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Amy D. Foundation boosts women’s road racing, starting with Tour of the Gila

This year’s Tour of the Gila starts next week. It’s going to be a humdinger.

Amy Dombroski races the 2012 edition of the Tour of the Gila. (photo credit: Lyne Lamoureux)

Amy Dombroski races the 2012 edition of the Tour of the Gila (photo credit: Lyne Lamoureux)

Golden, Colorado – April 24, 2015 – A composite team wearing Amy D. Foundation kits will start the 2015 Tour of the Gila, allowing more women to participate in the event that activated Amy Dombroski’s road racing career. Four-time overall Gila winner Mara Abbott (Wiggle Honda) headlines the six-woman squad at the American stage race based in Silver City, New Mexico. The event runs from April 29th to May 3rd.

“This is an opportunity to open up new doors in terms of the impact the Amy D. Foundation can have on women’s cycling,” says Dan Dombroski.

Dan Dombroski launched the philanthropic organization with Nicole Novembre in memory of his sister, professional cyclist Amy Dombroski, after she died in an October, 2013 accident at age twenty-six. In its first year the foundation supported young women cyclocross riders.

With the Gila composite team, the foundation takes a giant step toward its vision of fostering the progression of developing female riders across multiple cycling disciplines.

“To put together this sort of program in our second year of existence is really exciting,” says Dan Dombroski. “That’s much sooner than we initially thought the organization would be able to get into road cycling in a comprehensive way.”

Mara Abbott leads the women's pro-1-2 field at the 2014 Superior Morgul criterium

Mara Abbott leads the women’s pro-1-2 field at the 2014 Superior Morgul criterium

For Abbott, who recently won Redlands Bicycle Classic on a composite team, racing in an Amy D. Foundation kit is personally meaningful.

“Amy was a good friend of mine and inspired me in my cycling career with the attitude and determination she brought to her racing. I often wished to emulate Amy in my moments of struggle. Amy was a special person to me, and the work that Dan [Dombroski] and Nicole [Novembre] have done in the name of her legacy is also awe-inspiring,” Abbott notes.

“To be able to represent the spirit of such a wonderful person and ride for an organization that brings opportunity to others in a genuine way is an incredible honor.”

2014 Colorado state road championships elite women's podium (l-r) Annie Toth 2nd, Gwen Inglis 1st, Heather McWilliams third

2014 Colorado state road championships elite women’s podium (l-r) Annie Toth 2nd, Gwen Inglis 1st, Heather McWilliams third

Abbott will lead a talented group of veteran and developing riders. The roster includes Americans Kathryn Donovan (Colavita/Bianchi), Amanda Miller (Pepper Palace p/b The Happy Tooth), Julie Emmerman (Rally Sport) and Annie Toth (Groove Subaru-Excel Sports) together with Norwegian Janicke Gunvaldsen (Hitec Products). Donovan raced alongside Amy Dombroski in the 2012 edition of the Gila.

Growing opportunities for women
With a composite team the Amy D. Foundation brings six women to the start line that might not otherwise race the Gila because they don’t belong to a team entering the race. This year’s team requirement is due to first-time UCI designation for the women’s competition. In previous years a rider could register individually.

“The Gila has always been sensitive to the fact that going UCI would leave some individual riders out,” says Michael Engleman, a women’s cycling advocate who builds composite teams through Mission Sports Group. “Many races make efforts to find athletes guest rides, but as far as I know the Gila may be the only UCI women’s race that has formed a composite team so women don’t get left out.” Engleman is managing the Amy D. Foundation team at the Gila.

“Until there’s more women’s teams and teams with budgets to hire more riders and attend more races,” notes Engleman, “the only way for many athletes to advance is composite teams, and guest riding.” Composite teams have launched the careers of many highly successful women in the sport, such as Abbott and Amy Dombroski.

Typically these squads exist for a single competition. The Amy D. Foundation intends to replicate the format developed for the Gila at future events to assist more women and add stability to the composite team model.

According to Engleman, the idea for the Amy D. Foundation composite team originated from the angel sponsor who rescued the race with financial support in March after a title sponsor withdrew funding. The Gila race organization also raised money with crowd funding; the Amy D. Foundation and another organization will each receive ten percent of the proceeds.

Erica Zaveta with Dan Dombroski and Nicole Novembre (l - r). Erica raced cyclocross with the Amy D. Foundation's support for the 2014/15 season.

Erica Zaveta with Dan Dombroski & Nicole Novembre and child (l – r). Erica raced cyclocross with the Amy D. Foundation’s support for the 2014/15 season.

“An incredible community has helped the Gila continue and is also supporting the Amy D. Foundation and giving opportunities to new riders,” says Dan Dombroski. “That’s an amazing result and shows how the cycling community can help create a robust future for women in the sport.”

For the foundation, the Tour of the Gila is an ideal place to start its road racing initiative.

“A month or two after Amy first decided to start racing her bike, we went to the Tour of the Gila together,” Dan Dombroski recalls. At that time in 2006 Amy Dombroski was 18 years-old and a category 4 rider at her first of five outings at the Silver City challenge.

