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Wicked Winds Can’t Steal Valmont Victory from Gage Hecht

Grant Ellwood second, Eric Brunner third in U23 UCI race

Gage Hecht wins US Open of Cyclocross 2017, day 1

Saturday’s US Open of Cyclocross course used almost every inch of the Valmont Bike Park hillside in Boulder, Colorado. It wound up and down and up again and west and east then west again. As gusts flung dust about and stretched course tape into scallops, the west winds magnified the rollercoaster effect, alternately pushing and holding back riders.

It was enough to transform even the strongest athletes into boats tossed on a roiling sea.

After the race, Gage Hecht (Alpha Bicycle Co/Groove Subaru) admitted to feeling queasy. “I’d come around and change direction, and whoa, my stomach would feel a little weak,” he said.

Gage Hecht solos up the 5280 stairs

Laurel Rathbun (Donnelly Pro Team), who competed as a U23 in the elite women’s race, threw up during lap two.

Laurel Rathbun’s holeshot in the elite women’s race

Maxx Chance (EVOL Racing) said the wind blew him off his bike at the top of the “corkscrew” feature, a set of banked turns beginning at the highest point on course. The current U23 national champion, Lance Haidet (Donnelly Pro Team), might have seen that happen.

Haidet agreed it was just about the craziest wind he’d ever raced in. “Some of the slow corners going into the corkscrew, it was like you were literally getting blown into the air it was so windy,” he said after the finish. “But it made for some interesting racing, for sure.”

The U23 field circles the west end of Valmont to begin lap 1. Note wind socket in upper left of frame.

After Grant Ellwood (Boulder Cycle Sport) nabbed the holeshot, Chance launched into the same aggressive style of racing that set the tone for this year’s national championships in Hartford.

Maxx Chance in the the corkscrew at Valmont

Then, according to Ellwood, about two laps in Chance went down. The mishap delayed Ellwood, Denzel Stephenson (EVOL Racing) and others. That was about the time Hecht attacked.

Chance regrouped and with teammate Eric Brunner and Ellwood led the chase after Hecht. Just before mid-race Chance was dropped, possibly due to another fall. Haidet rode fifth on course.

Eric Brunner enjoying pre-race warm-up

Ellwood managed to distance Brunner but couldn’t catch Hecht who came away with the win, his first UCI U23 victory of the season. The wind, however, raised the challenge.

“I kept seeing Grant [Ellwood] close down on me and it felt like every section I hit where I could somewhat put power down it would be a huge headwind or some nasty crosswind in a technical section,” Hecht recounted post-race. “I just felt he was constantly putting time into me. I was running scared the entire last lap. It was good.”

Grant Ellwood leans into the wind on his way to second place

It was a tough day for Haidet who’s been having an impressive ‘cross season thus far, winning his first UCI men’s elite race earlier this month at West Sacramento Cyclocross Grand Prix.

“Not coming from altitude and not preparing for it at all, when Gage [Hecht] went hard I tried to go and I think went a bit too hard and had to recover for two or three laps,” Haidet said. “At the end I felt like I was coming back a little bit. But I lost so much time in laps two and three and four that it was just hard to bring him [Hecht] back.”

Current U23 US champion Lance Haidet recovering from earlier efforts

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Geoff Proctor Adds Women’s Week to July MontanaCrossCamp

Kaitie Antonneau will be the featured coach at Geoff Proctor’s first Montana cyclocross development camp for women in July 2017

This year Geoff Proctor will strengthen a July cyclocross tradition by holding not one but two development camps in Montana. The new six-day session is for young women only. Beginning on July 10, they will learn under the guidance of a dedicated coach, Kaitie Antonneau (Cannondale p/b Cyclocrossworld.com). Proctor, also a member of the UCI Cyclocross Commission, directs the camps which are organized by GP Velo Mondial of Helena, Montana.

Eight women have been invited. Just like the men, riders are selected based on their results and character.

For more than a decade Proctor has come to know and shepherd many female athletes to success in cyclocross. Additionally, their performance in other cycling disciplines has benefited from honing ‘cross skills, such as sprinting out of corners and finessing the bike under dicey conditions. He’s also worked with women as founder of EuroCrossCamp and in his role as Team USA manager at European cyclocross competitions.

“My first year as a world champs coach, 2002 in Zolder, we won the women’s team nations competition with Alison Dunlap, Ann Grande, Carmen D’Alusio and Gina Hall,” Proctor wrote in an email to ProVeloPassion. “All four were in the top 13.”

D’Alusio and Hall were also members of the first EuroCrossCamp class in 2003.

In the Team USA capacity he’s worked with talents such as Elle Anderson, Courtenay McFadden, Ellen Noble, Emma White and Antonneau.

Regarding Antonneau, three experiences with the petite dynamo stand out in Proctor’s mind.

There’s Thanksgiving 2011 at Koksijde when Antonneau and Luke Keough both raced that block; Proctor is happy to have presided at what he thinks may have been the first meeting between this couple with wedding plans. In 2015 at the Valkenburg World Cup, Proctor was present as team coach for Antonneau’s second place finish. And most recently they spent time together over Christmas week racing last year.

