Jumping from Junior to U23 is often a challenge for racers. But not for the young Logan Owen (CalGiant), who took control of today’s U23 race early on and continued to hold the lead for the entirety of the race. And it wasn’t just a victory for Owen: his teammate and last year’s U23 National Champion Yannick Eckmann finished immediately behind, and their other teammate Cody Kaiser took the last step of the podium.
“It was great,” Owen said. “That’s the way I want to be a race, in the front, start to finish.”
Cannondale-CyclocrossWorld’s Curtis White took the early lead, but only held it until the first pit when Owen took it over. “The start was good, the first lap was good sitting in third wheel.”
“After the first pit, I was able to keep the pressure on, hurt those guys a bit more and create a gap. I got around Curtis [White, who had the holeshot and early lead],” Owen explained. And after that, Owen had the lead. White chased in earnest, but Eckmann was the only other racer able to respond to Owen’s attacks. Behind them, Clif Bar’s Ian McPherson was having the ride of his life sitting in third and fourth in early laps.
Eckmann recovered from his less-than-stellar start and worked his way through the pack to Owen, and the two began to quickly demonstrate to the crowd that their racing was on an entirely different level from the rest of the racers. Kaiser impressed the crowd with his stair-riding abilities, and sat comfortably in third, while White fell behind. Meanwhile, fellow CalGiant racers Tobin Ortenblad and Robin Eckmann were sitting in the top ten as well.
Owen, however, was out of sight. “It’s not a Junior race, I can’t go completely full gas in the very beginning, but I knew it was a good opportunity to open it up, and I did. Yannick closed it down a little, but I was just trying to ride tempo, at a good pace. I hit it again when I saw him coming, trying to break his spirits. I mean, he’s my teammate and my friend but we’re out there racing hard and trying to win.”
Eckmann’s strategy was similar, but ultimately not as successful. “My strategy was to have a good start, and then stay up there and see what other people were doing,” he explained. “Then, with one or two to go to, I would drill it and see what I could get out of it. I knew I had the strength,where to use it, when to use it and today it looked like I had to use it at the start because I was so far back, so I went full gas the whole time and it took so much out of me.”
Andrew Dillman (Bob’s Red Mill) led the chase behind the top five, along with Kevin Fish and Brendan Rhim, with racers including Skyler Trujillo, Josh Johnson, Lewis Gaffney, Nate Morse and Kolby Preble all hanging on to that group.
The six-lap race included the Elite-only features—several added twists and turns and one ditch to ride into and out of—but still had the fastest lap times of the week. “I thought it was a great course. I loved it so much. It was a hard course. The wind played a big factor in it too. At the star we had a tailwind going down the home stretch. And then after the first lap we had a headwind going down it,” Eckmann explained.
Eventual ninth place finisher Fish described the course as well, saying, “It was a hard course. It was real technical and there was a lot of mud and off camber stuff. I was able to dial it in before the race and figure out the right pressure and it built up my confidence which was really important.”
Three laps in, Owen had a seven second lead on Eckmann and Kaiser had dropped White. Ortenblad caught up to him and the two began to race each other, with no racers nearby in front or behind them.
Even third place was 30 seconds behind the top two, a gap that would grow up to 1:20 by the end of the race. The gaps were growing steadily as the wind picked up, to the point where the top five were coming through the start/finish as the leaders were hitting the middle section of the course. White worked his way around Ortenblad and separated, but the 30 second gap between him and Kaiser was too much to make up.
Coming in to one lap to go, the race was Owen’s to lose.
“I made a mistake on the last lap and it came close but I opened it up again,” Owen said to explain the lessening gap between him and Eckmann in the last lap. “It was really emotional to be able to win.”
Owen rolled in for the win, followed by Eckmann, Kaiser and White.
“It was fun,” Kaiser said. “I really enjoyed riding the course and that made it easier. I was able to rally sections I was positive in and recover on the other sections. Everyone wants to win, but with the season I’ve had and after last year, getting on the podium feels great. It’s a big improvement.”
White was less thrilled with his fourth place finish, but “one race of the year isn’t a big deal at the end of a solid season. It’s my first year in U23 so I’m taking this as learning experience. It was a disappointing day but it’s one race. It means the most but you just have to brush it off.”
Did Owen expect to win U23 in his first year? “I was pretty comfortable,” he said. “I knew I had the best legs today. I’ve worked hard for this and I was confident with myself to win. You just can’t look back.”
Results after the galleries.
U23 Men Gallery – 2014 National Cyclocross Championships- Gallery by Steve Anderson