“We went there with one other friend, packed in a small car, and slept in tents. It was the first big race she ever did and her first stage race. So it’s very meaningful that we should start with the Gila.”

Amy Dombroski near mile 29 of 40 miles at the 2013 Grand Juntion Off-Road

Amy Dombroski near mile 29 of 40 miles at the 2013 Grand Juntion Off-Road

Grajales and Conklin conquer dirt, dodge brush fire to win 2015 Boulder-Roubaix

Cesar Grajales shows Boulder-Roubaix's effects after his win

Cesar Grajales shows Boulder-Roubaix’s effects after his win

[updated April 17, 2015]

Cesar Grajales, now racing for the bike manufacturer Team Stradalli Cycles, won the men’s pro-1-2 Boulder-Roubaix 2015 edition by escaping from a small break-away that formed during the third of four laps. A break-away proved decisive in the women’s pro-1-2 race as well. That victory went to Lucy Conklin (Rally Sport) who sprinted away from the lead group of four near the end of the final lap around the 18.7 mile circuit with alternating pavement and dirt surfaces.

Lucy Conklin won Boulder-Roubaix with a 12 second cushion

Lucy Conklin won Boulder-Roubaix with a 12 second cushion

Boulder-Roubaix lacked the cobbles that personify its namesake, the Paris-Roubaix one-day classic, but it dished out its own modicum of suffering.

Over fifty percent of the loop consisted of hard-pack dirt roads. Transitions from pavement to dirt and corners peppered with loose gravel unseated riders. By the end of the afternoon, multiple sets of knees and elbows had etched blood into the course’s northeast Boulder rural byways, and uneven surfaces left riders testing their flat-fixing skills or bumping along on deflated tubular tires.

Additionally, some fields clocked more miles than they had bargained for at their blue-sky starts.

Cool heads and tactics after a neutralized women’s race

The pro-1-2 women completed about 62 instead of 56 miles due to a mid-race diversion from the original route.

Officials reportedly made the change for one lap due to a brush fire in irrigation ditches along the course.

“The first lap we definitely rode [past] the fire but we thought it was a controlled burn so we weren’t really concerned about it,” Kristen Legan (Evol Racing) explained after the race. “And then the second lap they came up on the moto and said we would probably be diverted.”

As part of the diversion officials neutralized the race not long after a chase group had reigned in a solo rider off the front and a subsequent attack resulted in a four-woman break containing Conklin, Legan and her teammate Kate Powlison, and Gwen Inglis (Stages Racing). At the officials’ direction, the foursome stopped to await the field behind them.

When asked about the diversion experience, Conklin said, “It was a little bit frustrating…A part of me was a little worried because my heart rate was coming down, the adrenaline was wearing off. And then I just realized that that was happening to all of us. So I thought, ‘Don’t sweat it.’”

The field’s offer to send the break up the road after neutralization sorted out the situation as well. “Then we [break riders] could just say ‘OK, all that work wasn’t for nothing and all four of us are going through the same thing right now, so just don’t stress yourself out’ – because that will just fatigue you more than anything,” Conklin later said.

And so the four break members sped away after a period of neutralized riding and re-established the gap they previously held.

The Evol Racing riders later indicated they took the delay in stride as well. “The officials did a good job of keeping everyone as informed as they could…It didn’t hurt our race, I don’t think,” Powlison said. “But we had to ride a little bit extra. The legs will feel that.”

Only several of the ten categories on course were required to follow the detour, and the re-distributed fields resulted in confusion at the finish.

However, when another rider crossed the finish line ahead of her, Conklin knew the woman had somehow not taken the diversion and couldn’t lay claim to the victory. The Rally Sport rider celebrated with a fist-pump under the finishing truss. Powlison came in second with Legan next in third.

Conklin had looked forward to the event more than any race thus far in the road season; she enjoys racing on the dirt and called Boulder-Roubaix her kind of course. She also felt especially good about her result because she raced without teammates in a pack that included some handy sprinters among well-represented teams like Evol and Stages.

“For me,” she said, “it was a really tough race.” While trying to stay away with the break, she imagined the possible scenarios that could play out in the race, including how she could best respond to maximize her chances for success.

“And so I really tried to race conservatively and then when I put in efforts tried to make them more attacks than just pulling people,” Conklin later said. “And it worked out for me today so I was happy about that. They were great girls to race against so it was exciting.

“But it hurt. It hurt a lot.”

Grajales pulls himself into winning break

In the men’s race Grajales set himself up for a shot at the win by bridging across alone to a small break with two laps of the dry circuit remaining.

“From the beginning I was feeling good. Then the right break-away was gone and I thought, ‘Oh my God, there is the race,’” the Colombian said before the podium ceremonies. “So I had to go across solo. I went for it. It was like a hard TT, but I made it.”

Like Conklin, Grajales believed the race suited him. “I like this kind of race because it is like pure power. There’s not really a rest.

“It feels really good to win again, to be on the podium again. It’s motivation for the rest of the year,” he said. “It’s not an easy race. We had a lot of good guys, a big field. So it feels good.”

