2017 Cyclocross Nationals – Elite Sunday

January 12, 2017

Stephen Hyde learned his lesson, choosing Bonk Breaker Hill’s low line during late laps as he pursued his first national championship win.

 

Sitting on the coast of the Connecticut River in Hartford, Riverfront Recapture’s Riverside Park was the mercurial venue for the 2017 USA Cycling Cyclocross National Championships. I, along with thousands of racers, made the annual pilgrimage to “cxnats”.

Throughout the week, championship and non-championship races were held on a technical course in conditions that varied from bright sunshine to misting rain to white-out snow. Some days the course was a flanderian wasteland. On the weekend it was tundra. Throughout, it was challenging.

This posting is an offering of words and images focused on Sunday’s elite races. In the coming days I will post a set of words and images that will be DMV-focused–highlighting our MABRA racers who made the journey north.

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Women’s U-23

 

Ellen Noble closeup

Ellen Noble toes the line, silently speaking her pre-race mantra, as the announcer alerts the Women’s U-23 field that they have two minutes to go before their start.

 

Ellen Noble rode through a winter wonderland, claiming her second Women’s U-23 national championship. The key moment happened near the end of the first lap in the elite-only Volkswagen run-up. Ellen rode. Emma dabbed. Day done.

 

Ellen Noble take the lead with a clean line.

How the gap was won: Ellen rode it, Emma dabbed.

 

Gross oversimplifaction, perhaps, but once in front, Noble rode an error-free race. Emma White rode a strong race, never crashing, and at no point was her podium place in question. However, Noble’s smooth ride over glorious, early-morning snow and ice never offered White an opportunity to challenge for the lead.

 

Emma White rides strong in pursuit, resulting in a second-place finish.

 

The world championships beckon. We can aspire to see an American rider on the podium.

 

Ellen Noble outruns her pursuers on her way to a second stars-and-stripes jersey. Are rainbow stripes next?

 

Men’s U-23

 

“I went to a cyclocross race and a street fight broke out.” That was my experience witnessing the mayhem of the Men’s U-23 race. Watch a replay and see if you don’t have the same sense.

 

The U-23 men assault Bonk Breaker Hill for the first time.

 

While the Women’s U-23 result felt inevitable, the Men’s U-23 race felt like an absurd jumble. The final lap’s bold moves, raw power, situational muscle, and heartbreaking mechanicals capped a tense race of aggressive, red-line riding, swapped leads, slips, slides, and crashes.

Lance Haidet’s steady, poised finish ended the chaos.

In the final half of the final lap Gage Hecht made a move he hoped would prove decisive. Among the icy ruts between the woods and the Connecticut River ice floes, he committed to a narrow inside gap. He powered forward through the narrow channel between Haidet and the tape, headlong into a slight curve around a tree. Like stampeding bulls with misty breath clouding their contorted faces, they hurtled toward the crux.

The gap closed. The door shut. The tree beckoned, and hard-on-the-brakes Hecht was dropped.

Haidet followed Maxx Chance’s wheel. Away from the crowds their private battle continued, over the undulations and through the sinewy curves of the course’s riverfront exposure. Hecht made steady progress back toward the leaders, but it appeared to be a two-way battle for the top step.

 

Maxx Chance clings to his lead over Lance Haidet as they approach the course’s final stretch within the riverside woods.

 

Gage Hecht diesels in hot pursuit of the leaders after his late gamble failed.

 

Chance approached the finale–a set of off-camber turns and treacherous dips and climbs–in the lead when his chain dropped, settling into the terrifying chasm between his crank and bottom bracket. Seconds lost; lead relinquished.

 

Moments after this, Maxx Chance lost his triumph to a dropped chain. Heartbreaking though it is, Chance can console himself with his Collegiate Men’s Club national champion win from earlier in the week.

 

Haidet passed. Hecht passed. Chance resumed, and the podium was defined.

This winter, as you build base miles on your trainer, rewatch this race. Your power numbers will improve.

 

Women’s Elite

 

Smooth as ever, Katie Compton makes winning thirteen championships look easy.

 

The tale of the women’s race is perhaps best told thusly: Compton’s breathtaking speed pulsated.

I was framing a photo opportunity, sitting just outside the pits–near the end of the long straightaway between the holeshot and the slippery left turn into Bonk Breaker Hill’s approach. Compton blew past me close to the tape, buffeting me with doppler-effect wind.

I didn’t get the shot.

Other racers passed me, but none had the same impact. None expressed feral, elemental power.

