BRUSSELS (VN) — At the beginning of December, Belgium-based American cyclocrosser Jonathan Page was in the middle of a season to forget. His fourth elite national title and a burst of late-season form have erased those memories and will see him arrive to Louisville, Kentucky, next week as a top U.S. favorite for the UCI Elite Cyclocross World Championships.
Racing without a title sponsor, Page spent nearly six weeks fighting a respiratory infection that hit just as the racing in Belgium reached a climax. But he started showing good form in a heavy race in Essen, Belgium, where he finished 12th, and followed that up by earning an automatic berth on the U.S. world championships team with a 15th place at the World Cup stop in Namur two days before Christmas.
In the end, Page’s return came just at the right moment. He pulled down two top-10 finishes during Belgium’s intense Kerstperiode before dominating the U.S. national championship in Verona, Wisconsin, with a solo win in slick, sub-freezing conditions.
VeloNews caught up with Page on the phone from his mother’s house in Tilton, New Hampshire, where he is spending some quiet time with his family and training for a world championship race that is now barely more than a week away.
VeloNews: Tell me about winning the national title. What happened after you won?
Jonathan Page: I started trying to get warm.
VN: I believe it. It was frigid a day.
JP: Seriously, first I tried to call Cori [Page’s wife]. Then I figured out that all 10 fingertips were frozen. They’re still numb. But it was really nice. It was the best; it was the most satisfying win of all my national titles.
VN: Your family traveled from your home in Belgium to the United States and arrived at just about the same time you were wrapping up the race on Sunday, didn’t they? When did you get to see them again?
JP: We met up in Boston early on Monday morning, like one in the morning. We drove up to my mom’s house. She wasn’t even here; she was still in Madison! That was cool! The kids made all these signs for me. They went to my brother’s house in Boston and worked really hard. They were awake until midnight, so the day Cori and the kids left Belgium, they got up at midnight Boston time, and the kids were so excited they stayed up for 24 hours straight. But then Cori put them in the car to pick me up and they fell asleep in seconds. They had a whole plan to get out of the van and scream and yell, they had noisemakers and stuff, but they didn’t get to use them.
VN: And now that you’re settled in New Hampshire, how is your preparation for worlds going?
JP: Everything is going really well, except for falling off of my bike on the snowmobile trails. There’s some hidden ice underneath, and once I went over the handlebars. So I’ve had to be a little careful. There’s not that much snow, and you can kind of keep warm in the woods, and it’s fun.
VN: With that kind of preparation, I imagine you’re hoping for a cold day at worlds?
JP: It was negative six degrees [Fahrenheit] as the high today, and I rode four hours and 20 minutes out on the road with cyclocross tires and dodging snowplows, out on my old stomping grounds. The kids went skiing instead. It’s going to be a high of negative three degrees tomorrow. It’s been so cold. I had to go down hills with my hands over my face. I had a facemask on, but my cheeks and my nose were still hanging out. If it’s really cold at worlds, I’m all set.
VN: What do the locals think of you out there on your bike in conditions like that?
JP: On my ride today I had people coming by me and slowing down and looking at me and going, “Are you all right?” And I was thinking the same thing myself, “What the hell am I doing?” I mean, I have a mission, but these people don’t know that. I got a lot of thumbs up.
VN: You guys hosted a party to celebrate your win. How was that?
JP: It was great. Quite a few people came, many more than we expected.
VN: Did it feel good to be surrounded by so many people who support you and wanted to congratulate you?
VN: That was the best part of the whole thing, kind of sharing the championship with them. Seeing the people from the beginning of my career who I hadn’t seen forever. [Legendary New England cycling announcer] Dick Ring even came. “Lord love a duck!” [Page imitates his trademarked catch phrase]
I think we knew half the people there and the other half were just fans who came from all over New England. So it was very nice. It was really fun to share and just have everyone be a part of the whole thing.
VN: Have you heard from any racers since nationals? Tim Johnson had some kind words about your win after the race.
JP: Tim and I actually went training in Chicago one day before nationals. That was the first time I ever rode with him without having a number on my back! It was fun. We were just kind of joking about how the whole idea of our rivalry came up, since we both think we’re just two normal people doing our jobs, which happens to be bike racing. It’s not very complicated; people just sort of make it complicated.
VN: I think you were the only rider in the top 10 at nationals who has kids. I thought that was kind of interesting. How you think having to be both a dad and a bike racer affects your career?
JP: It’s never just about me; it’s the whole family dynamic. It takes a lot to get it together. I think Cori doesn’t get enough credit for keeping the whole family going, to help me not have to think about a lot of things besides bike racing. But I also try to do my part by being a dad and not being uninvolved.
VN: Do you think fatherhood helps to keep you grounded through the season?
JP: It gives you great focus. People have said maybe I should be a little more like some of the other riders, be a little more social, more active on Twitter and Facebook. But I’ve got a wife and kids, and a good cyclist has to stay focused, and I still need to spend some time with my kids. And that’s on top of trying to work on sponsorship, spending a lot of time maintaining my bikes, because I’m a one-man show. I’m never going to be the cool guy, you know? I’m always going to be most interested in coming home to my kids and my wife, to be there to read my kids a bedtime story. It’s just how I was brought up, to have morals, values.
VN: You had support from your friends Jerry Chabot of ENGVT and Bob Downs from Planet Bike for nationals, but those were short-term deals and you still don’t have a title sponsor. Has the national championship helped with your sponsorship situation?
JP: Everybody thinks I’m all set, but I’m still looking. I’ll have a national champion’s jersey with only smaller sponsors. This all doesn’t just turn around in a week. I can understand that; it’s the beginning of the season for the road and most people made decisions for the first of January. I wish I could have done that, but I didn’t have the national title yet. There are some possibilities, but nothing concrete. It’s not as quick as we’d like it to be.
VN: What are your expectations for Louisville?
JP: I don’t really want to say. Talk’s cheap. I don’t want to say, “I’m going to get this place.” That’s bullshit. I’m just going to go ahead and look for a magical day and that’s it.