Taylor Warren (Colorado Collective) beat Camilo Zambrano (Sonic Boom Racing p/b Lucky Pie) in a sprint for second.

For full results from every category at Boulder-Roubaix, including collegiate races, see RaceRite.com.

Collegiate men's A podium legs circle the "pavé" Boulder-Roubaix prize

Collegiate men’s A podium legs circle the “pavé” Boulder-Roubaix prize

Gallery (more to come)

Life lessons from Lookout Mountain hill climb

Greg Daniel saved something for the end on Lookout Mountain

Greg Daniel saved something for the end on Lookout Mountain

Lessons from racing a bike almost always apply to life in general.

That’s why junior cycling helps kids build more than healthy practices and fitness. They learn how to bounce back from setbacks and disappointment. They learn the value of hard work and commitment. They learn how to work with others to create success.

Adults also benefit from cycling’s life wisdom. Saturday’s 4.5-mile Lookout Mountain hill climb offered lots of it, but a couple of lessons in particular stand out.

The experienced starters knew going too hard too early depletes precious energy reserves and can leave a rider crawling to the finish line, especially when the road there tilts uphill. So they paced themselves. They saved something for the middle and something for a final push at the end.

They knew it’s a good idea to keep the big picture in mind, and sometimes you have to slow down to speed up.

Lookout Mountain hill climb gallery

Alpha Bicycle Company – Vista Subaru junior team enhances talent pool as it enters seventh year

The Alpha Bicycle Company - Vista Subaru Team hopes to spray lots of bubbly during the 2015/16 'cross season. Here Lauren Zoerner sprays carbonated cider at the 2014 state champs.

The Alpha Bicycle Company – Vista Subaru Team hopes to spray lots of bubbly during the 2015/16 ‘cross season. Here Lauren Zoerner celebrates her 2014 Colorado championship in the 11 to 12 category with sparkling cider.

Adam Rachubinski and Aaron Zoerner started their new venture with four families and ten kids in a Denver suburb. Six years later the Alpha Bicycle Company – Vista Subaru junior cycling squad achieved international recognition during the 2014/15 season with rider Gage Hecht’s success in Europe. That’s a testament to Hecht’s talent, but also to the many hours the two founders and others have put into building the ‘cross-focused team which supports riders aged seven to eighteen.

“We had the idea to fill in the gap for a junior program in the south area of town after the ACA Mudskipper program was cut,” explains Rachubinski, who is the team’s director. [the ACA is the precursor to the current Bicycle Racing Association of Colorado – ed.]

“It really succeeded because the families all got super involved and took the time with the kids. The program has now grown to over thirty-five kids with a fleet of bikes and a ton of equipment.”

In recent years the average age of team members has leaned to the younger side of junior competition. “Our biggest age range is nine to twelve girls, followed probably by twelve to fourteen boys,” notes Rachubinski.

Last season the team increased the maturity of its roster by adding multiple-time cyclocross national champion Hecht. In his first year in the 17 to 18 category he nearly captured a medal at the 2015 world championships in Tabor in the junior race and finished fourth. His results spurred the team’s sponsors to support more riders.

Gage Hecht leads the Netherlands' Max Gulickx after the stairs in the fourth lap at 2015 world championships. Eli Iserbyt chases right behind them.

Gage Hecht battled with Max Gulickx (Netherlands) for third place at 2015 world championships

“The people at Vista Auto Group and Subaru have believed in our vision for the team since we launched it six years ago and they want to work with us to continue to grow the sport and help young racers reach their potential,” Rachubinski says. “After all of Gage Hecht’s success, we sat down and wanted to help more athletes. Vista Subaru was immediately on board, no hesitation. Those are the kind of partners that help a program be successful and viable long term.”

While retaining Hecht for the upcoming season, the team has expanded its talent pool in the older junior and U23 categories, positioning itself for more opportunities to shine in international races like the new Pan American cyclocross championships and world championships. Additionally, riders like Ashley Zoerner and Allison Moorhead, who have worn the team’s green and black kit for several years, have aged into the 17 to 18 category.

Ashley Zoerner on her way to another state cyclocross championship in 2014

Ashley Zoerner on her way to another state cyclocross championship in 2014

Ashley Zoerner’s resume includes a national championship and several state titles. She as well as Moorhead have been frequent winners in women’s cat 3 races and competitors in senior elite fields.

Evan Clouse charges the stairs at 2015 cyclocross nationals

Evan Clouse charges the stairs at 2015 cyclocross nationals

The new recruits are brother-sister duo Evan and Katie Clouse from Park City, Utah. Evan Clouse will be a first year in the 17 to 18 category this fall. He has collected UCI junior and cat 3 wins. At 2015 national championships he finished second after a mechanical took him out of the fight for gold.

Katie Clouse speeds off the line at 2015 cyclocross nationals in the rain

Katie Clouse speeds off the line at 2015 cyclocross nationals in the rain

Katie Clouse will be a first year in the 15 to 16 cohort. She often stands on Colorado ‘cross podiums alongside professional riders and has earned three national titles. Cycling Utah named her 2014 cyclist of the year.

