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Danny Summerhill, junior and U23 Worlds veteran, takes on his first elite Cyclo-cross World Championships

February 1, 2013
Danny Summerhill rides ahead of Jeremy Powers early in 2013 Cyclo-cross Nationals

Danny Summerhill rides ahead of Jeremy Powers early in 2013 Cyclo-cross Nationals

[updated 2/1/2013]

When he was about nine years-old Danny Summerhill had a blast careening his bike, elbow-to-elbow with other juniors, around two chairs set up in a cabin in the woods in Deckers, Colorado. In this cyclo-cross camp skills game of “bump and thump,” the kids tried to knock each other off their bikes. Professional riders that coached and taught at the overnight camp donated coveted jerseys and jackets as prizes, one of which the camp leader tossed into the outstretched arms of the last kid still riding.

Summerhill won many rounds of “bump and thump;” his strong cyclo-cross starts give that away. He thinks he might still own some of the swag he scored at camp. “It was awesome,” he told ProVéloPassion, as he recalled those moments at camp. “All the loot we came home with after these junior camp weekends was just unbelievable.”

Summerhill continued racing ‘cross as he developed into a road rider. Now 23 years-old, he rides his bike professionally on the road with the UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling Team; the team has supported his cyclo-cross efforts this year. “UnitedHealthcare has been really phenomenal,” Summerhill said during Cyclo-cross Nationals in January, “and I’m really blessed to be able work with such phenomenal people there.”

This weekend the UnitedHealthcare rider will once again represent the U.S. in the Cyclo-cross World Championships. It will be his first time racing at the elite level.

New approach

In his visit to Cyclo-cross Worlds as a junior in 2007, Summerhill earned a silver medal. He returned to Worlds as a U23 rider, hoping to bring home another medal. The pressure he put on himself throughout the season to make it onto the Worlds team and to perform, as well as what he described as over-thinking the race for weeks prior, took its toll.

At the U23 race in 2009 he finished a disappointing mid-field; in a post-race video he said he’d had trouble sleeping. After a similar result in 2010, he pulled off a stronger performance in 2011. “Germany [2011] was the best because I think I got thirteenth after flatting early,” Summerhill recalled, “which was a real shame because I was with leaders and I thought it would be another chance at a medal, but it wasn’t to be.”

Speaking about the stress he experienced, he said, “It was never fun.”

Summerhill believes he will approach his first elite Worlds differently from the earlier events. “It’s funny, I think I’ve grown quite a bit in that – it’s not just another bike race – but when I was younger the stress that I would be going through for weeks at a time before the event, I don’t really have that now, which I’m really thankful for because that just wears on me.”

Danny Summerhill on his way to the podium at 2013 Cyclo-cross Nationals

Danny Summerhill on his way to the podium at 2013 Cyclo-cross Nationals

This season he’s found a way to unwind and take a more relaxed approach, one he’s carrying into this weekend’s race. And just like the “bump and thump” days, it’s fun again. “…going with the flow and having fun has obviously yielded a lot better results,” he said. Those results include fourth place at ‘cross nationals this year, which helped land him a spot on the elite U.S. Worlds team.

While cyclo-cross is more individual and less a team sport than road racing, when Summerhill talks about Team U.S.A., what comes across is an emphasis on togetherness. When asked how the team would work together in Louisville, he said, “We do meals and all that together…but I think the biggest thing that we as a national team will do is just help be there for each other. And anything that I need for instance all the big guys will probably be able to help me and vice-versa…” Summerhill is the youngest of the six riders on the men’s elite team.

While Summerhill wants to do his best – he mentioned a top ten would be “phenomenal,” as of a few days before the elite race he hadn’t thought a lot about the kind of performance he’s aiming for. “It’s been a while since I’ve raced people like Sven and all the other big Euro guys, so it will be interesting to see how I shape up against them now that I’m an older [rider], not U23 but elite, and see how it goes.”

He’s hoping for medals for U.S. juniors and U23 riders. When he revealed his “highest hope,” it wasn’t about his own results.

“My highest hope is for Katie [Compton] to take the rainbow jersey. That would be a dream come true for her to win that. I’ve seen her so close on so many occasions it would be great if she could make it happen or have the luck to make it happen this year.”

Double home advantage

If Summerhill feels an iota of stress this time, it won’t be around his preparation for this weekend. He’s done his homework. He’s reviewed race videos of the European ‘cross riders, studying their strengths, and trained “plenty” on the road.

But one strength the Europeans won’t count on this year is a home field advantage. “I think having the Worlds in America for the first time and all the positives that we as the U.S. national team have on our side should hopefully do us well for the weekend,” he said.

Summerhill has worn different styles of Team U.S.A. kits. This year’s version, however, sounded doubly-special.

“To be honest, because the national team is sponsored by UnitedHealthcare, who is my road team, I think I feel twice as honored to be able to wear the jersey because it has UnitedHealthcare’s logo on it as well,” he said. “That’s who’s helped me get here, so I’m honored to be able to race for them and show them off as well as the U.S. colors. So it’s a win-win for me more so than anyone else, I think, because I get to have UnitedHealthcare on my Worlds uniform.”

As for what else occupied his mind a few days before the Worlds elite race, he said, “I’m just enjoying the moment.”

Danny Summerhill and Tim Johnson having fun waiting for Zach McDonald at 2013 Cyclo-cross Nationals

Danny Summerhill and Tim Johnson having fun waiting for Zach McDonald at 2013 Cyclo-cross Nationals

[Bruce Hecht contributed to this story.]

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