VERONA, WISCONSIN—If there were any Nationals’ demons haunting Jeremy Powers, he successfully shed them today in the Elite Men’s National Championships. The race was among the most exciting of any this season as an aggressive lead group formed, but Powers held his attack in reserve, unleashing it midway through the race with devastating effect.
As the sunny temperature continued to rise, further thawing the sometimes tacky, sometimes slippery ground, the Elite men lined up to lay claim to the undefended 2012 National Championship jersey. Missing from the grid was Todd Wells, last year’s champion. On the line were pre-race favorites Jeremy Powers (Rapha-Focus), Ryan Trebon (LTS-Felt), Tim Johnson (Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com) and Jonathan Page (Planet Bike). Of the four, only Powers had yet to pull on the stars and stripes.
The crowd beat against the fences, the riders crouched into their bars, and the shot went off. Fresh of yesterday’s U23 National Championship win, Zach McDonald (Rapha-Focus) stormed off the line, taking the holeshot and leading the best in the country onto the course. In only seconds, however, Trebon was on the front, looking to establish an early gap as he led into the climb – out of the saddle, Trebon clearly was seeking to maximize his incredible power.
As the riders descended down the backside, Trebon was seeking to repeat Compton’s earlier performance with a strong six-second lead. But a surprising early ride by Dylan McNicholas showed the Cyclocrossworld.com amateur rider following in second and closing the gap, closely monitored by Johnson, Powers and Page.
As Zach McDonald’s effort at the holeshot shot him backward in the lead pack, Page overtook McNicholas and then Trebon, taking the lead of the race. At the end of a blistering first lap, the order was Page, Trebon, Powers, Johnson and McNicholas – all within seconds of each other.
On the second lap, Page continued to drill the pace, with the rest of the leaders trading positions, each clearly ready to put everything on the line for the title. Halfway through, the selection had been made – Powers, followed by Page, Johnson and Trebon all together. McNicholas proved unable to hang, but Chris Jones (Rapha-Focus) and Jamey Driscoll (Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com) dug hard to make contact.
For the next few laps, this was to be the norm – the leaders continued trading the lead, with a small pack of the nation’s favorites testing each other and taking advantage of drafts. Trebon, Page, Johnson, Powers and Jones were all together, with Driscoll yo-yoing off the back. Road tactics were increasingly looking to play a large role in the final shake-down.
Behind the leaders, McDonald found his second wind and began a solo effort to carve into the gap. With five to go, a huge effort by Tim Johnson – the only rider sporting disc brakes – stretched the leaders out to the point of snapping, forcing Page, Trebon and Powers to respond, and popping Jones and Driscoll off the back. The split – which with four to go came back together – was exactly what McDonald needed to claw onto Driscoll’s wheel just as Trebon unleashed on the climb, Page tucked behind him.
Coming down the backside, Trebon’s effort seemed to have shed all but Powers. Would we get the showdown we’ve seen played out all season? As the riders came back together, it was down to five: Trebon, Powers, Page, Johnson and an incredible ride by Zach McDonald, who had replaced Jones as Power’s ace in the hole.
With three to go, Tim Johnson attacked hard on the finishing straight, just as other riders were sitting up to catch a breath. It was a bold move, and Johnson established a gap of a few bike lengths going onto the dirt. A small slip, however, lost him the gap, and the group of five again hit the hill together.
Coming around the hill, it was Trebon leading a one-two punch of McDonald and Powers, with a small gap over Jonathan Page. In danger of losing the leaders was Johnson, who dangled multiple bike lengths behind, clearly suffering from his earlier attack. Further back, Chris Jones had snapped his chain and had to run to the pits, but managed to stay ahead of Driscoll.