Brannan Fix finished 15th

Brannan Fix at 2015 cyclocross worlds

A new U23 rider, Brannan Fix, also joins the youthful armada. Fix competed in the junior ‘cross world’s race at Tabor as well; he finished fifteenth out of seventy-plus starters. Fix and Hecht both live in Colorado.

This cadre of junior and U23 elite cyclists will likely steal the show at next season’s American ‘cross races. Traveling to the UCI junior races will entail planning, transporting equipment over hundreds of miles, and more. But Rachubinski won’t labor over it all alone.

Co-founder Aaron Zoerner contributes to the team’s well-being in multiple ways, including working in the pit during races where he stands for hours in all kinds of weather. In Colorado, that can and does mean snow, wind, and sub-freezing temperatures. He’s Ashley’s dad and father of another female racer on the team.

“It’s a lot of work to get all that gear to the races and get it set up, torn down and maintained,” Rachubinski notes. “I definitely have a lot of support people who help get things done for the team. A handful of parents have stepped up huge in terms of logistics and planning. The guys at the shop fill in a lot during the season and make the effort to keep the kids’ stuff running top notch.”

Rachubinski owns Alpha Bicycle Company, a bike shop in Centennial, Colorado where the team is based. Running a business takes dedication beyond nine to five work hours. So what compels him to take on three dozen kids, their parents, and caring for a raft of equipment?

“I just have a drive to grow the sport in a healthy manner. I’ve seen too many kids get burnt out or not be able to realize their potential due to the associated costs,” he says. “Those are two things that should never happen in a healthy cycling community like we have in Colorado.”

Allison Moorhead, junior in elite race

Allison Moorhead in a 2014 Colorado elite ‘cross race

Tabor showcases the art of cyclocross spectating

Katerina Nash fans at 2014 cyclocross world championships. Note the fan photo bomb at right.

Katerina Nash fans at 2014 cyclocross world championships. Note the fan photo bomb at right.

American cyclocross fans searching for ways to express their passion for the sport during the US’s first World Cup race at CrossVegas can gather lots of tips from spectators at ‘cross worlds. Here are five ideas.

1. Be patriotic

Make a patriotic statement with a flotilla of flags

Make a patriotic statement with a flotilla of flags

2. Be creative

Creative costumes just might get you on live coverage too.

Creative costumes just might get you on live coverage aside from consuming closet cast-aways.

3. Repeat a colorful theme

Wear the same outfit with friends and stand out in a crowd of tens of thousands

Wear the same outfit with friends and stand out in a crowd of tens of thousands

4. Make LOTS of noise

Cowbells and spinning rattlers created tunnels of noise on course

Cowbells and spinning rattlers created tunnels of noise on course

5. Support your favorite rider

Sven Nys fans wallpapered a corner at Tabor

Sven Nys fans wallpapered a corner at Tabor

More fan photos

Fourth at ‘cross worlds confirms and opens a window into Hecht’s talent

 

Gage Hecht leads the Netherlands' Max Gulickx after the stairs in the fourth lap at 2015 world championships. Eli Iserbyt chases right behind them.

Gage Hecht leads the Netherlands’ Max Gulickx after the stairs in the fourth lap at 2015 world championships. Eli Iserbyt chases right behind them.

Cyclocross experts call him “the real deal.” They rated American Gage Hecht’s chances for a medal at this year’s cyclocross world championships pretty high. And they were right. He competed among the top three to four on course for the entire junior men’s race on a dicey track at Tabor in the Czech Republic.

Hecht deserves that assessment of his promise for more than his results; he’s already professional in his approach to the sport as evidenced by his reaction to placing fourth at worlds on Saturday.

It’s painful enough to finish fourth and miss out on a coveted UCI medal as well as stretching arms skyward on a podium pedestal. But to have those privileges stripped away in the last corner before the finish line in front of thousands of people, that qualifies as heart-breaking.

Hecht’s heart, however, seems to possess a special muscle for weathering adversity.

Head of the junior men's race at worlds a few hundred meters after the start

Head of the junior men’s race at worlds a few hundred meters after the start

Saturday’s race began without a hitch. Coming off the start line he raced in fourth position as the field funneled off the pavement and onto dirt where a frozen moat split the track into two ridges.

He contended for a medal, racing off the front with the strongest riders and moving into third by the second lap. Whenever he lost ground, he made it up. With two laps to go he attacked and advanced to second on course.

For the next two laps the threesome of Hecht, Belgian and World Cup leader Eli Iserbyt, and Max Gulickx from the Netherlands were locked in a nail-biting contest for the silver and bronze medals.

“That was getting really intense,” Hecht said. “We were having a lot of fun though I think, just jockeying for placement the entire time because you don’t want to be really stuck behind anybody with all these ruts and accidents happening.”

One then another slid out as they took risks or succumbed to the slick conditions and then caught back on. In the last lap Hecht slipped to third.

It still seemed they would charge to the finish line pretty much together.

Then on the last corner, a little over 100 meters from the finishing truss, Hecht lost the momentum that may very well have carried him into the first US junior worlds medal in eight years.

