Editor’s note: Christopher Jones is a member of the Rapha-Focus cyclocross team as well as the road racing squad Team Type 1. He is a true all-around rider, frequenting podiums on both the professional road and cyclocross circuits.
Excited racers and fans of cyclocross often over use the following sentence fragment to express their self, “This is real cyclocross _______.” Just like playing Mad Libs, the blank at the end of that sentence can be filled in with whatever noun one would like (weather, course design, racing, beer, frites, course tape, racing; all work) and as the originator of the proclamation, a person cannot be wrong.
The closing ten days of the domestic cross season provided an abundance of opportunities to drop ‘the phrase’ into a conversation or two.
This year the journey to the big show that is Nationals, took me through Portland and the USGP finals to visit their real cyclocross weather and fans. Upon my arrival the Friday before the USGP I decided to give one our mechanics, Brian “Skillz” Dallas, an introduction into what real breakfast is all about by taking him to Gravy. The place is amazing and the portions are huge. I’ve heard that the pancakes and waffles are so good that even Captain Canadian Geoff Kabush forgoes the mandatory use of his country’s nectar, maple syrup, in order to fully enjoy Gravy’s food.
On the walk back to the car after breakfast something seemed different. Sure the coffee shops were still there pumping Stumptown’s caffeinated goodness into customers’ veins, yeah the hipsters were cruising on fixies along Mississippi Street, and the chickens were still protecting the perimeter of Rapha’s USA headquarters. All seemed right, so what was it? Then it hit me, the sun was out! Portlanders always tell me that it doesn’t always rain there, but every time this California boy makes the trip, gray seems to be the hue of the sky and makes me long for the Golden State where everyday is full of sun and we all live on the beach.
The race weekend was hyped to be a show-down between teammates on the jolly green giant team as they battled for the USGP overall title. To quote Richard Fries, “The crowds thickened like a good gravy,” and were not disappointed as the, “principal (Tim Johnson) has entered the classroom and the principal is pissed!” Try as we could, the other elite riders could not steal the show, as Jeremy and Tim put in a great final day and showed us why they are two of the top riders in the U.S. at the moment. All of us racers walked away from the weekend knowing exactly what we needed to fine tune for nats.
After a few days at home #1 and I hopped into the car for our second trip of the month to Oregon. On the way up, we killed time playing travel games, chatting, and she read the entire manual for our car (who does that?).
During our conversation the subject of my first visit to Bend came up. I was a Cat 2, who was ready for the Tour, so I thought that I would travel up from San Diego to compete in the Cascade Cycling Classic and prove that to everyone. I don’t remember much about the race other than I was dropped and passed on every climb by sprinters such as Gord Frasier. The more memorable part of the trip was the travel, via Greyhound, 36 hours on the bus. I still have nightmares about it. Needless to say, life and my approach to races have changed since then, and we have grown to love the town and people of Bend.
The organizers of this season’s National Cyclocross Championships put a lot of thought into the après race activities. Each night there was at least one and more often two or three party-type events for people to enjoy. Friday Hutch’s bike shop hosted a ‘Meet the Pros’ night on Friday. It was a good opportunity to meet some of the fans who had raced earlier in the week and to antagonize some of the other riders. One of my favorite people and a kindred spirit to #1 was there. Apparently Meg Wells has a birthday month and is currently in negotiations to expand that into a birthday season. On the bike Todd is a fierce competitor, but I fear that off the bike he is a bit of a pushover and he is going to lose this battle. My advice to Todd is to just embrace her season.
Saturday brought an end to our pre-race sponsor obligations and kicked off Rapha-Focus’ first chance at a national title with Nuke (Zach is trying to resist a nickname, stating that, “some people are too cool” for a nickname, but if nothing else I am persistent and with Daimo’s help Nuke will catch) in the U23 race. The betting boards showed Nuke and Danny Summerhill as the two clear favorites for the race.
Under the direction of Zach’s mom we tried multiply Nuke’s chances of success by adding a few more Zachs to the equation. Nuke on a stick was huge success in multiple ways. The floating heads created confusion for his competitors, but also allowed Nuke to get more love from the ladies (and men) during the 50 minutes of racing than in the preceding 19 years of his life. If you want to get excited about cyclocross, check out the archived footage of the U23 race and memorize the names of top five finishers. These kids are the future of cyclocross not only in America, but the world. The raw talent and skills displayed by the riders is incredible. I’ll say it now, an American will win 2012 U23 Worlds in Louisville.
After Nuke started the ball rolling with a second place, the thickest — no wildest — no heaviest — event of the weekend kicked off. My mechanic and co-owner of The Boulder Service Course, Damian Shanks, is not only handy with the wrench but has a few other talents he put to use Saturday evening. He has been training to win the Clysdale Master of the Universe title all season and probably for a lot longer. His regimen involved alcohol doping, fat doping, mixed with a little bit of riding and costume design. His preparations paid off as he tipped the scales at a doughy 207 pounds and at the end of the race was able to proclaim, “I am the king of the fatties!”
Team Rapha-Focus was then 2 for 2 on podiums and we are accepting jersey design ideas for Daimo.
Sunday was the big day. Nuke kicked it off by representing the University of Washington, a school we both love, by winning the Division 1 Collegiate National Championship in dominant fashion. We were batting 1,000.
As the elite men were set into the starting grid I could see the nerves on people’s faces. Surprisingly it was the mechanics, significant others, and fans that seemed to be nervous. As a racer I always feel a calm settle over me as I take the line. I think calm comes from confidence and experience but am not exactly sure. It makes me smile to see #1 nervous. I mean, she makes life and death decisions at work and here she is nervous at a bike race that she’s not even competing in!
The race started perfectly for me as I swapped the lead with Jeremy Powers throughout the first lap. Then out of nowhere a bike came flying into me and down I went. Upon video review I discovered that Trebon intentionally launched his bike at me, then cut the course, and somehow ended up in the lead. All joking aside that was the beginning of a disastrous race for me where I broke a wheel, shifter, possibly a spectator, and my sternum and landed me outside of the top 10 for the first time in my career. That is what makes Nationals so exciting and hard, it is one day and everything has to be right that day.
Serious respect needs to be given to Todd Wells for his victory. He is a currently national champion in three different disciplines! Amazing.
So what was real cyclocross about Nationals? Everything! The fans were awesome, the announcers rocked the mics until their voices were gone, the course was challenging without being gimmicky, and how the weather varied everyday was perfect. Thanks to everyone for coming out.
Nationals brought an end to my ‘cross season and after a break I’ll gear up for a new year with UnitedHealthcar-Maxxis. I’ll check in throughout the season on the pavement and can be followed on Twitter at @cjonez. Thanks for reading and all of the cheers.