BEND, Oregon (VN) — Tim Johnson likens it to a mental math problem, a game of knowing how hard to go, and then dialing it back just enough so you can maintain without exploding. The rest of us call it the pain cave, the place body and mind must enter in order to maintain a long solo breakaway.
The Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld rider got the equation right on Sunday, darting away from a large lead group with about 40 minutes of racing to go, and then holding it together all the way to the finish, winning the second round of the Deschutes Brewery Cup, which doubled as the finale of the U.S. Gran Prix of Cyclocross series.
Teammate Ryan Trebon finished second, 15 seconds behind, with Adam Craig (Rabobank-Giant) finishing third for the second day in a row.
In the final overall series standings, Jeremy Powers, who skipped Bend, took first, followed by Trebon and then Johnson.
“When you pre-ride the course you need to go a certain speed so that when you are alone you know how fast you have to go if you end up solo,” explained Johnson of his solo-surviving strategy. “You figure out what you should be doing, and then dial it into digestible bites. But it’s easy to get discouraged because your legs are killing you, your arms start getting numb. It’s not much fun.”
The one thing Johnson knew he did have going for him was a loyal teammate in the chase group — Trebon. The Bend local had won the day before, which made it hard for the other pursuers to do too much work.
“Danny [Summerhill (Garmin-Chipotle)] and I were taking turns pulling some,” said Craig of a group that also included Chris Jones (Rapha-Focus), Ben Berden (Raleigh-Clement), Yannick Eckmann (Cal Giant-Specialized). “But Tim rides fast so at a certain point we all knew that we were racing for second, and you had to start thinking about Ryan, knowing he’s just sitting in, and then is going to be winding it up at the end.”
While Craig was able to analyze the situation perfectly, there was nothing he could do to change the outcome. Johnson grew his gap up past 30 seconds and held it there until the end, when he lost a little ground while celebrating during the final meters before the finish line.
Meanwhile, the chase group dwindled to three when Summerhill suffered a late-race mechanical, and Berden and Eckmann fell off the pace. That left the battle for second to Jones, Craig and Trebon. Jones attacked first, but had no luck, and then fell back when he dabbed in a technical section.
That left it to Craig, who did his best to shake the less-technically skilled Trebon in the tricky wooded backside of the course. But Trebon was on his game, and Craig knew it was game over when they hit the grass section for the last time before the finish.
“Ryan was riding smooth,” said Craig. “Really, I was just happy to stay on his wheel as long as I did.”
“I was suffering early on,” added Trebon. “So when Tim went, that was it. I just waited to make sure the gap was secure, and then started attacking the group.”
Meanwhile, Summerhill could only wonder what could have been. A day after crashing out of the lead group when he flipped over the handlebars, he saw another possible podium placing evaporate when Craig’s front wheel snapped the derailleur hanger clean off his Ibis frame.
“It’s a bummer, but that’s racing,” said a philosophical Summerhill. “It was really tight racing, a tight course, single-file lines. So you can’t divert off course too much.”
It was for that reason that Summerhill spent most of both days riding in the front, tactical strategy and/or energy-saving be damned.
“I just feel more comfortable there,” he said. “I mean, today the incident happened when I was in the group and not in the front. That’s why I feel a lot safer in the front.”
Afterward, the question of what the weekend’s results would mean for U.S. worlds team selection was on many minds. Johnson, Trebon, and Powers all seem secure for three of the team’s six spots. Jonathan Page and Jamey Driscoll are also likely to get the nod. But after that, it’s a tangled mess with Summerhill, Jones and Craig in the equation – if the Rabobank-Giant rider wants to go.
“Talk to me in a couple weeks,” was Craig’s answer Sunday, which appeared to be a small reversal from the day before, when he said he flat out that he didn’t want to go to Louisville in February.
“I’d still need to make the team, and if Danny wants to go I think he deserves it.”
Craig said he would talk to to Summerhill and USA Cycling cyclocross program director Marc Gullickson “and then we’ll see what happens.”
Summerhill offered a similar wait-and-see answer, adding that he’d also need to get permission from his new-for-2013 road team, UnitedHealthcare.