After the race he said possibly mud had clogged his bike’s drive train and caused the gears to skip.

Was he disappointed? A little. “But I was still top five which is amazing for world championships. I’m so excited about how I did,” he said.

His first trip to cyclocross worlds exceeded his expectations about the event. “It was so cool to see all the spectators along the side just cheering me on and everybody else on. It was such an amazing feeling to be out there.”

Gage Hecht photo bombs portrait of this father Bruce (left) and Matthew Fix

Gage Hecht photo bombs portrait of this father Bruce (left) and Matthew Fix

But recalling that moment didn’t erase the smile from his face. He wore the same happy, relaxed expression while warming up in the Team USA tent and when he cruised down the pavement to the start grid.

How does he do it? His upbeat reaction shared during the near-cancellation of the 2015 US cyclocross championships explains his healthy attitude.

“Keep positive on everything,” he said, “and you’ll pretty much be happy all the time.”

The next medal

The last time an American junior won at cyclocross worlds was in 1999 with Matt Kelly. Danny Summerhill earned a silver medal in 2007.

Summerhill coached at cyclocross camps in Colorado that Hecht attended in his early teens. “I’m so excited to be just following in Danny’s footsteps,” Hecht said. “He’s an amazing guy and I’m so proud to be where he was a few years ago or close to it.”

An Australian racing schedule with his United Healthcare team prevented Summerhill from watching the race live online. Knowing the results, Summerhill wrote in a message to ProVeloPassion, “I’m a bit bummed for him as I truly thought he could be the next American world champ. I’m still proud of him nonetheless.”

Hecht will race in junior’s men’s class again for the 2015 – 16 ‘cross season. His chances to do even better next year appear pretty solid.

Junior men’s race photo gallery (more to come)

Out of their heads in a good way: how Gage Hecht and USA juniors take on world champion cyclocross

Junior men's 17 - 18 start at 2015 cyclocross nationals

Junior men’s 17 – 18 start the US 2015 cyclocross nationals

[updated 1/30/2014]

The energy discharge bouncing between them in the form of banter and jokes could be the by-product of recovering from hours squeezed in a car, then a plane, and a car again. Or it could simply reflect boisterous boyhood – they are after all, 16 to 17 year-olds far away from home.

These young men are among America’s finest young cyclists: Gage Hecht and Brannan Fix from Colorado, Gavin Haley from California, Lance Haidet and Cameron Beard from Oregon, and Vermont’s Cooper Willsey. Five of them have piled into one of their rooms in a hotel on the outskirts of Tabor in the Czech Republic. On Saturday they will compete against a field numbering almost 100 in the cyclocross world championship junior race. The ultra big time of bike races.

They talk about worlds as “just another race,” another beast they’ll try to tame but in a different suit of battle armor than that belonging to their regular teams during the ‘cross season: a royal blue skin suit splashed with the red letters “USA” and each athlete’s last name inked on the back.

Hecht, the current American champion in their junior 17 to 18 age group, sits on the floor leaning against nondescript taupe curtains gathered in folds. He’s the focus of the interview for this story and a bit out of the fray, but within range of a random flying object like a balled-up pair of socks.

However on the ‘cross track he’s very much in the fray. Leading into and now after his latest national title, American cycling media outlets and some European journalists have been paying special attention to him this season.

The 16 year-old became the inaugural junior Pan American Continental Cyclo-cross Champion in Kentucky, won a non-World Cup race at the fabled Koksijde venue in Belgium, and just placed third at the Hoogerheide World Cup last weekend in Holland, not to mention another European cyclocross podium and two more World Cup top five results. At Hoogerheide he led alone at the front of the race early on ahead of the junior World Cup leader and rainbow jersey favorite, Belgian Eli Iserbyt.

He says he likes getting noticed. It’s good for the sport he loves. “It’s always fun to get attention and having everyone backing me up,” he comments.

Gavin Haley in a front-side off-camber section at 2015 'cross nationals

Gavin Haley in a front-side off-camber section at 2015 ‘cross nationals

The others hanging out in the hotel room have performed well too. Haley, for example, won the junior’s race over the Milton Keynes World Cup weekend.

They have taken the spoils that for many years the European boys have typically owned. The last time the US has enjoyed several junior podiums in Europe was during the 2012-13 season with Logan Owen, now a U23 racer. This season, with Hecht and his worlds teammates racing like pros and taking two wins, the continentals don’t know what to make of the red, white, and blue invasion.

“I think it’s taken them by surprise a little bit. They are a little curious and I think a little in shock just because we don’t typically have a lot of riders that come out of the US,” Hecht says. “This year we’ve had quite a bit of talent coming to Europe from the US. It’s cool.”

Back in 2008 Hecht was an unknown not only in Europe, but in the US too. He completed his first big cyclocross race then at age nine, the national championships.

“I don’t think I even knew what to expect; I was just going into it really blindly. We showed up to the line and I was wearing a jersey and shorts and everybody was wearing super-nice clothing and skin suits.” He and his parents thought, “This isn’t going to work out so well,” he recalled. They changed their minds when he finished second.