Trebon’s effort seemed to cost him a bit too much, as well, as Page whipped around the LTS-Felt rider, pulling the Rapha-Focus duo behind him and briefly gapping Trebon. But, as had happened for much of the race, the pace eased up on the finishing stretch and with two to go, the final five came back together during the brief reprieve, with Johnson starting to show a dangerous fatigue. Powers looked to know it was then or never, and near the pits decided to make his move. A devastating attack, which caught Page out as he traded bikes, shed all but Trebon, and the Rapha-Focus rider pushed his lead, flying up the hill and eking away from the two-time champion. By the bottom of the hill, he’d established seven seconds over Trebon. Power’s move proved decisive: the small pack was obliterated – each rider was on his own.
From then on, it was Powers vs. Trebon, fitting given how the two traded wins over the season, with Powers putting everything into maintaining his lead and Trebon using his incredible power to attempt to claw the leader back. Behind them, Page continued to look strong in third, and McDonald close in fourth.
Crossing the line with one to go, it was Powers with a six second lead over Trebon, followed another five seconds back by Page, then McDonald close behind. For Johnson, though, the band had snapped – he crossed a full 29 seconds behind Powers.
Though each of the top five laid it out for the least lap, it ended up largely ceremonial: as Powers posted up for his first National title, the rest trailed behind him in the exact same order as the previous lap.
For the second year in a row, Ryan Trebon took silver; Page followed for bronze; and McDonald has to be happy with his weekend, pulling his trademarked wheelie as he rolled in for fourth. Johnson, clearly depleted, rounded out the top five, high-fiving the frenzied spectators lining the finish straight.
“Finally, man, finally. It feels really good,” said Powers. “I’m really happy. Greatest feeling in the world. Zach was the one I didn’t expect, but I was the one who said they should put him on the team. I just didn’t expect to see him there right away. It was great. It’s nice security to have a teammate. He covered one little thing that Jonathan did, one attack, and I just kinda went with that; he kinda flagged me through like, ‘hey dude, this is going,’ so I hopped on. Chris was great. Zach almost killed me at the start, which makes it even more impressive that he came back.”
“I was just waiting to see what would happen with Ryan,” he continued. “To see what he was able to do. If I was able to continue to put time into Ryan, then I’d be alright. Nothing’s for sure, and I didn’t play it that way, I just kept going as hard as I could go, and I never looked back one time until the finish when I looked back and saw I had a gap and that was it. It’s awesome.”
“I’m actually pretty happy with second today,” said Trebon. “I was never comfortable out there. Jeremy went, I tried to go with him, but I didn’t have it. Those guys were just stronger today, I don’t know how I ended up second – I’m happy. There was a couple of tough weeks there when I was injured, but luckily I’ve got a good support structure around me to help me through it. It was good to race today. I was going for it…but I was suffering. All day.”
“And not that good kind of suffering,” he added. “Where you’re making other people hurt; I was the one today responding to other people’s efforts. I’m happy as sh*t to get second. That was a hard race. John was so strong, and when he crashed at the start and then came back. I don’t know what was happening out there. I was just putting my head down, trying to stay near the front.”
“It was good,” said Page. “It wasn’t what I was looking for. I rode a good race, just not the right position. I knew two laps into it, it was going to be a tactical sort of race, and I just tried to play defensive. [Powers] got the gap and he was strong enough to hold it. As long as I’m making a living, I’m happy.”
“Yes! If only I didn’t rookie it at the start,” answered McDonald, when asked if he was surprised to have caught back onto the leaders. “I holeshoted, which I was a little surprised about, and then tried to slow down for the corner, but didn’t slow down for the corner. And apparently when you do that you can’t make the corner. And so I tagged Wil [a photographer] really hard.”
“I don’t think i could have gone much harder,” he continued. “I was standing up on the climbs trying to catch Page, and…nothing.”
When asked if he would skip the U23 race next year, McDonald, with a wink, replied, “No, I will do both. You got to try to get the jersey so you can ride it as a first year pro.”
“Jeremy had the legs to go at the right time, and he took it,” said Johnson. “I know what it’s like to pull on the jersey. That was huge for him. You gotta take a chance when you can get it, I attacked one time when everyone was sitting up and looking at each other. We’re all equal to a point, and the last 15 minutes comes into training and preparation, who’s fresh, who’s got that killer instinct; it’s good to see Jeremy thinking like that.”