Cyclocross demands a delicate balance of grace and strength. Smooth often beats aggressive. Error-free riding is rewarded. When a rider possesses that rare combination of ferocious power and fluid grace, that rider becomes a champion…thirteen times.

 

Katie Compton has managed her historic health issues and ruthlessly focused her season on cxnats and the world championships. Was there any doubt that she would win her thirteenth national title?

 

It wasn’t all about the champion, however. Elle Anderson–who led for most of the first lap–battled Amanda Miller and Kaitie Antonneau for the remaining podium places.

 

It was (relatively) smooth running for Elle Anderson during the first lap, until Compton took control of the race.

 

The women’s battle left its mark on Elle Anderson, who finished just off the podium.

 

Kaitie Antonneau tempos herself to a third-place finish for the second straight year.

 

Men’s Elite

 

Restrained chaos: that’s the phrase that lingers.

Stephen Hyde–pre-race and local favorite–triumphed over conditions, competitors, and misfortune to claim his first stars-and-stripes jersey.

 

Stephen Hyde pre-race, checking his drivetrain, focusing his mind, and preparing for the start of the championship finale.

 

After the opening two minutes–which included Yannick Eckmann’s tactical decision to go low on Bonk Breaker Hill, Hyde’s slips and falls across the traverse, Page’s and Hyde’s slips and crashes approaching the descent, and Powers’ disappearance from the front of the race–we all knew this championship was going to be a barnburner.

 

Kerry Werner follows Stephen Hyde to Bonk Breaker Hill’s high road on their first lap. The high line seemed like a good idea at the time.

 

Giving hope to old guys everywhere, the former champion, countless-podium claimant, and quadragenarian Jonathan Page was overlooked and underestimated prior to the finale–despite a proven reputation as a masterful bike driver in difficult conditions. In the chaos of lap one, Page crashed, leading to a seventh-place finish.

 

Prior to the race, much was made of the friendly rivalry between three-time defending champion Jeremy Powers and Stephen Hyde. After a troubling season, Powers was never a factor in the national championship race.

 

Much is being made of the ending, where Hyde crossed the line with a flat front tubular and a dangling derailleur. What seems overlooked is the tenacity of his win.

 

Driving, driving, driving, and taking risks all the time, Hyde slid past raucous supporters–including the flag-waving Chris Mayhew, who some DMVers will recognize as “Coach Chris” from the Jeremy Powers Washington DC Cyclocross Camp.

 

Rewatch the race. Note the bobbles, slips, crashes, and setbacks experienced by all the riders. Hyde’s body crossed the line, but his mindset won the race. It’s easy to project a narrative into witnessed events. At the risk of being guilty of this transgression, I submit that Hyde’s pre-race attention and focus foreshadowed his race. As he said afterward, he realized a 29-year old dream. Chapeau!

 

As the light faded, Hyde’s championship hopes surged as he raced across the tundra.

 

Jamie Driscoll drove himself to a second-place finish, steadily moving up throughout the race. His hunched, Cadel-Evans-crocodile-wrestling riding style testified to the efforts he made to claim his podium step.

 

Ascending the frozen, unstable stairway to the top of Bonk Breaker Hill, Jamie Driscoll closes the gap to the race leader, Stephen Hyde.

 

Jamie Driscoll hunkers down amid the shadows and the evening’s chill during the final half-lap.

 

Not to be overlooked, 2016 DCCX two-day champion Kerry Werner stood third on the podium after a strong, smooth ride–always near the lead. Every front-row rider knows that on any given day they could be on the podium. Some riders approach the line and project a barely-tamed athleticism, a muscular coiled spring. Much like Hyde, Werner’s pre-race foretold a strong showing. His sinewy, long limbs seemed taut, yet supple–a spring. His demeanor seemed tense, yet quiet–coiled. And his podium–well deserved.

 

Like baying hounds in pursuit of a ginger fox, Kerry Werner, Yannick Eckmann, and Toben Ortenblad carve into the Bonk Breaker Hill descent.

 

Werner kept Hyde in his crosshairs for as long as possible, but small slips and a surging Driscoll resulted in a third-place finish.

 

Ever chasing, Kerry Werner follows Jamie Driscoll as Driscoll throws himself into the attack.

 

The 2017 championships had a little of everything–new winners, repeat winners, expectations met, and hopes shattered. It had mud and ice and snow and sunshine. I don’t know what makes a classic championship–and time will tell how Hartford is viewed.

I do, however, know what makes a satisfying championship. Hartford’s mercurial character and the quality of the racing left me most satisfied.

 

Ginger hair, Hyde flag…this mom approves!

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