“I drove Kaitie back from the Namur World Cup to Sittard, sharing thoughts on life and athletics,” Proctor wrote. “That was when I made the decision that I really wanted to have Kaitie help with a summer women’s camp.

“I’ve always wanted to do a women’s camp here in Montana. It’s just been a matter of getting everything to come together – dorms, coaches, logistics. For both men and women, given the size of our country, it’s crucial to bring these top riders together to push and support each other. The whole point is to come together and build each other up.”

Pro rider Allison Arensman will assist the women as a guest rider. She owns a new elite and development women’s cyclocross team, J.A. King p/b Blue Ridge ‘Cross.

Tobin Ortenblad, steady in any conditions, here at cyclocross nationals in 2017

The men’s cohort of 22 will converge on Helena, Montana, later in the month on July24. Proctor has staged the men’s development camp annually since 2011. The alumni constitute a “who’s who” of nationally and internationally successful cyclocrossers. Among them is prior U23 national ‘cross champion Tobin Ortenblad (Santa Cruz Factory Racing) who will assist as a guest rider at both camps. Alum Gage Hecht nearly placed third in the junior men’s world cyclocross championships in 2015.

Gage Hecht leads the Netherlands’ Max Gulickx after the stairs at 2015 world championships in Tabor

Hecht attends camp with several U23 riders; the addition of that age group is another expansion of the Montana tradition.

“To work with these young riders—and see them go on and perform well, both nationally and internationally,” Proctor added, “it’s tremendous inspiration.”

Ashley Zoerner, 2017 junior women 17-18 national cyclocross champion

In addition to Hecht, other Colorado riders expected to take part in the camps are: Ashley Zoerner, Petra Schmidtmann, Laurel Rathbun, Brannan Fix and Jared Scott.

 

 

 

 

 

Full 2017 MontanaCrossCamp Roster

Women’s Roster (July 10-15)

Rider Age Team Residence
Lizzy Gunsalus 15 AP Junior Devo p/b Corner Cycle/Trek Dudley, MA
Petra Schmidtmann 17 Rage Cycling Team Nederland, CO
Ava Lilley 17 Bend Endurance Academy Bend, OR
Lupine Cramer 17 KUHL Cycling Team Logan, UT
Ashley Zoerner 19 Marion University Knights Highlands Ranch, CO
Shannon Mallory 20 Northwest Women’s Cyclocross Project Bellingham, WA
Katherine Santos 21 Be Real Sports Louisville, KY
Laurel Rathbun 22 Clement Cycling Team Monument, CO

Men’s Roster (July 24-29)

Rider Age Team Residence
Dylan Zakrajsek 15 Tread Head Cycling Lake Geneva, WI
Luke Feuerhelm 15 Central Junior Cycling Development Merrill, IA
Nicholas Petrov 15 Lionheart Junior Racing Mason, OH
Jared Scott 16 Boulder Junior Cycling Boulder, CO
Ryder Uetrecht 16 Bear Development Team Bend, OR
Lucas Stierwalt 16 Lionheart Junior Racing Mainville, OH
Magnus Sheffield 16 Cannondale p/b Cyclocrossworld Pittsford, NY
Dillon McNeill 17 Trek Cyclocross Collective Bellevue, NE
Alex Morton 17 Cannondale p/b Cyclocrossworld Saint Clair, MI
Nathan Knowles 17 ASU Development Batavia, IL
Kelton Williams 17 Kelson Bikes & DNA Cycling Ashton, ID
Kristian Moreau 17 AP Junior Devo p/b Corner Cycle/Trek Worcester, MA
Calder Wood 18 Rad Racing NW Anacortes, WA
Scott Funston 18 Rad Racing NW Maple Valley, WA
Greg Gunsalus 18 AP Junior Devo p/b Corner Cycle/Trek Dudley, MA
Henry Jones 18 Bend Endurance Academy Bend, OR
Cam Brooks 18 Hands-On Cycling Charlton, MA
Ben Gomez Villafane 18 CycleSport-Specialized p/b Muscle Milk Scotts Valley, CA
Gage Hecht 20 Alpha Bicycle Co.-Vista Subaru Parker, CO
Lance Haidet 21 Clement Cycling Team San Luis Obispo, CA
Brannan Fix 21 Alpha Bicycle Co.-Vista Subaru Fort Collins, CO
Andrew Frank 21 Montana Velo Helena, MT

Opportunistic riding plus fun spells success for Gage Hecht at Redlands and beyond

Gage Hecht takes up the chase at Superior Morgul

Opportunistic. In bike racing it means putting yourself out there. Being resourceful. Making your own luck. It’s a tactic that can win bike races. An opportunistic style of racing is also a fun way to compete, especially when it leads to a scrimmage between good friends and your team encourages it. The entire package came together for Gage Hecht (Aevolo Cycling) when he won the criterium stage at Redlands Bicycle Classic earlier this month.

Hecht won from a breakaway of nine that formed about mid-way through the race.

