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Can anyone or thing stop Logan Owen’s bid for an 8th junior national cyclocross championship?

January 12, 2013
Logan Owen pre-rides the 2013 Cyclo-cross Nationals course

Logan Owen pre-rides the 2013 Cyclo-cross Nationals course

When a young man lines up to race against a guy who ranks second in the world and typically drops the competition immediately to ride to a solo victory, does he think he has a shred of a chance to win?

Today fifty-two juniors of racing age 17 to 18 could answer that question as they wait at the start line in Verona, Wisconsin for a cyclo-cross national championship race with that second-in-the-world guy, Logan Owen (Team Redline). If Owen wins, he’ll have earned his eighth consecutive junior cyclo-cross championship, a number Redline’s Tim Rutledge believes would be a record in the junior classification.

A victory for one of the fifty-two other juniors, including Maxx Chance and Garrett Gerchar from Boulder, could be their first national cyclo-cross championship. They haven’t traveled to Wisconsin to race for last.

Maxx Chance in the air at New Year's Resolution race in early January, 2013

Maxx Chance in the air at New Year’s Resolution race in early January, 2013

Chance (Clif Bar Development Cyclocross Team) is aiming for a top five result. He’s improved his result every year since his first cyclo-cross national championship event in 2009. His best to date is fifth last year. Chance also races on the road with Boulder Junior Cycling.

The Clif Bar rider seems like he is always finding a way to have fun on the bike, whether it’s bunny-hopping up stairs or catching air when it’s there for the taking. He’s achieved some serious results this year, like junior 17-18 points leader in the USGP series.

“After my fifth place last year and riding onto the podium at some of the UCI races, I’m more confident racing at Nationals because I’ve been able to test myself against those guys the whole season,” Chance said. “It’s not like you go into Nationals as a 16 year-old and you’re racing against kids you [don’t know].”

Gerchar (Boulder Junior Cycling) is newer to the cross scene, with a love for mountain biking that developed about the time he jettisoned the training wheels at age four. This will be his second visit to the ‘cross national championships. One week ago Gerchar said he didn’t have any expectations for a particular result: “I’m just going to go out there and see what happens.”

Gerchar has been having a break-out season, including two podiums at the final USGP in Bend. He talked about how he’s been a bit surprised by his results. “I didn’t really set out this year to accomplish anything in ‘cross but it just happened; I started getting faster and faster and it worked out…It’s all been such a great experience and it’s been so new to me.”

What will it take to defeat Owen?

On Thursday Owen described his strategy for today’s contest: take the lead, pull away, and ride his own race. “There’s nothing to it,” he said, likely referring to the simplicity of the plan.I mean I’ve done it at every race this year, so I’m feeling good.”

Short of hiding Owen’s favorite warm-up pants and his extra shoes and socks – part of his important pre-race routine is changing them after warming up, what can the rest of the field do to derail Owen’s strategy?

Garrett Gerchar floats ahead of Maxx Chance in a bumpy section of the CO State champs course

Garrett Gerchar floats ahead of Maxx Chance in a bumpy section of the CO State champs course

“They need to concentrate, focus,” Gerchar said, and “mainly they just need to get on his wheel, stay with him, and just get around him when they can and see what happens. But he’s one fast kid. It would be a challenge to defeat him.”

Chance agreed with that conclusion. When asked how to mentally prepare to race against Owen, he said, “Well, I don’t know. You don’t really expect to win. You’re really like fighting for third place when Curtis [White] and Logan are in the races.”

The Clif Bar Development Cyclocross Team brought Chance and two teammates as well as Gerchar to Belgium for late December racing; they returned home about a week ago with lessons about super-fast starts and first laps, and riding in the mud.

Speaking about his experience racing in Belgium, Gerchar said, “It’s made me a little more aggressive on the bicycle because they are a lot more aggressive in Belgium. It’s helped me relax and calm down and try to focus, because I realize that I’m not going to be number one. I’m not going to be maybe even top five. I just have to concentrate and do the best I can with what I have.”

The trip to Belgium was Chance’s first opportunity to compete in Europe; it expanded his point of view.

“You get a whole different perspective after racing the world champion, Mathieu Van Der Poel, who can just drop Logan in 100 meters on some days.” Chance said. “So, Logan’s not as scary when you race with Van Der Poel, because Van Der Poel can lap us, easy.”

Worlds on his mind

The situation U.S. juniors face when racing Owen mirrors what Owen faces when he races in Europe against the current junior world champion and his nemesis, Van Der Poel. The Dutch rider’s name popped up a few times on Thursday, often with a chuckle. Owen joked about how “consistently getting second to Van Der Poel” gets him respect in Europe. After saying “I just want to win all the time” in response to a question about how he remains motivated when winning so frequently, Owen added, “I’m pretty sure Van Der Poel’s pretty bored of winning, so hopefully I can disrupt that [at Worlds].”

Logan Owen

Logan Owen

Right now it seems like Van Der Poel and the cyclocross world championships occupy Owen’s thoughts more than today’s national championship. But that won’t give the competition an edge today, because Owen’s focus and confidence seem unshakeable.

The course conditions might be a factor. Logan said the frozen conditions on Thursday were making him a little nervous. “It’s not a real cross race to me, it’s just an ice rink. And right now I don’t really enjoy the course as far as the frozen ruts go…Even I was having a bunch of trouble going down descents and I mean I’m pretty decent at bike handling, so all the people that aren’t really the best, it’s difficult for them and they can really hurt themselves out here. So I hope it warms up and becomes muddy, or even if it gets fast that’s fine as long as it’s just not frozen.”

The weather forecast called for a high of 36 degrees Fahrenheit Friday night with partial sun and 39 degrees today. That means Friday’s mud probably won’t freeze. But there’s a layer of frozen ground underneath the mud, so the impact of the conditions on the outcome of the race will be interesting.

Owen will race today for a historic eighth junior national championship in a row. He viewed it as “just one more race,” an opportunity “to go out there and have some fun, just like all the time.”

When asked if he expected to win, Owen said he didn’t expect anything. “I’m just feeling really good this year. I’ve had a great year, so I’m not going to say that I’m like super worried about it, but I’ve just got to be cautious and make sure everything goes right because anything can happen in a race.”

And that’s what fifty-two other kids are counting on.

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From → Cyclocross

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