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Three-time champion Wells to miss U.S. cyclocross nationals

Specialized rider says ’cross nationals are wide open, with four men capable of winning at altitude

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BOULDER, Colo. (VN) — Multiple-time U.S. cyclocross champion Todd Wells will sit out nationals later this month, citing a knee injury. The three-time champion told VeloNews Friday that he began experiencing pain after taking a racing break and as he worked to tune up for the USA Cycling Cyclocross National Championships, to be held in Boulder, Colorado, on Sunday Jan. 12.

“I’ve got an over-use thing going with my knee, a couple weeks ago. I thought it was going to get better, but it’s been slow going,” Wells said. The injury, Wells thinks, comes not from a long season, but from a break he took leading up to nationals and the subsequent training thereafter.

“It just kind of came out of the blue,” he said. “I think it was more from the time being off the bike than the actual training, I think.”

His absence will certainly be felt. Wells won national titles in the discipline in 2001, 2005, and 2010, and is one of the top favorites for the national championships each year he competes. The shot to take a break and tune up for a home-state national championship run was a solid opportunity for the 38-year-old who lives in Durango, Colorado, but he will instead turn his focus to the 2014 mountain bike season.

“It’s like, that’s the worst, too. You take a break, then you’re ready to go. It’s been a bit challenging,” Wells said. “I was definitely targeting it, and I feel like a lot of the cyclocross races that I’ve done in the past couple years have always kind of been on the heels of a mountain bike race, so I haven’t really been able to focus on it, where this was a nice chunk of time where I could really kind of focus on cyclocross and do some ’cross specific stuff. And it didn’t end up happening, so that’s disappointing.”

Wells, even though he’s a proven cyclocross rider, would have been a dark horse, but not an outright favorite to win in Boulder. That distinction probably falls to a cadre of ’cross-specific riders in Jeremy Powers (Rapha-Focus), teammates Tim Johnson and Ryan Trebon, and defending national champion Jonathan Page (Fuji-Spy).

“Man, it’s going to be an exciting race because there’s so many guys who have won this year. Last year Powers kind of dominated, and the other guys squeaked out one win here, one win there. But this year, you have Timmy J. [Johnson], who has been really good. Trebon has been good. All three of those guys have won in Boulder at some point within the past couple years, so they all can go well at altitude,” Wells said. “And the Valmont course, depending on if it’s dry, it’s very much group racing. And with those guys all being so good this year, it’s going to be real exciting. And then if it’s muddy, I don’t know. … And we always forget about Jonathan Page, but he’s over there racing in Europe. He had a kind of a rough start in the fall, but it seems like he’s getting some legs back under him now. … It’s really wide open.”

Wells will travel to Boulder as a spectator, and look to next season’s mountain bike campaign. After the knee issue clears up, he’ll start to build for next season, slowly. “This will be good for mountain bike, but very disappointing not to be able to race ’cross nats, in Boulder,” he said.

His early races include 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo with fellow Specialized racer Rebecca Rusch, and races in the new series put on the Sho-Air Cycling Group in partnership with USA Cycling, dubbed the USA Cycling US Cup Pro Series presented by Sho-Air Cycling Group. Then, it’s guns blazing.

“I’m going to try to have a crack at marathon world champs, and Leadville,” Wells said. He won the Leadville Trail 100 MTB in 2011. He finished third in 2013.