For the better part of a decade, Jonathan Page has been American cyclocross’s link to the sport’s heartland in Belgium. Based in Oudenaarde in the middle of the Flemish Ardennes, home of the Tour of Flanders, Page was a fixture on the Belgian ’cross circuit.
He also was, arguably, the biggest success story in U.S. men’s cyclocross. The only American man to earn a medal in the elite category at the world championship — a silver in Hooglede-Gits in 2007 — Page’s palmarès boasts numerous top-10 finishes in major international races in series like the UCI World Cup and Belgian Superprestige. He is also one of only two men in the past 20 years to earn four national champions jerseys — Jeremy Powers, who won his fourth national title a week ago in Asheville, North Carolina, is the other.
But this year, now one of the sport’s elder statesmen at 39, Page has scrambled the script. In 2015, the Page family sold its Belgian home and moved to Utah, trading travel times that could often be measured in minutes for transcontinental flights. Page opted to race a full North American season.
Although there were bright moments — a handful of podium finishes and a big win under the lights at Jinglecross in Iowa City — it was certainly not his best. Page told VeloNews he had been seriously hampered by respiratory issues since his arrival in the States. Page added that he had nonetheless enjoyed the enthusiasm of the American fans and supporters this season, a striking contrast to the rowdy and highly partisan Belgian crowds he has raced in front of for most of his career.
Page earned a slot on the U.S. national team for the world championships — to be held in Zolder, Belgium, in just two weeks time — thanks to his depth of experience racing abroad and a strong fourth-place showing at the national championships, a result that looks all the more impressive considering that Page is nearly twice the age of the man who finished directly in front of him, 20-year-old Logan Owen.
It may not have been his best finish at nationals, but Page heaped praise on the event, the fans, and the organization, calling it an overwhelmingly positive experience.
“It was definitely the best course I have ever raced on at nationals,” he told VeloNews.
On Thursday, however, Page tweeted that he had decided to skip the world championship race.
After days of thinking, I am turning down my Worlds spot. I can’t justify the $ nor time sacrifice for my fam due to continued health probs.
— Jonathan Page (@thejonathanpage) January 14, 2016
With a new baby — his fourth — expected any day now, he is not eager to leave his family for an extended period. Still, he said, it was a combination of factors that led to the decision.
“There are several reasons I’m turning my slot down,” he told VeloNews. “My family was more than willing to load up and make the trip with me so that I didn’t have to leave the new addition to the family. However, the reality is that it just isn’t worth it. It’s an expensive trip whether I go alone or with the family and unless I would get on the podium again (which seems unlikely this year) there is little reward.”
Page told VeloNews that after battling through respiratory issues for much of the season, he did not believe he could be at his best for the championship race at the end of January.
“Since arriving in the U.S., I’ve been dealing with a relentless cough. It’s an allergy/asthma-related thing and I have been struggling heavily with it,” Page said. “I thought that I had it a bit under control after taking a few weeks off from racing and really intense training [before nationals], but it still wasn’t great. I struggled through nationals. I could have struggled through worlds and hoped for the best, but [I couldn’t justify] paying all that money nor committing all that time away from my family again.”
In spite of calling an early end to a season that Page has typically extended through the end of February — often with top results — he expects to be back for another season in the fall, adding that he is eager to return to America’s vibrant and growing cyclocross scene, one that very much impressed him this year.
“All of my sponsors are returning for at least one year,” he said. “During that time, I plan to do events in the spring and summer to further promote their brands. Events that I’ve done and loved in the past as well as some new events. I also may have a great opportunity to start an American-Euro, dual-based team. I hope to have transitioned out of full-time racing and into a managing or coaching position with the team within the next two years. My plan for at least the coming season is to do mostly American-based in the ’cross season but will possibly do a trip or two internationally if there is a budget for that for me. There is so much great racing in the U.S. now that I don’t need to leave here if I don’t want to. I will definitely race in Europe in the summer some.”
Page’s decision to stop his season now is a striking contrast to his choice to race a brave and emotional world championships last year in Tabor, Czech Republic, just days after revealing the heartbreaking news of his wife’s miscarriage in a post on his Facebook page. It was, he said at the time, his devotion to his family that motivated him to race in spite of the pain. This year, reveling in the joy of a child on the way, there is nothing to prove, and he is relishing the opportunity to hit the pause button and spend time with his kids.
On Friday, his season over, he told VeloNews he had been able to take his kids to their ski team practice, even jumping in for a couple of runs with them. He sounded happy and relaxed as he talked about it.
For a guy who has been at it as long as Page has, maybe he’s earned the real prize: the end of another hard-fought season.