“I went for one of the sprints in the early part of the race and tried to carry it through. That time it didn’t work but I went for the next sprint for points and carried it through that time and it ended up sticking which is pretty cool, and ended up being with Danny [Summerhill] and all the strong riders that were out there,” he said in an interview after the Superior Morgul event last week.

Danny Summerhill likes to be at play on the bike too

Hecht has known Danny Summerhill (UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling) as a mentor in cyclocross and road racing since he began racing his bike at age nine. Summerhill, now 28-years-old, would have been 18 at the time. So imagine the fun at Redlands when the breakaway approached the subsequent sprint points bonus lines.

“Danny and I were sprinting for points the entire breakaway,” Hecht recalled.

Insights from those mini contests helped Hecht to the win too. The efforts confirmed which position—it was second wheel—would be most advantageous while flying around the last corner before the finish line.

Considering the Redlands experience and his omnium win at Superior Morgul, Hecht’s ability to combine an opportunistic riding style with the power to see it through could be, at least in his early U23 days, a formula for success.

“Being active in the breakaways is definitely starting to be something I can do more often. In Redlands and the breakaway at Superior Morgul I felt very strong, like I could do work and still feel good at the end, really punch it when I need to,” Hecht stated, in response to a question about how he’s developing as a rider. “I feel like that’s a strength and it comes from cyclocross, being able to punch out of corners and all that.”

Another aspect of the 19-year-old’s Redlands victory validates that assessment; the win followed a stage when he had bridged up to the break—closing down a gap of about a minute, with one other rider—and then contributed to the work in the break for around 35 kilometres. Hecht said the cost of that effort drummed up some nerves before the criterium commenced.

“I didn’t know how I was going to feel; I thought I might be a little tired. My legs didn’t feel quite the way I wanted them to before the crit,” Hecht recounted. “But we talked to Mike Creed before the race and he just wanted us to look for opportunities because we really didn’t have anything to lose that day. It was pretty hard not to make time cuts.” Creed is Aevolo Cycling’s Sports Director.

By following the Sports Director’s guidance Hecht also left California with Redlands’ green sprint points jersey.

“Mike says, ‘If nothing else, go for the points because teams like to see that you’re being opportunistic,’” Hecht explained. “So I went for it and I ended up getting the jersey. I was super shocked but happy about it.”

Creed’s approach at Redlands matches the team’s development mission as described by Hecht.

“Aevolo’s goal is not to have you sit there for your entire U23 career, but move up into higher ranks. It’s really good for the sport to make sure athletes are getting better. So his [Creed’s] goal is to get us onto better teams and make sure teams are looking at his riders. It looks good for directors to see your name on points sheets, hear it over the [race announcer’s] mikes and see that you’re active in the race.”

It may be true that Creed also reinforces having fun with the sport, an attitude that other U23 riders have said keeps them motivated through the insane demands of top-level racing and the stress of the U23 period. That would inspire Hecht. He takes hold of opportunities to create more fun in a race, another ingredient in his formula for success.

SmartStop riders crush on Mike Creed during 2014 Tour of Utah

 

Aevolo’s Gage Hecht Applies Speed and Smarts for Repeat Omnium Honors at Superior Morgul

2017 Superior Morgul elite men’s omnium podium (l-r): Connor Brown 3rd, Gage Hecht 1st, Alex Hoehn 2nd

It’s still tough to pull a fast one on Gage Hecht even though his junior gears are now history. A first-year U23 rider on the new Aevolo Cycling development team, Hecht proved best of the elite men at the three day Superior Morgul race last weekend. It was the second time he’d earned the omnium victory at the event. He also won it three years ago at age 16.

2014 Superior Morgul Classic elite men’s omnium podium (l-r): Chris Winn 3rd, Gage Hecht 1st, Emerson Oronte 2nd

“I wasn’t expecting to win it the first time, and I knew it was definitely going to be hard again this time, so it’s really cool to win it again,” Hecht said before the podium presentation on Sunday at the top of “the wall.” A mile-long climb with gradients up to an estimated 12 percent, “the wall” featured in the Coors Classic event.

Hecht scored 107 omnium points with a win in the criterium on day one, a runner-up place in an individual time trial and second in Sunday’s Morgul Bismark road race. Alex Hoehn (Elevate-KHS Pro Cycling) finished second in the omnium with 101 points; Connor Brown (Elevate-KHS Pro Cycling) earned 87 points for third.

Elite men’s pack heads east from Route 93

Sunday’s race highlighted the Aevolo Cycling rider’s fitness as well as pro qualities such as heads-up racing focus and cool composure. With less than one 12.5 mile circuit to go, a group of five jumped off the front of the field that remained after 65 miles of rolling terrain and six ascents up “the wall.” Back in the pack, Hecht suspected the group would yield the day’s winner. Holowesko Citadel’s Joe Lewis and Andz Flaksis, George Simpson (Gateway Harley-Davidson / Trek U25 Cycling) and Elevate-KHS Pro Cycling’s Hoehn and Brown made up the break.

“I saw the group going and I saw there were two teams each with two riders present. You could tell it could be the winning breakaway,” Hecht said. “And so, coming to the base of the wall, I thought if I can just keep our group at a steady tempo and keep people from popping off the sides and trying to attack, we’ll actually climb it a lot faster.”

