplace, as were crashes and remounted racers riding on the tops of their pedals, momentarily unable to clip in.
Coming into the race, Trebon (Kona-Yourkey.com) told VeloNews he “planned on winning,” while Compton (Spike Shooter) said she felt Gould was “strong, but her technical skills aren’t as great.” Whether or not Johnson (Cannondale-Leer-Cyclocrossworld.com) and Gould (Luna) read or took their rivals’ comments to heart, each of the day’s winners took control of the race early and opened up substantial leads on their respective category’s national champions.
In the men’s race it was under-23 rider Bjorn Selander (Ridley) taking the hole shot and a substantial opening lead.
“I had a good start and figured, ‘Why not?’” said Selander, who started the day sitting second in the U23 overall series behind leader Jamey Driscoll (FiordiFrutta). “I decided to go for it.”
Behind Selander rolled the traditional favorites, with Johnson and Todd Wells (GT) holding a slight lead over Trebon and his Kona-Yourkey.com teammate Barry Wicks. Also in the lead group was Adam Craig (Giant), Geoff Kabush (Maxxis), Jeremy Powers (Cyclocrossworld.com), U23 riders Danny Summerhill (Clif Bar Developmental) and Driscoll, and Matt Tolouse (Maxxis).
By the third of eight laps the field had blown apart, with Johnson, who is known to excel in the slop and muddy conditions, holding a 10-second lead over Trebon and Wells, while Wicks and Craig chased alone further back. By the end of the fourth lap, Johnson’s lead had stretched to 20 seconds.
“I didn’t look back, but I also didn’t look too far ahead,” Johnson said. “I am totally satisfied racing one lap at a time, and knowing that I have to do what I have to do to win.”
Immediately apparent was Trebon’s lack of horsepower. The Kona rider sat in the second chase group on the first few laps, and even when he set out after Johnson, the national champ struggled on the course’s short, sloppy power climb.
“I missed a pedal at the start and was just lacking a little power all day,” Trebon said. “I was just a little flat. I tried to pull Tim back, but I was missing a gear or two in the legs. Some days are better than others, and today wasn’t a great day. There’s always tomorrow.”
At the race’s conclusion a muddy Johnson had time to slap high-fives with some of Portland’s raucous crowd of 1500 spectators down the finishing straight, collecting his second USGP win this year and his second USGP win in Portland in two years. Johnson was also awarded the SRAM most competitive rider for his performance.
“I realized this morning that it was totally up to me to do whatever I could do to win,” Johnson said. “I figured that as long as my bike worked well and my legs worked well I had a shot at the win. I never go into a race thinking that I’m going to win. I just want to be in position to win, that’s all I care about.”
In a heated contest for second place, Wells caught Trebon in the final moment of the race, but Trebon easily overpowered the GT rider in the sprint. Johnson may have been as disappointed as Wells about the result of the sprint, as the difference between second and third place is six series points.
Heading into the series finale, Johnson holds a precarious four-point lead over Trebon, 214 points to 210. However, with Johnson carrying a higher lowest result in the series than Trebon — Johnson finished third at round 3 in Mercer Park, New Jersey, while Trebon finished fourth at the series opener in Louisville — those numbers don’t tell the true story.
The USGP rules dictate: “In determining the overall series winners in each category, each rider’s final points tally will be based on the best five of six race events.”
As it stands, with the lowest scores thrown out and the best results in four of five USGP races tallied, Trebon and Johnson are tied at 180 points. Should one of them win on Sunday, he will win the series by 10 points.
However, should neither win, in order to secure the series, one must beat the other and also finish in the top four, since any lower placing for either would be thrown out as a lower score.
Should Johnson finish third and Trebon finish fourth, the series would go to Johnson, 214 points to 210. Should Trebon finish third and Johnson finish fourth, the series will be tied at 214 points each. USGP rules state that in the event of a tie on individual classification, the best placing in the most recent event shall be decisive, meaning Trebon would take the series.
Johnson finished second overall in the 2005 series to Kona’s Barry Wicks, even though Wicks had dropped out of a snowy race in Gloucester, Massachusetts. The Health Net-Maxxis roadie completed all six events that year, and was instead forced to throw out his lowest score of 26 points, eventually losing the competition to Wicks 190 to 174, though he’d actually scored 200 points to Wicks’ 190.
“Man, I hate this throw-out rule,” Johnson said. “And you can quote me on that. It’s penalized me more than once for being too consistent.”
While Selander tore off to a fast start, in the end it was U23 series leader Jamey Driscoll winning the race within a race. Driscoll, who won a junior national title in the mud at the same venue in 2004, finished an impressive sixth, five positions ahead of two-time junior series overall winner Summerhill. Selander finished 13th, or third in the U23 race.
