In a cyclocross race that saw searing attacks, surprising drops, the return of a master and a race-deciding crash, reigning US National Champion Jeremy Powers (Rapha-Focus) won the 2012 CrossVegas Elite Men’s race in a commanding solo performance after overcoming a lackluster start.
Second place went to an impressive Tim Johnson (Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com), who attacked solo with just over two to go, gaining a significant lead after Rob Peeters (Telenet-Fidea) crashed on the grassy off-camber, cutting the rest of the group off from the front of the race. Powers then clawed onto Johnson’s wheel, and began unleashing a series of devastating punches that finally unseated the former national champ. A clearly motivated Ben Berden (Raleigh-Clement) came in third. Noticeably absent from the selection was last year’s winner, Lars van der Haar (Rabobank-Giant), who nonetheless managed to fight his way up to a fourth place finish.
“That was a hard day,” said Powers. “I’ve been thinking about that for a month, and to pull that off feels really good. I’m not super sharp yet, but I’ve been training. I had a lighter road season in August, and I think that helped me really be able to pop tonight when I needed to. I feel like where I”m starting out this year is a good spot. I’m really happy the Euros came over; it’s an awesome day for cyclocross.”
From the gun, it was clear that this would be a race of attrition. With few course features requiring fine-tuned technique, the race was wide open to be a throw-down of power, and the racers did not wait to start testing each others’ legs. First off the front was Chris Jones (Rapha-Focus), taking an early solo lead as a fumble by Powers put him fifteen-odd riders back, stuck in the opening-lap chaos.
As Jones was reeled in, a series of testing attacks followed, none sticking but each thinning the herd at the front of the pack. Sitting comfortably in the front group were pre-race favorites Lars van der Haar and Rob Peeters, as well as Ryan Trebon – resplendent in his new Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com kit – his new teammate Tim Johnson, and free agent Jonathan Page, who was looking lean and hungry to prove himself. Geoff Kabush (Scott-3Rox Racing) and Ben Berden, too, were looking sharp.
It wasn’t long, however, before the attacks got serious. Ryan Trebon launched a ripping acceleration, sprinting out of his saddle and immediately gaining long seconds, shattering the group behind him. Rob Peeters and Jonathan Page paired up to chase, leaving the rest behind to collect themselves. With such an early launch of Trebon’s attack, questions of team tactics came to the fore. Was this a set up for Johnson?
If it was, Trebon was making it hard as possible for that option to come to fruition, making use of every inch of his height, maintaining his lead as behind him Page and Peeters were joined by a small selection of riders, Johnson and Van der Haar among them. Behind them, Powers had untangled himself from the mess and began moving into the top ten.
The Selection Gets Made
As Page neutralized Trebon’s lead, Geoff Kabush appeared at the front of the group as Powers, overcoming his early troubles, slid himself into second. Page’s strong form, however, came to naught as he crashed while attempting to bunnyhop the barriers, losing contact with the leaders and sacrificing precious energy as he again set chase.
With five to go, Powers took to the front, with Johnson on his wheel. Only nine rider remained, among them last year’s winner, Lars van der Haar, who appeared to be barely hanging on the rear. Was he struggling, or playing tactics?
It was then that Ben Berden, lean and clearly racing to win, launched an attack, getting a quick gap of five seconds. Geoff Kabush took on the chase efforts, gaining a gap of his own. Behind, the remaining riders slowed, looking to each other to pick up the chase and allowing Page to pull himself back into contention.
And then it was five. Kabush found Berden’s wheel as Powers, Johnson and Peeters separated themselves from the rest of the chasers and began reeling the leaders in, nine seconds back.
As the chasers closed in, Berden again launched, leaving Kabush to be gobbled up and looking to increase his lead. But Johnson wouldn’t allow the Belgian-cum-American ride away with the win, and pulled him back in. With Powers, Kabush and Peeters in tow, Johnson’s energy expenditure here possibly cost him in the end. Regardless, the troubles of his 2011 season were nowhere to be seen. As the five riders continued to power across the course, there was no sign of Van der Haar, Trebon or Page, who pushed on over 20 seconds back.