Hecht’s tempo separated him from the pack. He made a big push over “the wall” in pursuit of the breakaway.

“I just rolled with it and made it up to the group,” he added.

The casual nature of that last remark cloaked the difficulty of the task he’d just completed. As riders diminished to Lego-size in the direction of the foothills, the group’s lead quickly grew. Hecht’s salvo appeared futile as he pedaled in no-man’s land and very likely into the wind. He pushed on alone. The day’s strongest men surely aimed to leave him behind.

But when Hecht’s healthy and fit, his effort rarely equates to futile. And so he bridged up to the five men.

Gage Hecht takes up the chase after George Simpson in the final miles

Then Simpson launched an attack. As the chasers rounded the corner to descend “the wall,” Hecht had taken responsibility for hunting down the lone leader. That’s when Hecht faced another yet different type of difficulty.

“I was kind of stuck in the crossfire between the Elevate-KHS guys and the Holowesko Citadel guys, trying to pick and choose which attacks to follow because they were counter-attacking each other left and right. I ended up at the bottom of the hill following an attack and countering that one, and it got me off the front.” Hoehn pulled ahead of him, but Hecht said he found another burst of energy to leapfrog him for second place, just under five seconds behind Simpson. Lewis finished third ahead of Hoehn at the line.

“George definitely had the legs on us,” Hecht said. “We were gaining on him on the wall, but he had the time on us before we got there, and definitely proved he was the strongest rider today.”

George Simpson wins 2017 Morgul Bismark, the third stage of Superior Morgul

Simpson won the day, but Hecht pulled off an incredible ride for second and the omnium win. And given his engine and race smarts, he’s only going to get better.

Hecht’s next chance to sniff out an opportunity comes in just a few days during the Winston-Salem Classic.

For full results from Superior Morgul, see RaceRite.com.

On Morgul Bismark’s finishing ascent of “the wall:” Joe Lewis 2nd, Alex Hoehn 4th, Gage Hecht 2nd

Gallery

U23s suffer and benefit from the cruelty of cyclocross

Maxx Chance on a tear in Hartfod

Maxx Chance on a tear in Hartford

For over 50 minutes his heart, the conductor of his ride, pumped so hard it nearly rapped on his rib cage. He balanced on a thin line between gutsy risk and a hospital bed, trusting the tenuous grip of rubber on icy ground. He relied on athletic instincts honed for more than a decade to drive the bicycle that had become a natural extension of his body. A thin layer of lycra and sweat was all that stood between his skin and Hartford’s sub-freezing cold in the U23 race at 2017 cyclocross national championships.

This is Maxx Chance of EVOL DevoElite Racing.

It looked like he’d become a national champion in just three short turns and soon wear a new jersey featuring American flag stars and stripes to replace the dark gray and pink he raced in now. That cherished payoff redeemed much more than 50 minutes of flat-out effort. It made up for innumerable instances of bad luck and disappointing days when body, mind or bike refused to cooperate. Countless hours of stamping feet and flexing fingers to return them to warm and pink. Lost time waiting in airports for delayed flights. And most recently, an elbow that pushed him off a flyover into a throng of beer-toting Belgian cyclocross fans.

Then in a surrealistic second those three short turns stretched into infinity after a slip on the slick track dislodged his chain, rendering Chance powerless and nullifying every ounce of effort and preparation.

Lance Haidet stayed at the front despite two flats

Lance Haidet stayed at the front despite two flats

Close behind a rival on course inched closer. Hours earlier he had told a teammate that he had never felt better on a cyclocross national championship day. He believed he could win. Spurred on by confidence and memories of how cyclocross cruelty denied him a shot at those stars and stripes two years before, he maintained contact with Chance through two flats and related bike changes.

This is Lance Haidet (Clement).

Haidet flashed by Chance as the latter dismounted to lift the chain to its rightful place. Three turns later, Haidet raised his arms in victory as cameras captured his win forever.

Back on his bike, Chance’s view of the victory scene ahead punctured his heart. A flood of disappointment and frustration mixed with an ocean of dammed up hope poured out and soaked him from head to toe as he rolled into the post finish line area, head bowed.

Then Chance turned around, shook off the leavings of ‘cross cruelty and faced a microphone.

“I rode really strong and I’m really happy with it but it’s just really hard to work all season and have it right there, like two corners away and have a mechanical,” Chance later said. “But that’s how it goes.”

Turn 1 after the start of the U23 race in Hartford

Turn 1 after the start of the Under 23 race in Hartford

Just like Gage Hecht (Alpha Bicycle Company – Vista Subaru) and Grant Ellwood (Boulder Cycle Sport / YogaGlow) predicted, the U23 riders at the 2017 cyclocross national championships delivered a dynamic and wild race, the most thrilling of a day of elite racing. The rider in front changed numerous times over the initial four of seven laps. Then Chance took charge and held the lead until that chain drop just seconds away from the finish line.

