Jonathan Page running the sand, broken ribs and all, at Koksijde. Bart Hazen
by Molly Hurford
Jonathan Page may live in Europe and race almost exclusively there (except when he’s home to snag a bronze medal at Nationals, that is), but he’s still a US racer at heart. He’s also the only US racer to take a podium spot at Worlds, though this year his race at the World Championships didn’t go quite as smoothly, and thanks to injuries sustained in weeks prior, he was forced to DNF from the race in Koksijde. I admit, with his impressive set of palmares combined with the slightly stern and silent appearance he tends to give off in interviews I’ve watched with him, I was a little nervous about interviewing him myself. But when we finally found a chance to sit down on Skype, I was pleasantly surprised to find a smiling Page waving at me from his European home, with the sound of his kids running around in the background.
And before I could start my interview, he started quizzing me on my Skype picture: “Did you really do an Ironman?” (The answer is yes, and his response was, “Better you than me,” before laughing.)
But since the interview wasn’t about me, I switched away from triathlon and back to the more important sport. How was the Worlds course for Page? “It was nothing new to me, I’ve done it for several years. I like that course, I think it’s very difficult, I like the sand. It’s very fine sea sand, it’s on the dunes of the ocean.”
Knowing Page had been injured several times in the month before Worlds, I had to ask the obvious: how did he feel on race day, with so many prior injuries?
“It’s true. That was my third huge strike of the ball game, let’s just put it that way. I was, in other words, taken out by someone three weeks prior to Worlds, and broke a rib. And then the next weekend was another, in Lieven in France, the week after was Hoogerheide, and there I accidentally was taken out by someone and almost broke my hand. I saved my ribs but almost broke my hand.”
“So was your hand still bothering you by Worlds?”
“It’s still not exactly the way it should be, but it’s fine, it works, it just gets really cold very quickly.”
But did Page ever consider just not starting at Worlds? “Just before… well, the week I was recovering from the injuries and my body said it had enough and I got sick. I had bronchitis. So my fever started Friday night before, and the warmup of Worlds I had a headache, I was feverish, so I knew I wasn’t going to be very good but I tried to convince myself otherwise. Didn’t work.” He laughed at this, and hung his head in a self-deprecating way.
The race wasn’t all bad though. Page had an excellent start at the beginning of the race: “I wanted to put myself in a position where I maybe could have done something, but that wasn’t the case. Right from the beginning, I went fast at the get-go to get somewhere in the top 10 before the sand, I did that, and from that moment on, I couldn’t breathe very well, at all. And I was choking on my own phlegm; that’s not very nice but … I hit the red zone and never came out of that and had no power. If you can’t breathe, you don’t have power and so I used sections I was fairly good at, but I had nothing.”
So was it an easy decision, pulling out of the race? “Yeah, I was done. I was done after the first lap.”
As our main “Euro veteran,” I figured Page would have an interesting take on the huge crowd at Worlds. He didn’t disappoint, bringing to light some issues I had never even considered:
“Yeah, it was amazing. It’s very, very loud. It’s difficult to get to the race start or things like that so … as an athlete it’s a little more difficult than normal. I was surprised that they managed the course and the barriers, that the crowd didn’t push the barriers into the racecourse. In that respect, that was good. And everyone was cheery. And very psyched.”
When we talked, Page had spent almost a week in recovery mode, but when I asked if he was fully recuperated, he replied, “Oh no, no. My whole family is sick, the kids had it before.”
But that said, “I’m going to attempt to race this weekend. Cold weather, bronchitis, they don’t work well together … so I’m going to go racing. I’ve had such bad luck, I’m just excited to bike race. I’m running out of time quickly. I race until the 22nd. I don’t know what the off-season looks like yet. We’re going skiing directly after. I do an indoor race after the 22nd on a Wednesday night, it’s inside, there’s a DJ, it’s quite an event. It’s fun.” [Editor's Note: Page snagged a fourth place finish at Heerlen yesterday.]
With all of his time spent in Europe, Page has the interesting position of being an American racer living in Europe, with Worlds being brought to the US in 2013. So what’s the buzz surrounding Worlds where he is? “I haven’t talked much, a lot of racers ask me how the Louisville, Kentucky, course is and I say I have no idea, I’ve never been there in my life. I think they will, like Bart Wellens and Rob Peeters, they’ll get a whole new appreciation for what the athletes do, who are from foreign lands and come to Belgium to race. When they go over to Worlds in America, I’m looking forward to seeing the fish out of water.”
Speaking of the US, I asked the big question: can we expect to see Page back in the US next season?
“That is a good question and it’s one that I don’t know yet. I’ll hopefully know sooner rather than later. For us, it’s a big deal because it’s a whole different continent, whole different lifestyle.”
Is the decision based on a sponsor, or races, or just a personal decision? “All of the above. I wish I had all this information for you but I don’t yet.”
Page showed his secret comedian skills when talking about the cost of living in Europe versus the US: “It’s not exactly cheap to live here. I don’t know why, the weather’s great most of the time … Not!”
Well, with that question left unanswered until a later date, I asked: “What advice would you have for a cyclocrosser trying to make this a full-time career? And don’t tell me “don’t do it,” that’s not an option!”
After he stopped laughing, he replied, “First, you stay in school. You get your degree. In whatever it is. Even if it’s underwater basket-weaving. Then, give it a shot.”
“Why is underwater basket-weaving always the go-to for silly majors?”
“I don’t know…”
With a seven-year-old, a four-year-old, and a just-turned-one-year-old, Page has his hands full. And even though they speak English to their dad, the kids are being raised as arguably the perfect cyclocross children, since they attend a school where Flemish is the main language spoken. “They’re very much bilingual. They talk to their friends in Dutch, to me in English and Cory in half and half. They’re into biking but just for fun.”
So with such a European-oriented family, what would the Pages miss if they came home?
“We were just talking about this, Cory and I. The ability to get in our van and drive to Austria or Switzerland or some other country. That would be our major thing.”
But back to bike racing. I wanted to know about how Page felt about the season as a whole. Did it go as planned up until the past month?
“Oh hell, no! It’s been the season from hell. Can’t say it’s been very good,” he laughed. I admit, compared to the expectation I had for a stiff, serious interview, there’s an awful lot of laughing on both of our parts.
Even with a bad season in the books, how long does Page plan to keep racing? “Yeah… geez. I still like bike racing and I think moving back to the United States could be a whole new start to my career, a little bit of a rejuvenation. I’ll do it as long as I’m still having fun with it and my wife allows me. And then eventually, if I still like it, I’d like to give back some of my knowledge to the sport.”
With our interview coming to an end, I asked if I was missing out on asking anything.
Page responded: “I’m just afraid that I sound like a whiner.”
“You broke a rib!”
“I know. I have legitimate excuses for these things. Just hasn’t worked out for me this year and that’s it.”
Don’t miss our complete coverage of the 2012 UCI Cyclocross World Championships in Koksijde, Belgium on our Full Coverage page.