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