VERONA, Wisconsin (VN) — A reborn Jonathan Page (ENGVT) slipped back into the stars and stripes for the first time since 2004 on Sunday at Badger Prairie Park in Wisconsin.
The hourlong race boiled down to a two-man contest after Page took the lead with just over five laps to go. Zach McDonald (Rapha-Focus) — who chose to skip the under-23 championship — emerged in the runner-up spot and hovered doggedly within a dozen seconds of the leader throughout most of the closing laps.
But McDonald was 20 seconds down on their last trip up the Cat’s Tongue run-up, and Page rode within himself on the subsequent sketchy descent and into the final half-lap to cross the line alone, 47 seconds ahead of the Rapha rider.
“I got a gorilla off my back there,” said Page, who tipped his hat to McDonald for a powerful performance.
“He rides with complete guts, and that’s a good bike rider. The old man got him today, though.”
A fading McDonald hung on for second, high-fiving the crowd as he crossed the line. Jamey Driscoll (Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com) took third at 59 seconds.
“I’m super happy,” said McDonald. “It would’ve obviously been nice to win but there was no catching Page. So hats off to Page for sure.”
Driscoll, meanwhile, tipped his hat to the course, which he called “an 11 on a scale of 1 to 10.”
“It was crazy out there … it was like being put in a rock sorter,” he said.
In the thick of it from the gun
Ryan Trebon (Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com) and Danny Summerhill (UnitedHealthcare) led onto the dirt, with McDonald just behind.
Summerhill led up the stairs and onto the descent, but McDonald overhauled him on the slick, sinuous drop.
At the bottom McDonald pitted, but Summerhill did not, and Trebon slipped into second with Page moving into third.
The three-time national ’ cross champ soon took over second as the course rose and fell en route back to the pavement, where Summerhill led Page, McDonald and a trio of Cannondales — Trebon, Jamey Driscoll and Tim Johnson — across the line and into the second lap, with six remaining.
Summerhill flatted his rear tire and fell out of the lead group. Trebon took over and led up the staircase. Behind, defending champion Jeremy Powers (Rapha) was fighting his way through traffic, trying to reach the leaders.
Page takes charge
Page slipped past Trebon on the treacherous descent and took the lead of a six-man lead group that was well strung out as it plummeted back toward the pits.
Page took a four-second edge coming out of the pit and set about padding it. First Driscoll led the chase, then McDonald, and going into five to go Page had perhaps as many seconds over a four-man chase containing those two, Trebon and Justin Lindine (Redline).
The Europe-based ’crosser was taking no prisoners in the homeland, blitzing a rutted right-hander that wrought havoc in the women’s race, clearly faster than everyone there save McDonald, who was eight seconds back.
The Rapha rider asked no quarter, though, and with four to go McDonald trailed Page by just a handful of seconds as the leader took a moment to pound a chunk of mud from one shoe going over the line, trying to clear the cleat. Driscoll, meanwhile, was dangling just behind McDonald.
Cat and mouse
Despite his pedal problems Page didn’t pit, and McDonald followed his lead, staying within eight seconds at the staircase.
Next time past the pits both men took fresh bikes, and the gap between them remained unchanged as Page snapped his bike around the slippery corners.
With three to go, Page led McDonald by 11 seconds with Driscoll third, and he showed no signs of weakness. He gradually stretched the elastic, leaving McDonald well distanced going into two laps remaining and Driscoll clinging to third.
And that’s the way it stayed. Page claimed his first U.S. cyclocross title since 2004, and the plucky McDonald showed that it’s not only the U23 riders who have to watch out for him.
Page said afterward that he drew some inspiration from a heckler.
“I got some guy telling me to go home to Belgium out there, but this is my home. He can kiss my booty,” he said. “People forget that I’m a good bike rider; I’m easily forgotten. It makes me laugh, but it also gives me fuel for the fire.”
He also drew on a veteran’s knowledge and resources to return to the winner’s circle after a long absence.
“It’s been a real long while,” Page said. “I’d have to say I used some experience and strength out there. I knew I could just had to execute. I could have made a mistake at any moment; this is really tough because you’re on the edge at every moment.
“Now it’s going to be easier to find a sponsor! Hopefully the price just went up. The old man can still keep it up. That’s what I wanted, that’s what I got.”
• Trebon, who started so strongly, was undone by pedal problems in the final couple go-rounds. He pitted with a lap and a half remaining, got off the bike and began frantically picking at the ice and mud fouling his cleats. Nothing worked, and he eventually remounted and resumed the race, but he had lost a lot of time — and plenty of motivation. He would finish seventh, nearly four minutes down on Page.
• Another rider off to a strong start was Lindine, who was having the ride of his life, making the first selection with Page, McDonald and the three Cannondale riders. He eventually climbed his way into a battle for fourth with Trebon and looked to be on his way to a career-best performance when a mechanical issue soured his day. He would lose nearly 10 spots as he worked his way to the pits and would eventually claim 13th.
Editor’s note: Stay tuned for more from Verona.