Peter Goguen slips on the first past up Bonk Breaker Hill

Peter Goguen slips on the first past up Bonk Breaker Hill

In lap one riders attacked Bonk Breaker Hill aggressively. Peter Goguen (Race CF), a pre-race favorite named by Curtis White (Cannondale p/b Cyclocrossworld.com) took the race lead there in the first lap then fell back after slipping at least twice.

Gage Hecht led the field on the first descent off Bonk Breaker Hill

Gage Hecht led the field on the first descent off Bonk Breaker Hill

The first descent down Bonk Breaker Hill passed smoothly for the front-runners. Hecht, White and Chance had already separated themselves a bit from those behind. Goguen, Jonathan Anderson (Fort Lewis College), Haidet, Brannan Fix (Alpha Bicycle Company – Vista Subaru) and Ellwood kept them in sight.

Cooper Willsey takes the lead in lap 2

Cooper Willsey takes the lead in lap 2

Cooper Willsey (Cannondale p/b Cyclocrossworld.com) blazed the trail in lap two on the hill. By now the main contenders had already established a decent gap to the rest of the field.

Gage Hecht flew down the hill in lap 2 and passed Cooper Willsey

Gage Hecht flew down the hill in lap 2 and passed Cooper Willsey

The track headed into the woods after the descent off Bonk Breaker Hill. The ruts and icy ground between trees made it one of the most treacherous parts of the course.

The Gage Hecht and Maxx Chance show looks just like a local Colorado elite race

The Gage Hecht and Maxx Chance show in lap four resembled the scene at local Colorado elite races. Chance: “Gage and I race each other all the time and we’re stoked with whoever does well.”

On the hill in lap three Chance pedaled ahead of his rivals. One lap later he and Hecht rode together with twelve seconds back to White and Fix. Willsey, Ellwood and Haidet followed another twelve seconds behind.

“I was riding all these corners super quick,” Chance later said. “Curtis and Gage were crashing a little bit and so I knew if I could ride it smoothly and not go down I was going to have a good result out there.”

By lap four White had crashed pretty hard and appeared less comfortable on the bike. The fall ripped through his leg warmer, exposing a bloody left knee.

Curtis White's crash between lap three and four grazed his left knee

Curtis White’s crash between lap three and four grazed his left knee

Hecht also took a spill, in lap four going into the trees from the descent. It took him another lap to regain his composure, he said.

“I just lost the front wheel on an ice patch and knocked the shifter in a little bit. I think all that combined knocked me out of the rhythm a little bit,” Hecht said post-race. “You kind of lose your focus and when that happens you start holding on the bars too much and let the ruts steer you. It’s just a downward spiral. I realized that a lap later and kind of got back on top of it. I’m pretty happy with how I came out of that and how I finished.”

Chance regains lead in lap 5 after Hecht's spill in the tree area

Chance regained the lead in lap 5 after Hecht’s spill in the tree area

Hecht’s crash helped Chance fly off the front going into lap five. He had a small gap to Fix, who was chased by Hecht and Haidet. Ellwood hung in there in fifth position. The top five would come from this group. Willsey rode in sixth and Curtis had tailed off his teammate’s wheel.

Lance Haidet

Lance Haidet, effort showing on his face

In lap six Chance still set the pace as Fix tried to limit his lead and Hecht and Haidet worked to move up. Willsey and White now dangled off the back of the top five.

Spencer Petrov (left) and Nathaniel Morse on the last lap.

Spencer Petrov (left) and Nathaniel Morse on the last lap.

Meanwhile, Spencer Petrov (Cyclocross Alliance), a race favorite, had a bad start, was caught behind a crash and experienced mechanical problems. “So coming back from like forty-fifth to eighth was a good day,” Petrov said after finishing. “Stuff happens. I’m just really happy with keeping it all together and being able to keep my head on straight to go ride. It’s very unfortunate because I felt so good. But that’s bike racing.”

Gage Hecht hunts down Maxx Chance in the final lap

Gage Hecht hunts down Maxx Chance in the final lap. Afterwards he summed up his race: “That was so much fun. That was a blast.”

At the end it looked like Chance would have the win. Then it all changed two to three turns from the finish line. “I was able to keep it up but then dropped a chain in the last two corners and lost it all,” Chance said. “But I’m happy to finish on the podium. I’m going to look back in two hours and be like, holy shit, that was the best ride of my life, even though it could have been a national title and a jersey for next year. You have to look on the bright side.”

The impromptu 2017 U23 national championship podium

The impromptu 2017 U23 national championship podium

Katie Clouse wins cyclocross title and teaches us a lesson for the ages

Katie Clouse wins 15-16 cyclocross championship in Hartford

Katie Clouse wins 15-16 cyclocross championship in Hartford

Behind every cycling win there’s a story no one’s privy to aside from the athlete. It could be a struggle with depression, the likes of which Kaitie Antonneau recently revealed. Or an athlete might need to figure out how to put out of mind an ongoing dilemma outside his control that could significantly affect his short term career.

Likewise, every win—indeed, every result—delivers a lesson. Katie Clouse’s women’s 15-16 national cyclocross championship win in freezing, snowy Hartford highlighted one that’s especially learned through cyclocross and that demonstrates why ‘cross racing builds resiliency in kids.