Since then he’s netted five national gold cyclocross medals. Road racing suits him as well; he won the category 3 contest in the Tour of the Gila stage race in 2014 and beat local pros in the three day Superior Morgul Classic in Colorado.

Gage Hecht wins the 2015 junior men's 17 - 18 USA Cycling cyclo-cross national championship

Gage Hecht wins the 2015 junior men’s 17 – 18 USA Cycling cyclo-cross national championship

Over seven years of racing he’s developed a personalized victory salute that reflects his strong religious faith. He stretches his right arm skyward, his gaze following it and past his pointer finger. He explains the pose’s meaning: “It’s giving the glory to the one who has taken me to where I am.”

He says he hasn’t mastered a clean form that clearly represents the intention until this season. “I’ve always tried to do it but it never really worked out. Sometimes it looked like I was falling over sideways.”

He and other members of the International Christian Cycling Club he belonged to prior to 2013 would huddle in prayer before races. Now even no longer on the team he’ll still look for ICCC members at competitions and enter the huddle. Sometimes, he says, he, Haley, Haidet, and Spencer Petrov – who didn’t make the worlds team this year, will join in prayer at the start line.

Before racing, after racing. The American juniors in Europe spend a lot of time together. When they’re not training on their bikes, they hang around their rooms, watch TV. If townie bikes can be found they’ll amble into a village for coffee. Yep, they do their homework too.

In fact, listening to them filling the hotel room with their voices, they seem much more a singular group than distinct individuals, more like five different voices inhabiting the same body.

Even the forty minutes of battle at worlds seems in some ways not so dissimilar from the season’s other challenges in Europe. “It’s actually not as different as I think a lot people look at it,” Hecht says. “I think everyone thinks it’s a huge enormous race, but it’s pretty similar to most of the stuff we’ve been doing. It’s the same guys. We know who we’re up against and the kind of racing that it will be.”

Worlds will be really tough, he notes, at a high pace. Hecht would love for it to be snowy and frozen.

However he does say worlds carries “a little bit more significance.” After all, it’s only the culmination of a season’s worth of work, joys, and disappointments as well as three medals on offer just once a year to the best-of-the-best in the world.

A healthy jolt of mayhem helps take them out of their heads and shut all of that out so the only thing they will think about on Saturday is racing their bikes.

As Hecht logs off Skype, one of the others in the room yells, “Get it Brannan, get it!” They are wrapping up the evening with a push-up contest.

After their last U23 cyclocross title bout, differing near-term targets for Eckmann and Owen

The fight for second midway through the U23 race (l-r) Curtis White, Yannick Eckmann, Drew Dillman. Tobin Ortenblad trailed the group.

The fight for second midway through the U23 race between (l-r) Curtis White, Yannick Eckmann, and Drew Dillman. Tobin Ortenblad trailed the group.

Could the cyclocross win that Yannick Eckmann wanted so badly in January 2014 fall into his hands one year later?

The start in Austin earlier this month hinted at that possibility. During the initial moments of this year’s U23 ‘cross national championships, last year’s winner, teammate Logan Owen, now sprinted behind him. Eckmann (California Giant Berry Farms/Specialized) viewed empty pavement ahead instead of the dozen or so riders that had occupied his view in 2014 at Valmont Bike Park, where he finished second.

But within nine minutes Eckmann knew Owen wasn’t having a bad day. That’s about when the reigning champion pulled away. He quickly separated himself from the field and stayed away to win again.

“He was in his own race and we were racing for second today,” Eckmann said, post-race.

Yannick Eckmann winning the race for second

Yannick Eckmann winning the race for second

Even so, Eckmann didn’t let go of the vision of another U23 title like the one he captured in 2013. With a racing age of 22, it was his last chance to claim one.

“I tried to give everything for that first place. I never gave up. When I was in that second group I was like, ‘I’m just riding in the front. If I blow up, I blow up,’” Eckmann said.

It seems he started with that intention too. “I think I just burned too big of a match on the start and blew up half-way through the first lap.”

But he recovered and battled with the other main contenders for second, Curtis White (Cannondale p/b Cyclocrossworld.com) and Drew Dillman (Cyclocross Network Racing).

While he didn’t jump onto the top step of the podium, Eckmann won that race-within-a-race for second. He competed at the head of the field, a position he hadn’t enjoyed very much this season while racing a reduced ‘cross calendar and dealing with the lingering effects of a severe road racing accident.

Eckmann also balanced considerable tension: the desire for that win in Austin with the knowledge that, as he said, his heart beat faster for road racing than cyclocross.

About a week after nationals he traveled to Switzerland for training camp with his new road team, Roth-Skoda. The UCI continental team is based in Switzerland and has an international roster of seventeen.

Eckmann was chosen for the US ‘cross worlds squad but relinquished the opportunity so he could concentrate on moving ahead with his new team. “I gave up the worlds spot to focus on the road and to get the full benefit of going to team camp in Majorca,” he recently shared. Additionally, the team wanted him fully present. He’ll also compete in the Majorca Challenge races which run at the same time as ‘cross worlds.