An Inopportune Moment Creates Opportunity
With three to go, Johnson launched a strong attack on the short climb. Rob Peeters, sitting second wheel, quickly matched him. But the slick grass on the off-camber rise caught the Belgian by surprise, and he slid out, splaying across the course and slowing down the three riders behind him. The mistake allowed Johnson to fly free as behind him the small group broke apart. Clearly shaken, it took Peeters long moments to get back on his bike, and it was unclear whether it was him or his machine that had broken.
With Johnson unleashed, it was only the current National Champion, Jeremy Powers, who was able to give chase. As the two connected with two to go, everyone’s thoughts turned to the 2010/11 USGP series rivalry between the former teammates. Would we see a throw-down that went to the line?
Powers recalled the critical moment to Cyclocross Magazine. “It actually started with Kabush, and Kabush made a big effort that made that group of five,” he said. “And then Ben and Geoff were off the front and Tim made a big acceleration and then Rob Peeters ended up crashing. Tim went straight through those two guys leaving a gap. I just closed the gap into the start finish with two to go, and I could see that he was hurting a bit and I just wanted to capitalize on that even though it’s the hardest way to win today.”
Geoff Kabush explained the moment, saying, “It was really unfortunate. I just t-boned to a dead stop and that’s when the race broke up.”
“I saw that Jeremy was riding really well and once he and I got away we’d get Berden,” said Johnson. “Jeremy is riding great and had a good race.” The seasoned racer has been planning a comeback season, saying, “This year I have a much better support system. I’ve been working with Alan (Lim) from Skratch Labs and he’s been able to help me re-focus. I’m an old dog, but I can’t be too old to not learn.”
It appeared that a duel to the line might be in the cards, as Powers repeatedly hammered away at the front, throwing everything at Johnson. Johnson, however, was not going down easily, and stuck to Powers wheel despite the repeated attacks. Eventually, however, Johnson’s earlier efforts took their tole, and a final, ripping uphill attack by Powers finally broke the elastic.
From then on, it was the Jeremy Powers show, with the national champion crossing the line in his now familiar salute. “This is definitely a race I’ve wanted to win for a long time, and I’m psyched everyone at home was watching and I’m really proud to do this today,” Powers told Cyclocross Magazine.
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A clearly happy Johnson crossed a few seconds behind. Ben Berden’s massive effort paid off, as he soloed across in third, just ahead of Lars van der Haar, who had made an impressive last lap push to chase back and outsprint Rob Peeters at the line. “I was suffering the last one and a half laps. I saw the guys coming and my body was done,” Berden later explained.
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Tim Johnson, happy with second place, told us, “This race was more broken up. The rhythm changes were more consistent. Before it was like three big chunks. Now it was about five big chunks out there. There was no time to rest.”
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Afterwards, Cyclocross Magazine caught up with some of the key contenders in the race to hear how it played out for them.
“It was a fun one. I usually have terrible legs coming off the plane but I felt good in the warmup,” Geoff Kabush told us, sipping his Sierra Nevada at the finish. “Top five is my best result at CrossVegas and putting on a show is what this race is all about.”
Zach McDonald, wiping his face and coughing, entertained us by counting his singles collected from around the course. “I was hoping for the $20 handup, because I was on the front,” he said, looking with dismay at his meager $4. But the rider wasn’t disappointed, as the first U23 racer to finish (van der Haar races as elite, despite being U23). “I love the Vegas course. It was good, it was hard. I couldn’t quite stay in that group though,” McDonald explained.
And as for the newly elite 21-year-old racer, van der Haar wasn’t thrilled with fourth place, but wasn’t too upset. “I’m not happy with fourth place but I’m not too disappointed,” he said, further explaining, “The course was a bit harder now. I know I need to get a bit more technical because I still get scared about jumping, so when the group went, I was too far behind.”
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