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Former mountain bike pro, Peter Webber won his very first national championship in the masters’ 40-44 race at the cyclocross national championships in Bend, Oregon, on Saturday. Not only was Webber battling for the title, but he had to beat multiple national champion Don Myrah – and old rival – to do it.
There was plenty of history leading up to Saturday’s race, particularly since it marked the 16th anniversary of their first and – pardon the use of an over-used word – epic showdown at the 1993 elite cyclocross national championships.
On December 11th, 1993 in Sonora, California, at the elite ’cross national championships, Myrah was the heavy favorite, given that he’d won three successive titles between 1989 and ’91. Nonetheless, the king was nearly unseated from his throne by Webber, an unknown rider from Colorado. Many of those in attendance have called it the most exciting U.S. national cyclocross championship of all time.
The 1993 race offered a tough course in rough weather. A heavy rain poured before and during the race, which made a large percentage of the course unrideable. Myrah had gotten off to a fast start and quickly built a comfortable lead. Racers and spectators believed that Myrah’s race would be a solo performance that day, but from the chase group emerged Webber, the unknown Colorado rider who was only in his first year of cyclocross.
“I’m reliving it in my mind. It was an epic battle that day,” Myrah recalled. “He really pushed me to my limits. I thought, ‘who is this guy and why is he closing on me?’ It was sloppy mud. I was starting to get panicked and making mistakes. He started chopping away from my time.”
“I had just graduated from college,” said Webber. “I was 23 or so and I had moved to Boulder to pursue bike racing. I jumped into the ’cross thing because we had a good ’cross series in Colorado. I took to it really well—it suited me from the beginning. I traveled to the national championships without any expectations. I hardly knew anything about he sport except what I learned on the Front Range.”
With just a lap to go, Webber bridged all the way up to Myrah and the two rode together. In what had been an uneventful race for fans turned into a head-to-head battle on the final lap. In the final moments of the race, Myrah put in a huge effort and held off Webber to the finish.
“He came out of the wood works,” said Myrah. “It made for an amazing race; down to the wire in the nasty weather. It was a pretty incredible day.”
“The freezing cold rain was brutal,” said Webber. “It was the worst conditions I ever raced in. There was a huge amount of running. It seems like only half a lap was riding.”
“’Cross at that time wasn’t really well established,” said Myrah. “For me it was just a fun thing to do in the winter. I was definitely going for the win at nationals but that was pretty much the only big race of the season. There wasn’t a series or anything. I wish I could have been the age I was then, now, because now there are so many ’cross events.”
Cyclocross was a fun thing for Webber and Myrah to do then, and it’s the same way now. The races are so short that they don’t require a huge amount of training volume, as with road racing and mountain biking. Doing ’cross is a hobby, it’s very satisfying,” said Webber. “It’s wild that I am still out there going around and around.”
The 2009 cyclocross national championships marks the 20th anniversary of Myrah’s first elite title in 1989. He won a total of four ’cross national titles and completed nine elite seasons. As a mountain biker riding for Trek, Myrah focused on the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia, the year that saw the introduction of mountain bike racing in the Olympics. In 1997 Myrah hung up the bike and focused his energies on school and family.
“I had a lot of success,” said Myrah. “At 23 I won the world NORBA mountain bike championships. It was before the UCI sanctioned the world.”
After Webber made an impressive showing at the 1993 elite ’cross nats, he signed with Gary Fisher, a partner company with Trek, which meant he and Myrah were essentially teammates. Webber raced for Gary Fisher for about six years on the mountain bike circuit and had some good results, but he was never as well known as Myrah. Just as Webber’s career began to decline, he accepted an offer to work with the International Mountain Bike Association (IMBA), and he has been there ever since. He has since then been to a handful of national championship events but had never won a stars-and-stripes jersey until Saturday.
Back in the saddle again
Unlike Webber, Myrah hung up his bike after his professional career. It wasn’t until last year, just before ’cross season, that Myrah ran into an old friend that convinced him to get back into ’cross racing. Myrah raced himself into shape during the 2008 season and continued to ride through the year, setting himself up for an aggressive 2009 campaign.
Riding for the Buy-Cell.com racing team, Myrah quickly returned to his winning ways in 2009. He has won a handful of elite ’cross races in California’s bay area, including a single day, masters-elite double at the Bay Area Super Prestige finale. In just a year’s time, he went from the couch to racing at an elite level.
Webber, on the other hand, continued to race after his professional career, sometimes taking it seriously and others just for fun. Most recently, he won the Colorado cyclocross state championships, beating the 2008 masters 35-39 national champion and Boulder CycleSport teammate, Brandon Dwight.
Webber turns the tables
The masters 40-44 field was one of the largest at ’cross nationals with just under 200 riders. Fortunately, Myrah scored the front row and Webber the second, giving them a fair opportunity to relive their race from 16 years ago.
Heading into the first lap, Myrah and Webber were trailing the lead pace. Myrah began to move to the front early on and it looked as if Webber might be struggling. By the end of the third lap, Webber began winding things up and moved to first with Myrah right on his wheel.
Webber’s pace proved to be too challenging for Myrah, who has had little to no practice in slick conditions this year. Webber on the other hand, has battled in every type of season this year, hot and sunny, sloppy mud, and icy winter conditions, as they were at the Colorado state championship.
Just as Webber watched Myrah ride away in 1993, Myrah got to watch Webber steal the show, but more importantly, the race was decided by these two greats. In the end, Webber raised his hands across the line first with a comfortable margin over Myrah.
“It was fun,” said Myrah. “I had the skill I just didn’t have the horsepower that Peter had today, he just rode away from me. I’m happy with that. I’ve got one season of riding under my belt. Hopefully I can build on that for next year. I’m really happy about my finish. To lose to somebody—I’m glad it was Peter, he’s a great guy.”
“I had a pretty good start,” said Webber. “I wanted to be patient. You’ve got to be patient and let the carnage take care of it’s self on the first couple laps. When I saw a window to got forward I just drilled it. I just rode steady. I never made a mistake. I never had a problem. It was insane. The crowd was awesome. The field was so huge I got a lot of lapped riders but I got through them without a problem. I’m so excited. I’ve been doing this sport for so long and this is my first national championship. I was surprised that Don was up there so well because he’s not used to riding on the ice. You can never cut him out. It’s super special. That was a long time ago—that second place. To win it finally, even though it’s masters, is really sweet.”