If he returns to cyclocross next season he’ll start in the elite category. “I probably will [race ‘cross],” he said, “like I did this year, not as many races –  just to even it out and have fun a little bit when I’m not racing road.”

Logan Owen wins his tenth consecutive US cyclocross championship which requires a new kind of victory salute

Logan Owen wins his tenth consecutive US cyclocross championship which required a new kind of victory salute

In the crush of riders and photographers after winning the U23 race in Austin Owen leaned over the barriers to hug his mom and other family members.

“My mom made a sign that said ‘Time for Ten.’ I don’t tell her to do any of this. She just really likes to makes signs and be very supportive of me during the race. It’s really cool to have them [family] out here again and really cheer me on. It makes me really happy to be able to win in front of them again.”

That tenth consecutive title presented a unique challenge.

At some point in his cyclocross racing career Owen started a finish line tradition at the national championships. With arms raised he flashed the new tally of titles he had earned, using his fingers as hash marks. Last year in Boulder he held up nine fingers.

However, he said if he extended all ten digits this year the gesture could be misinterpreted; it might simply resemble the expected arms raised in V for victory.

“So I figured I’d pay off Specialized for hooking me up with a really cool bike and give some love to the sponsor,” he said, explaining why he hoisted the bike at the finish line.

Logan Owen's one bobble pitched him hands first into the pit mud.

Logan Owen’s one bobble pitched him hands-first into deep mud

Owen also recognized his Cal Giant support team’s role in his tenth victory – muddy conditions dictated bike changes about every half lap which sent the mechanics running to the power washers every four to five minutes.

“[They were] perfect, perfect in the pits. We had one little bobble when I was changing bikes. It was a little bobble; it happens.”

His next stop is the world championship U23 contest this coming Sunday.

“I’m really excited for Tabor,” he said. “I did fourteenth last year [at worlds], my best result of this year at a World Cup.” He’s hoping for better on Sunday and is targeting a top ten result. That would require a reversal of fortune.

This season he’s run into a spate of bad luck in Europe. “I haven’t had a lot of bad luck over there in the past; you gotta pay your dues at some point,” Owen said. “I hope I’ll have some better luck and have some good legs again and be able to give it my all and make USA proud.”

Owen has one more year left to contest the U23 cyclocross national championship. He also races on the road and this year returns to Axel Merckx’s development program which is now called the Axeon Cycling Team.

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2015 cyclocross nationals: Jeremy Powers wins from 46 guys in private pain caves

Jeremy Powers wins his third US cyclocross title. Jonathan Page finished second and kept Powers on his toes.

Jeremy Powers wins his third US elite cyclocross title, in Austin, Texas

[updated 1/18/2015]

He alternated between mouth open and teeth clenched.

Jeremy Powers‘ face resembled that of a hunted man at this year’s cyclocross national championships, until the last bend when he turned and confirmed that Jonathan Page (Fuji-Spy) hadn’t caught him. Then his jaw relaxed. He punched his fist in the air with an extended pointer finger signifying his continued number one status in US ‘cross.

Powers (Aspire Racing) won with a margin of 34 seconds over Page who early in the first lap emerged as his most significant rival. Cyclocross is cruel and that day it targeted Page who had arrived from Belgium lean and fit. For Page the race was lost by a flat out of the pit early in the race.

From then on Page chased alone. As the race entered its second half, almost every man behind him soldiered on solo as well.

Next on course, Zach McDonald (Cyclocross Project 2015) charged on in third.

McDonald’s expression appeared alert though nearly stress-free. He was one of the few that seemed to be having a good time; if others were too, they hid their joy behind grimaces and intense focus as they pushed bikes up slippery inclines and ran around off-camber turns that threatened to take them down.

Each man labored on alone with his thoughts. “Don’t forget to lift feet higher so the shoe spikes will clear the limestone stairs. Breathe, just breathe. Here comes that gnarly descent – you’ve got it. I need pedals that clear better in the mud. Make the most of it, great practice for next season. It’s just a bike race.”

And, in the back portion of the field, “Dang it. Powers just lapped me. Cool.”

Ryan Trebon will lead the field ahead of the crash from pavement onto dirt

Ryan Trebon will lead the front of the field from pavement onto dirt, ahead of the crash

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Allen Krughoff arrives eleven seconds later than Trebon et al, held up by a crash after the start

Allen Krughoff arrives eleven seconds later than Trebon et al, held up by a crash after the start. A few minutes later he’s in about 30th position.

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The guy who slammed into Brady Kappius in the crash just after the start took out his wheel. Coach Grant Holicky retrieved what was left of it.

The guy who slammed into Brady Kappius in the crash just after the start took out his rear wheel. Coach Grant Holicky retrieved what was left of it.

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Reaper man menaces JPow

Reaper man menaces JPow

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 Jonathan Page ten seconds behind Jeremy Powers halfway into lap two

Jonathan Page ten seconds behind Jeremy Powers halfway into lap two

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Zach McDonald running after the upslope barriers late in the race

Zach McDonald running late in the race, after the upslope barriers

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Eleventh U.S. cyclocross title for a Katie Compton adept at change

Arly Kemmerer guides the elite women after the start of 2015 cyclocross nationals. Katie Compton will slot into the first ten riders to begin lap one.