Driscoll continues to lead the U23 series, 200 points to Selander’s 182, with Summerhill at 180. However with Summerhill missing points from round 4 in New Jersey — he was disqualified for exchanging bikes with a teammate outside of the pits — he will need to win and Driscoll will need to finish fourth or worse for Summerhill to win the series.
If Driscoll and Selander were to throw out their lowest scores today, Driscoll would have 174 points to Selander’s 148. Selander’s only hope to win the overall is that Driscoll has a catastrophic day and finishes six or more placings behind him.
In junior men’s racing, series leader Luke Keough (CL Noonan-Coast to Coast-KAM) was handed his first loss of the 2007 USGP, finishing third behind a pair of Rad Racing Northwest riders — winner Steve Fisher and runner-up Eric Emsky. However, with his third-place finish, Keough has the series title locked up.
Gould shows Compton her wheel
In the women’s race, run two hours before the men, all eyes were on Compton, who has, in just her second season of UCI competition, won a World Cup, worn the UCI points leader’s jersey and graced the latest issue of VeloNews magazine.
But Compton, who picked up a virus on her return from Belgium, lacked the spark that has seen her dominate the domestic women’s field this year. Though she was off to an early lead with Canadian Alison Sydor (Rocky Mountain-Haywood) in tow, a few dropped chains forced her to dismount and correct the problem. Gould took advantage of that situation and opened up a gap, and Compton tired from repeated efforts to bring the Luna rider back.
“There were a few hard efforts, first the start and then coming back from mechanicals,” Compton said. “I had an okay start, but Georgia was faster. Then I dropped the chain, and I lost a lot of time early on. It was not one of my best days.”
Also having a bad day was Canadian Lyne Bessette (Cyclocrossworld.com). Bessette, who has battled illness over the past two months, crashed hard on the first lap and fell out of contention early, fighting back to an eventual fourth-place finish behind Luna’s Katerina Nash.
“My husband [Tim Johnson] said my upper body looked a little tight,” Bessette said. “When I am riding in the mud I tend to get tighter, and that probably didn’t help. I need to bend my elbows more. I need to be more relaxed in my upper body. When I crashed, I went down pretty good. I ended up in 12th position, and I moved up pretty slowly. I tried not to panic, I just moved up one by one. I got close to Katerina at the end, but she was really strong.”
By the end of three laps Gould held a 15-second lead over Compton, with Nash in third, Sydor in fourth and Bessette in fifth. One lap later Gould’s lead had stretched to 26 seconds, with Nash remaining in third while Bessette had overtaken Sydor for fourth place. Two laps later, the top five remained the same as they crossed the finish line. For the first time since Bessette won the Excel Sports Cross Vegas event in September, a North American rider had beaten Compton. It was Gould’s third victory in five USGP events this year, with Compton the victor in the other two.
“I just tried to be smooth,” said Gould, who made a major impression on the mountain-bike world this year by sweeping the NMBS cross-country series. “I try to base my races on how I feel, and not on how other people feel. In these kinds of conditions it’s easy to make mistakes. At one point Katie was about 10 seconds ahead of me, and I just focused on staying smooth.”
Portland’s Wendy Williams (River City Bicycles), who finished eighth, was awarded SRAM’s most aggressive rider award.
With the win, Gould has the overall series title locked up, with 230 points to Sydor’s 158. Even if Sydor won on Sunday and Gould did not finish, Gould’s 230 points would outweigh Sydor’s potential 208. Because Compton skipped the middle round of USGP competition to compete in Europe, she is out of the running for the overall competition.
The forecast for Sunday calls for temperatures in the high 40s, with 100 percent chance of rain. A storm warning is also in effect, with gusts up to 50 mph predicted.
Portland Cup results (unofficial)
Portland, OR. Dec. 1
1. Tim Johnson, Cannondale-Leer-Cyclocrossworld.com
2. Ryan Trebon, Kona-YourKey.com
3. Todd Wells, GT
4. Barry Wicks ,Kona-YourKey.com
5. Adam Craig, Giant
1. Georgia Gould, Luna
2. Katie Compton, Spike Shooter
3. Katerina Nash, Luna
4. Lyne Bessette (Can), Cyclocrossworld.com
5. Alison Sydor (Can), Rocky Mountain-Haywood
1. Jamey Driscoll, FiordiFrutta
2. Danny Summerhill, Clif Bar Development Cyclocross Team
3. Bjorn Selander, Ridley
1. Steve Fisher, Rad Racing NW
2. Eric Emsky, Rad Racing NW
3. Luke Keough, CLNoonan Coast to Coast KAM