Especially slippery corner and descent in Hartford

Especially slippery corner and descent in Hartford

It’s the ability to adjust to the unexpected on the fly. The unexpected occurs frequently in ‘cross due to changing weather conditions, problems with equipment or getting stuck behind lapped riders. For Clouse it came in the shape of a snowstorm that appeared after she toured the Hartford circuit that morning. Snow quickly blanketed the course, adding a slick coating to already frozen ground that forced the Alpha Bicycle Company – Vista Subaru rider to make adjustments.

“It’s so icy out there. I didn’t realize how icy it was until I started falling all over the place,” she said after the race. “It was not really what I expected, because earlier when I was riding it wasn’t as slippery.

“After slipping and sliding myself, and all the other girls doing that too, I thought: this is just how it’s going to be. I just have to be careful and go as fast as I can when I can. I just have to take the cleanest lines and hope not to fall.”

Clouse adjusted in the moment to an unexpected challenge by accepting the situation, deciding how to deal with it and putting her plan into action. That’s resiliency and one reason why she’s such a successful ‘cross competitor.

Women's 15-16 field approaches Bonk Breaker Hill in lap one. Clouse slipped a pedal at the start.

Women’s 15-16 field approaches Bonk Breaker Hill in lap one. Clouse slipped a pedal at the start.

Gallery

Younger U23 riders need perfect rides to derail Curtis White’s ‘cross nationals ambitions

Curtis White at Austin’s 2015 cyclocross national championships

[updated 1/7/2016 with comments from Gage Hecht and Grant Ellwood]

In three years as an under 23 rider Curtis White has charted a symmetrical climb to the top step of the cyclocross national championships podium. In 2014 as a newbie U23 he finished fourth, then third in 2015 followed by second in 2016. If he carries that trend to its logical conclusion on Sunday in Hartford, the Cannondale p/b Cyclocrossworld.com rider will at last go home with a cyclocross national champion’s jersey.

“The cyclocross national title is something that has always eluded me,” White wrote by email. “I’ve come close several times at ‘cross nationals, but I’ve never been able to seal the deal.”

The steady progress he’s realized since 2014 accelerated this past season. That giant step up consisted of eight domestic elite UCI C2 wins, his best collection of results in Europe and the U23 Pan American Continental Cyclocross Championship.

Those performances leave him poised to take yet another leap, and it’s one he’s very hungry for. “I feel like I’m coming into this year’s national championships better than I ever have.

“I’ve been working with my coach David Wenger for the past six years, and have relied on Frank McCormack the past couple years for ‘cross specific advice. Together, we’ve made a very formidable team,” White wrote. “I missed a few markers in the first month of the season, but we nailed the majority of the season both domestically and abroad. Those guys have helped me get to where I am.

“I’m going into Sunday knowing what I’m capable of, and I plan on leaving it all out on the course.”

Maxx Chance on a rise, off the front with Gage Hecht at state championships

Maxx Chance on a rise, off the front with Gage Hecht at state championships

A posse-sized set of competitors with national titles or UCI wins in their pockets plans on doing the same. America’s recent crop of talented juniors has been aging into the U23 category as White has approached graduation from its ranks. Among them are Maxx Chance (EVOL DevoElite Racing), Grant Ellwood (Boulder Cycle Sport / YogaGlow), Brannan Fix (Alpha Bicycle Company – Vista Subaru), Lance Haidet (Raleigh Clement) and White’s devo teammate Cooper Willsey. Spencer Petrov (Cyclocross Alliance), Gage Hecht (Alpha Bicycle Company – Vista Subaru) and Eric Brunner (EVOL DevoElite Racing) just turned U23.

“A lot of the young guys have certainly proved themselves this season. Spencer Petrov and Gage Hecht have been strong every time I’ve raced them. I also think Peter Goguen and Cooper Willsey can be factors in the race,” White noted. “The course is difficult and the conditions will add to it.”

A frozen course under super cold temperatures, for example, should bring out the best in Hecht who’s been nailing hole shots in Europe.

Brannan Fix races for Colorado Mesa University

Brannan Fix races for Colorado Mesa University

White’s younger rivals agree with his assessment of the circuit. ProVeloPassion asked them for their thoughts regarding how the race might play out and what it would take to get the better of the formidable White.

“The frozen conditions should make for an interesting race,” Chance commented. “I think it will be a small group or a solo win on Sunday with such a hard track.

“Everyone is riding super well right now and I think you have almost 10 guys who all have a very realistic possibility of winning this race. I think that I’ll have to be aggressive on laps one and two to make all the splits and be up near the front, but I feel like I have the added confidence of having won a race already on the course and hopefully added insight into what I need to do to have the best race I can.” Chance won the collegiate club men’s title earlier this week.

Fix came away with a men’s collegiate win as well, in the varsity programs category. He too believes 10 strong riders could make a go of it. “I think that is the biggest thing that I will have to look out for on Sunday, the fact that any one of us could be right up in the mix and that could change the race entirely.”

