BEND, Oregon (VN) — In a battle for the history books, Danny Summerhill (Holowesko Partners) outgunned Zach McDonald (Rapha-Focus) for his second consecutive U23 U.S. cyclocross national title Saturday in Bend, Oregon.
McDonald was off the front as Summerhill battled back from a 15-second deficit opened when an unidentified rider —headed for the pits just 30 seconds into the 50-minute race — veered across his line and sent him crashing to the ground.
Then, just as Summerhill caught on, a couple of spectators crossed the course and crashed McDonald.
From that point on, the riders squared off, constantly swapping the lead until Summerhill finally threw the knockout blow midway through the bell lap.
McDonald gets out front fast
McDonald meant business from the gun. The first-year U-23 rider rode into the opening corner, an uphill left-hander, sitting sixth wheel. A cheeky move to the inside put him on the front of the race at a pace that nearly doubled that of the field. Within a minute McDonald had a gap of more than 10 seconds.
“I didn’t even attack. Everyone went to the outside and I guess they just looked around,” said McDonald. “I was just trying to stay smooth and I expected somebody to come back to me.”
Behind, Summerhill pitted immediately after his mishap, rejoined the race and began picking riders off. Ahead, McDonald’s jaw hung open as he leaned over the bars in a time-trial position on two long sections of asphalt, forging a 15-second lead over Summerhill and Jerome Townsend going into the second lap.
“It was a hectic couple of laps for sure,” said Summerhill. “I was the one making all the mistakes because he was the one leading.”
Caution, shmucks crossing
That’s when disaster struck. Midway through the circuit, at the transition between a long, power-sucking section of muddy grass and pavement, two spectators crossed the course as McDonald roared through and he couldn’t avoid a collision. He quickly remounted, but Summerhill was barreling along like a freight train and wouldn’t be held off.
“Some dude just walked straight into the course with his wife,” said McDonald. “I got hit and knocked off my bike. I splayed out and lost my glasses.”
From there it was a two-up fistfight for four laps as the leaders swapped time on the front. Knowing McDonald’s technical acumen – and lighter weight on the mud – Summerhill fought tooth and nail to get to the front on the power sections to minimize his rival’s advantage. McDonald would sit on the wheel until he could slip through a small space to resume the head of the race.
“Zach was killing me on everything technical,” said Summerhill. “And he’s just so light that he can float over the mud. He was making me nervous on a lot of those sections for sure.”
And so it went. Summerhill. McDonald; Summerhill. McDonald.
“We were playing hockey out there, bumping shoulders,” said Summerhill.
More than 30 seconds behind the leaders, Townsend and Eric Thompson fought for the scraps. With a couple laps remaining Townsend finally pulled away into the bronze-medal position.
Shake, and may the best man win
As Summerhill and McDonald began the bell lap the race took on the feel of a match sprint on the track. The riders, clearly the class of the field on a tough day, eyed each other on the finish straight, pedaling at perhaps 50 percent of capacity.
Then, as they approached the line for the penultimate time, McDonald offered a hand to Summerhill and the pair shook before a final-lap punch-out.
“Zach was killing me left and right,” said Summerhill. “I could see how much power he had immediately. … Every time I’d bobble and he’d pass me, it put me in the hurt zone.”
Two minutes into the bell lap Summerhill landed the knockout punch when he countered a surge by his rival and rode into a quick eight-second lead.
“He countered me at the right point and was able to go off,” said McDonald. “We just kind of sat there and waited for the other to make a mistake. Unfortunately I made mine and couldn’t close it.”
Summerhill cleaned a sharp run/ride-up that had tripped him up a handful of times, and after mashing through a long, muddy straightaway at the base of the flyover, the defending champ carried a 10-second lead onto the final ascent of the long stair run-up.
“I figured he’d be back,” said Summerhill. “He can close little bits of time through corners like it’s nobody’s business.”
Behind him, McDonald offered another classy gesture, sitting up to allow his rival a clean finish photo. In the end, the 45-second gap was at least double what it would have been otherwise.
