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

January 26, 2015
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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