These young men know they’ll have to pull off a flawless race to unseat White.

“During the Christmas trip this year, Curtis stood out as the strongest American,” Hecht wrote. “I think everyone is going to try to keep on his wheel…I think that due to the conditions, there will be a lot of separations between racers. Despite this, it will be dynamic while people make mistakes.”

The newer U23s are up for the challenge of facing off against White. Hecht indicated he feels strong, saying, “The style of racing in Europe gives you power you can’t get here.”

Chance should perform especially well in gnarly conditions that demand excellent bike handling skills. “I’m super happy with how I’ve been riding this season and plan on going out swinging!” he commented.

“Curtis is on an entirely different level this season,” Fix wrote. “For anyone to even get close to Curtis, they’ll have to have a perfect race. You never know though, and that’s what every rider in the U23 field will be looking to do on Sunday.”

White similarly sized up the field. “Everyone is bringing their best; I think we’re guaranteed an epic race.”

The field will tackle Bonk Breaker Hill among other challenges in Hartford

The field will tackle Bonk Breaker Hill among other challenges in Hartford

Post Script: check these comments from Ellwood which arrived late today and so are noted below as a Q&A. They reflect course conditions which changed today as about six inches of snow fell in Hartford.

Q: How do you think the race is going to go down on Sunday?

Ellwood: Sunday’s race will be wild and with all of the snow a very hard race to predict. Curtis is definitely one of the strongest riders, but like we saw last year mistakes can be made causing others to win.

Q: Given the strength of the USA men’s U23 field, what will you have to watch out for in the competition (strengths, weaknesses, etc.)?

Ellwood: The U23 men’s field is super stacked this year and it’s hard to say who will finish where with how much change there always is and how competitive the entire field is, especially the top guys.

Q: What will you have to do to get the better of Curtis, who’s been going really well?

Ellwood: To get the better of Curtis I would have to have some of the best legs I have ever had and no mistakes along with Curtis making some mistakes. Curtis is not impossible to beat but it would take something special from anyone who does. I can see Gage Hecht, Spencer Petrov, Cooper Willsey or any of the other top guys possibly rivaling Curtis. Looking forward to the race in these awesome conditions!

Barker and Weber spar for second in the wake of a gutsy Texan at cyclocross national championships

Christina Gokey-Smith (top) passed Melissa Barker and Kristin Weber on a descent that carried her to first place

Christina Gokey-Smith (top) passed Melissa Barker and Kristin Weber on a descent that carried her to first place

[updated 1/18/2017 with video]

A bold rider from Texas ended the winning streak of a pair of Coloradoans in the women’s 40-44 category at the USA Cycling Cyclo-cross National Championships in Hartford, Connecticut.

Regular rivals in Colorado local racing, Kristin Weber (Boulder Cycle Sport / YogaGlow) and Melissa Barker (Evol DevoElite Racing) won the title in 2015 and 2016 respectively and entered this year’s race fit and ready.

Melissa Barker scales Bonk Breaker Hill

Melissa Barker scales Bonk Breaker Hill

The Coloradoans looked as if they might be off in search of another win as the Texan, Christina Gokey-Smith, fell at the turn onto the approach to Bonk Breaker Hill in lap one.

“She wiped out big time in the corner,” Barker later said about Gokey-Smith’s spill. “So we all had to slow up and go around her.”

But Gokey-Smith soon surprised Weber and Barker by bombing the long descent off that hill, passing them in a stretch of deep ruts.

“She was really strong. She was flying,” Barker said.

Gokey-Smith (Matrix/RBM) padded that lead with each subsequent lap to win by 57 seconds.

Behind her, Weber and Barker settled into the battle for next best.

When asked if the pair were working together in the second lap, they described their efforts.

Barker said, “She [Weber] set a good pace.”

Kristin Weber gets last lap encouragement

Kristin Weber gets last lap encouragement

“We definitely traded back and forth a couple of times and I think I had Melissa through this technical section,” Weber said, pointing to turns through the trees. Then she recalled one of her challenging moments: “I bobbled one time there and you came by me,” she explained to Barker.

Barker responded, “You came be me again over there. So it was back and forth and then I messed it up [in the trees].”

“But you know,” Weber pointed out, “when you enter the mud there you almost don’t have a chance to pass until the finish line, it’s so technical. So I was just like, ride it clean, get those lines.”

Their challenge lasted until lap three when Weber gained some ground which carried her into second place. Barker finished third. All in all, the two women were satisfied with their results.

Post-race embrace recognition for a well-fought race

Post-race embrace recognition for a well-fought race

“Melissa and I went back and forth a lot this year [in local racing], instead of last year when she pretty solidly won most of the races,” Weber said. “So I felt pretty good coming in to nationals this year. I just came into the day thinking I really want to have fun. I love this kind of course. It’s super technical and my kind of thing, so I told myself just don’t screw it up and get all heady about it.

“I’m really happy. The young whippersnapper [Gokey-Smith] came in and she was pretty balls to the wall coming down that hill–and I was not. I was like, I have a job and three kids…so I just wanted to ride it smooth.”  [According to the USA Cycling website, Gokey-Smith’s racing age is 44. –Ed.]