Summerhill weaved his way up the finish straight, throwing high-fives to the crowd, his mud-covered Holowesko skinsuit unreadable below a face with barely a clear inch of skin.
“It was really nerve-racking the whole race,” he said. “I didn’t feel like my legs had anything. I was just so nervous the whole time whether I could make it back on the podium, much less win.
“I’m glad to come back to win. I was able to come back and got to leave the U23 ranks with the jersey.”
- 1. Danny Summerhill, Team Holowesko Partners, 49:20
- 2. Zach McDonald, Rapha-Focus, 50:05
- 3. Jerome Townsend, Bikereg.com, 50:28
- 4. Eric Thompson, Maplelag-Paramount Sports, 50:48
- 5. Chris Hurst, 51:11
Junior 17-18 Men
After winning back-to-back cyclocross national titles the last two years in the 15-16 year-old juniors race, Jeff Bahnson (Van Dessel) showed he was ready to take the next step. Bahnson took the lead from Bjorn Fox (Clif Bar Dev. Squad) nearing two laps to go and rode away from the field to win the juniors 17-18 race with time to spare.
“For sure this is a much more competitive field,” said Bahnson. “(Fox) was killing it today – he was up there – really strong today.”
Masters Men 30-34
Gusty winds greeted the masters 30-34 year-old men, but to the rest of the field Matthew Pacocha (Hudz-Subaru) must have appeared to be riding with a tailwind for much of the race. Pacocha bolted from the gun and by the end of the second lap had built a more than 20-second lead.
“I was just riding my own race the whole time,” Pacocha said. “I tried maybe with two to go to step it up because I heard the announcers calling that I wasn’t the fastest guy on the course. I thought I was going to get caught.” He didn’t, and cruised into the Stars-and-Stripes jersey ahead of Weston Schempf (Charm City Cycling Squad) by 45 seconds.
Masters Men 35-39
At one point, the masters 35-39 men’s race seemed as much a test of wits as a battle of legs. Justin Robinson (California Giant-Specialized), Russell Stevenson (Cycling Northwest) and Jonathan Baker (Hudz-Subaru) rode together to begin the last lap in such a way as to draw comparisons from the announcers to track racing.
“We were just real tactical. We’d go hard in the mud and then slow down in the wind. I tried to take the lead a couple times but Russell was really strong. He wouldn’t let me take it,” recalled Baker, who took the lead for good around the last turn and hung on to beat Stevenson to the line by a mere three seconds and defend his 2009 national title. “The last lap, I knew that was my spot. So I just drilled it. I hit my line perfect and I hit the pavement first. I just sprinted until I hit the line.”
Masters Men 40-44
It was an all-Colorado affair in the front three for the masters 40-44 men, with Pete Webber (Boulder Cycle Sport) defending his national title in the division.
“It feels awesome. Winning two in a row is incredible. Last year was really special because it was my first one, but I wanted it bad this year,” Webber exclaimed. Webber’s teammate Brandon Dwight (Boulder Cycle Sport) outdueled Jon Cariveau (Moots) for the second podium spot.
“The crowd was incredible. My best friend Brandon pushed me right to the end, and he got second place. Really proud of him and our whole team,” continued Webber. “The conditions were just epic, which is great for me. The course was just 100 percent deep, deep mud. It was incredibly cold with lakes of ice water. My hands and feet were like blocks of wood – I couldn’t even feel the bike.”
Masters Men 50-54
The masters 50-54 men opened the day racing through a falling mixture of snow and rain. Steve Tilford (Tradewind Energy-Trek) showed the kind of form that earned him two previous elite cyclocross national titles, riding to another Stars-and-Stripes jersey.
“I used to ride the masters as a pre-ride for the elite race, but now I’m kind of thinking of going to masters worlds,” explained Tilford. “Cyclocross is a culty sport. It’s amazing that at 8:30 in the morning when it is down-pouring rain how many people come out and watch. It’s like a big family and a nice party. It’s fun.”
Editor’s Note: Brian Holcombe is a reporter with VeloNews. He covers all things racing in the U.S. and has been accused of attacking too much on the VN lunch ride.