BEND, Ore. (VN) — One two-man contest abruptly turned into another on Sunday as the elite men raced cyclocross nationals in Bend, when what seemed to be a battle between Todd Wells and Jeremy Powers turned instead into a race between Wells and Ryan Trebon.
Wells (Specialized) and Powers (Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com) were off the front and fighting an epic duel on the 1.8-mile Old Mill District course when the two men got tangled up in a corner. Powers came off worst — he pinched a brake pad under his rim wall and lost precious moments making his bike rideable again.
By the time he was back in the saddle, both Wells and hometown favorite Trebon (Kona) had left him behind and it was a whole other race.
It would be heartbreakingly close for the big man from Bend, but no cigar — while Trebon closed to within a handful of seconds at one point, Wells hung tough for the win, leaving Trebon to collect second-best scraps for the second consecutive year.
Trebon tears off
Trebon got off to a fine start, grabbing the hole shot as the 136 starters raced away from the line and into the first corner. Then Powers took over, with the Kona rider second, just as a pileup rattled the field behind.
Chris Jones (Rapha-Focus) was right there, too, and briefly took the front, heading up a five-man group with Powers, Johnson, Trebon and Barry Wicks (Kona), and the five grabbed themselves a little daylight as traffic clogged the course behind them.
When Jones dabbed on a tough, barely rideable ramp, Powers slipped past and accelerated.
“I slipped a pedal with Jones and we kind of fell off a little bit and Jeremy got a good gap,” said Johnson.
The five raced past the Deschutes Brewery toward the barriers and Powers rode them, taking a gap, just as Wells latched on to the back of the group.
After powering through a 75-meter section of ultra sticky mud to the staircase run Powers had an advantage of just a few seconds. He had doubled it as he hit the finish line 400 meters later and raced into lap two.
Johnson: Waiting or wilting?
Johnson left the pursuit to the others, and Wells took charge — so much so that he left the chase group behind and began closing on Powers. The defending champion has battled inconsistent form of late and knew right away that his legs weren’t up to snuff.
“I knew when the race started going,” Johnson said. “I did everything I needed to do and when the race started I just didn’t have it.”
In typical Powers style, the Cannondale man rode the barriers, but Wells did not, and the two were shoulder to shoulder as they ran up the staircase with Trebon and Johnson likewise running neck and neck in third and fourth.
Wells attacked on the pavement going into the third lap, but he couldn’t shed Powers.
“I had everything going. I felt really good, I felt strong. I was doing everything I wanted to do,” said Powers. “I was holding my own in the mud.”
Trebon, meanwhile, was able to dispose of Johnson and took sole possession of third.
At the barriers once again Wells dismounted while Powers rode them, neither man gaining an advantage. And as the end of lap three approached Wells was still out front, with Powers a bike length back as they hit the flyover. Trebon was a solid third with Johnson just behind.
Evenly matched — and then, crash
Powers took the lead going through the start-finish for the start of the fourth lap, but he and Wells seemed evenly matched, neither able to shake the other. Again Powers rode the barriers, and again Wells stuck with him.
And then the two men tangled in a right-hand corner. Powers entered the sweeping turn from pavement to muddy grass first, at breakneck speed. When he hit the apex of the turn, also the low point of the 180-degree bend, Powers’ front wheel let loose and Wells couldn’t avoid his fallen companion.
“It was one of those things where I wasn’t worried,” said Powers. “I knew I would crash once here. I just knew it and I figured, ‘Well, crash once and get that out of the way.’”
It took some seconds for them to sort themselves and their bicycles out, and when they did, Wells was the only one riding.
“He’s stork-like, so when he was trying to get … he had his leg through his frame and my frame into one of my wheels,” said Powers. “When push came to shove I just stepped back. I was like, ‘Okay, I’m just going to let him figure out what he’s doing right now because he’s all tangled up and I clearly took him out.’”
Powers remounted but his wheel would not spin and he jumped off and ran for a bit as Trebon shouldered past; finally he stopped atop the flyover to put his machine in working order and got back in the chase.
And what a chase it was.
As the laps counted down Powers fought valiantly to get back in the race. Ahead, Trebon inched forward, creeping to within 10 seconds at one point. One mistake and it would be an entirely different contest.