With all the ruts, a smooth ride was hard to find.

Colorado's Lisa Hudson does ruts

Colorado’s Lisa Hudson does ruts

“The parts that I found to be the most challenging were the frozen ruts and the technical turning sections with the ruts,” Barker said. “If you got out of the line it was really hard to get back in, so I had a little trouble in the last lap. I had to jump off and jump back on.

“All around, it was really fun. I’m psyched—it wasn’t a win, but I know how hard it is to repeat. I feel great about third, I really do. I feel like I rode as hard as I could in the conditions today and I’m pleased with my ride.”

The Coloradoans will resume their competition next season in local cyclocross races. But they won’t face off at nationals because Weber will move into the 45-49 age group. Just maybe, she’ll miss lining up in the same row as Barker.

“Melissa [Barker] has just pushed me so much, it’s been such an awesome competition to go back and forth,” Weber said. “It makes both of us better riders.”

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Video

48 Tips from Hartford’s Locals to Stay Well-fed, Warm and Happy at Cyclocross Nationals

Katie Compton aims for a 13th title in Hartford

Katie Compton aims for a 13th title in Hartford

As you prepare to head to cyclocross nationals next week, check out this story for locals’ insights into how to enjoy a great trip.

How non-racing juniors played during the 2013 cyclocross nationals on Saturday

Will we see Madison 2013 nationals mud in Hartford?

“From January 3 through 8 in Hartford, Connecticut we’ll revel in the thrill of competition, the clang of cowbells and hopefully the many joys of mud. The 2017 USA Cycling Cyclo-cross National Championships are also a time for catching up with friends and family and discovering a slice of America. So pack your bags and plan for a week to remember with these ideas and tips supplied by area locals. Check ahead for availability as some locations may modify schedules during the event.”

See the rest of the story on USA Cycling’s website.

For a peek at the lay of the land at the venue, including access to the park, view this video. Online registration closes on December 31, 2016, at 11:59 p.m. PST.

ProVéloPassion can’t wait to see you in Hartford!

 

Elite women’s Colorado cyclocross field reflects Katie Compton’s 12 years of constancy

Katie Clouse aims for the holeshot at the elite women’s 2016 Colorado cyclocross championships

The Sunday December 11 Colorado cyclocross championship races delivered interesting takeaways about the state of the elite fields. While the message from the men’s field was all about change, the women’s story speaks of endurance and constancy.

A core group of local women riders finished in the top ten, continuing their consistency over the past five years. This group includes Kristin Weber (Boulder Cycle Sport / YogaGlo), Melissa Barker (Evol Racing), Kristal Boni (Rapid Racing) and Lisa Hudson (Feedback Sports). Count Caitlyn Vestal (Feedback Sports) in that group also. Sixteen year-old Katie Clouse (Alpha Bicycle Company – Vista Subaru) fits in this pack too in a special way; she’s been a regular in the elite field since 2012 or earlier.

Katie Clouse on a tricky section with Meredith Miller

Katie Clouse on a tricky section with Meredith Miller

Clouse was excited to compete for the first time in the same field as Katie Compton (KFC Racing p/b Trek, Panache). Both started fast and rode wheel to wheel onto a hillside where Clouse slid out on an uphill corner. Compton peeled away and stayed off the front the entire race. Clouse wrestled for and landed second place ahead of Meredith Miller, the 2014 state champion who’s been appearing locally from time to time post-retirement.

The win by U.S. cyclocross champion Compton reinforced the women’s field’s constancy theme, as the victory called to mind her last and first women’s elite ‘cross states outing when she won the race.* That was in 2004, the year she began to collect a now 12-year string of national cyclocross titles. By winning the 2016 state championship Compton effectively came full circle, tracing a line back to the start of a career of extra-extraordinary domestic and international cycling achievements.

For a rider of Compton’s stature the 2016 state title sits lower on the ladder of prestigious events. Nevertheless, Compton’s laser focus was in play that Sunday. After the race she mentioned not feeling her best, but for a good reason: she’d been resting at home the past week and enjoying a bit of fun recovery time.

“I’m ready to get back on it,” she added, as she looked ahead to what’s next.

Katie Compton in a familiar position: awaiting call-up to the top step

Katie Compton in a familiar position: awaiting call-up to the top step

She’ll train until ‘cross nationals in early January. The last World Cup in Hoogerheide is on her schedule, and then world championships in Bieles, Luxembourg on January 28. Assuming she can sort out some details, she’s aiming to stay in Belgium for February racing.

“It’s some racing I’ve been wanting to do every year but never had the energy for,” Compton said regarding the February contests.

“This year I have the energy. I feel pretty good from the travel. We’ll see.”

Based on those comments many fans will cross arms, legs, fingers, toes and eyes in hopes that February racing will follow another first in 2017, one that would inscribe a rainbow over her incredible career to date.

* Compton didn’t earn the title in 2004, due to a license issue. The title went to the second place finisher.

Katie Compton sets up her line

Katie Compton sets up her line at 2016 Colorado cyclocross championships

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