Arly Kemmerer guides the elite women after the start of 2015 cyclocross nationals. Katie Compton will slot into the first ten riders to begin lap one.

If Katie Compton could urge a cyclocross bike from zero to sixty miles per hour in four seconds like she accelerates her flaming orange BMW in autocross, she’d find a way to do it.

She’s acquainted with the word “slow” as it exists in the English language, but it’s more enemy than friend. For example, when asked about switching to disc brakes when they first appeared on ‘cross bikes, she replied with a question along these lines: why use something that slows you down more when the goal of bike racing is to go fast? Photos of her in action on a Trek Boone 9 at World Cups this season exhibit cantilever brakes, though Trek has provided her with a disc set-up too.

Physiological adversaries like mold and food allergies and asthma insist on reducing her speed. This season they have plagued her consistently.

“She hasn’t been feeling good for months,” husband and mechanic Mark Legg said in Austin on Monday, the day of the women’s elite race at the USA Cycling Cyclo-cross National Championships. “The last time she felt good was Valkenburg.” That World Cup race took place on October 19.

At nationals after the race, referring to the stretch of time before the whistle signaled go, Compton said, “I definitely was a little more stressed than I usually am, but mostly because my lungs aren’t functioning as well as they could.”

In the press she sounds very practical when it comes to the physical demons that hamper her breathing. There’s no use crying over spilt milk. Instead she focuses on how to adapt her activities and choices. Avoiding certain foods, for example.

The skill of adaptation served her well Monday when she let the need for speed drop, if temporarily. It proved essential for winning her eleventh cyclocross national championship against a field of women hungry to take advantage of any iota of weakness.

“I raced it smart; I didn’t go too hard at the start, which I usually do,” she said. “I was just conservative and kind of waited [to move up.] And then when I came through after the first lap where there were ten minute laps, I was like: ‘OK, it’ll be four laps and I can gauge my effort by that.’ I just needed to stay within myself today.”

She made another change too. According to Legg, at nationals she rode an entire race with disc brakes for the first time. Granted, peanut butter mud aided the decision by clogging the cantilever brakes during pre-ride.

Those messy course conditions became her ally. Running was the preferred way for most riders to negotiate slippery, off-camber sections and some uphill turns.

“I think today was so technical. That helped me a lot because there were places to recover. Whereas if it had just been super-fast, it probably would have been harder for me,” she said. “So I loved the fact that it was techy and hard and a lot of on and off the bike so I could save some time there.”

Luck in the form of weather took her side too in another fashion. Officials had delayed the race one day after Saturday night’s heavy rain caused locals to raise concerns about damage to the Zilker Park venue and its valued heritage trees.

“If the race was yesterday, I think we might have a different result; she wasn’t feeling very good at all,” Legg said Monday. “We think she may have had some food that didn’t quite agree with her.”

At the world championships a little luck would come in handy for Compton to at last win the rainbow jersey. To secure those stripes at the Tabor venue in the Czech Republic, she needs that one perfect day that’s eluded her. No leg cramps. A course venue without allergens that trigger an asthma attack.

Based on her own comments in a recent interview, for that perfect day she also needs to exercise those adaptation skills to make another kind of change. Her coach, she said, has told her if she stops wanting the worlds win so badly, it will happen. “I wish I could do that,” she said after recounting the coach’s observation.

Her post-race remarks Monday indicate that, after a season of having no choice but to make friends with the word slow – or at a minimum its cousin “slower,” she may have already accomplished that attitude shift.

When the race announcer asked her about expectations for worlds, she said, “If I can race and have a good race and just feel well, then I’ll be happy with that.”

We’ll find out how the approach works on January 31 at Tabor.

Right behind Arly Kemmerer and Ellen Noble, Crystal Anthony, Rachel Lloyd, Georgia Gould, and Courtenay McFadden set upon the first stairs in lap one

Right behind Arly Kemmerer and Ellen Noble, Crystal Anthony, Rachel Lloyd, Georgia Gould, and Courtenay McFadden set upon the first stairs in lap one

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By the end of lap one Katie Compton is off the front with Rachel Lloyd trying to catch up

By the end of lap one Katie Compton is off the front with Rachel Lloyd trying to catch up

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Ellen Noble, fourth on course at the end of lap one, would finish as the best U23 rider

Ellen Noble, fourth on course at the end of lap one, would finish as the best U23 rider

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Rachel Lloyd falls on a descent and Kaitie Antonneau flies away

Rachel Lloyd falls on a descent and Kaitie Antonneau flies away

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Georgia Gould looked super powerful and moved up to finish fourth

Georgia Gould looked super powerful and moved up to finish fourth

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An eleventh consecutive cyclocross title for Katie Compton who went slow at first to go fast overall

An eleventh consecutive cyclocross title for Katie Compton who went slow at first to go fast overall

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