“I thought I might get them back,” said Powers. “I knew Todd was taking one of the lines that I didn’t like that I crashed on earlier. I thought maybe those guys would fall too, and Ryan did, but I guess it was before that. That was what I was banking on.
“That’s what I was hoping for — not their misfortune, but that I would get lucky somehow and get back into the race.”
An error-free finale
But Wells made no mistakes.
“I could hear the time checks, but I knew for me that if I didn’t make any mistakes I could go through the corners faster than (Trebon), even if he was gaining on me in the power sections,” said Wells, who saw Trebon close five seconds in a lap with four to go.
“I was a little worried, but I figured he probably had to put in a big effort to do that. I kept steady and didn’t panic and really tried to push it in the corners. I was pushing it in the flats too, but I knew the corners were where I was keeping my gap.”
Indeed, as the Specialized rider hit the line for the bell lap and roared into the first corner, he had managed to extend his advantage over Trebon.
“I hit that last lap and gave it everything,” said Wells. “Trebon had been trying to close that gap the whole time and when you see you’re not closing it, I think he probably let off some. I was glad he left off though, because I was dying.”
The two men could see each other as the course bent back and forth on itself. But the gap held steady as the seconds ticked off.
“I didn’t want to go too deep because I knew at that point it was mine to lose,” said Wells. “At that point I was taking some risks in the corners and then just trying to make it through the power sections without losing too much time.”
Wells was out of the saddle and punching it every chance he had. So, too, was Trebon. Neither man was giving up. With a half lap remaining Wells still clung to his advantage, and Trebon was running out of course.
Wells shot past the brewery and into the barriers, taking the safe route by dismounting again. He crested the hill for the final time, glanced over one shoulder and saw his gap was secure, a solid 15 seconds at least.
Then it was up and down the flyover, through the last stretch of heavy, thick mud and up the stairs to the victory. Wells gave a two-handed salute as he collected his third national ’cross title. His wife, Meg, met him with open arms — in a white down jacket, no less —beyond the finish.
A dejected Trebon held on for the silver, while Powers — once a clear front-runner — found himself settling for the final step on the podium.
Racing for a cause
Wells dedicated his win to former team manager and close friend Jerry “Hutch” Hutchinson, who passed away in November at the age of 40.
“I had a good friend and my old team manager pass away over the (U.S. Gran Prix of Cyclocross) Fort Collins weekend,” said Wells, choking back the emotion just 45 seconds after crossing the line. “I really wanted to dedicate the race to him there and get a victory. I want to dedicate this race to my good friend Jerry Hutchison from Tucson. He passed away six weeks ago. I was thinking about him the whole time and I felt like he was with me out there.”
Trebon was spent at the finish.
“I couldn’t have gone any harder. I was at my limit,” said the two-time national ’cross champ. “I’d like to win one. This is like my fifth second at nationals.”
Less than 30 seconds later, Powers came through, devastated. The only thing he could say as he leaned over his bars was: “I’m just disappointed, that’s all. Bad day. Good day, but bad luck I guess.”
Johnson followed Driscoll in for fifth.
“I know that through the years if I feel a certain way, it could go either way when the race starts, and it went the wrong way. I did everything I could to get to the start fresh and fit,” said Johnson.
“I got fifth, which is great. I hate when I read about people shitting on a position or two. I want to win just as much as the rest, but this isn’t that bad. I pulled out whatever I could pull out and I have to expect that because it’s over.”
The win makes it three national titles in three tries this year for Wells. He told VeloNews last week that though he didn’t win a ’cross race all season before nationals, the jersey sweep would make his year.
“This has been the best season of my life domestically,” he said. “It’s never come together for me like this where I could get all three jerseys… It was a goal of mine. I didn’t have the best ’cross season up until now, but now it’s the perfect ’cross season. If I can only win one race, this is the one I want to win.”
- In collegiate racing, Saturday’s U23 runner-up Zach McDonald (Washington-Seattle) ran away with the Division 1 title and Steve Fisher narrowly held off Western Washington teammate Logan Wetzel for Division 2 honors.
Stay tuned for an expanded report, photos and results.
- 1. Todd Wells, Specialized
- 2. Ryan Trebon, Kona-FSA
- 3. Jeremy Powers, Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com
- 4. Jamey Driscoll, Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com
- 5. Tim Johnson, Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com
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.
—Online editor at large Patrick O’Grady contributed to this report.