The only American male racer, Jonathan Page, post-race. © Thomas van Bracht

Early season: the only American Elite Male at Valkerburg, Jonathan Page, post-race. © Thomas van Bracht

by Christine Vardaros

Everyone who competes in bicycle races knows that there are ups and downs. When we have more ups than downs, it generally means we’ve had a successful season. That is, unless we can time one of our infrequent “ups” just right to coincide with a big day. In Jonathan Page’s world, that big day means the World Championships to be held in Hoogerheide, Netherlands, on February 2nd.

“It’s been an unusually rough season and so, heck, all I’m hoping is that I can salvage the season in the last weeks. It is better to put it all together for the World Championships than any other day. I’d rather have it that way than the other way around, [grins]. Maybe I can start the season all over again – like a re-do – starting with Worlds. Franky [van Haesebroucke – Page’s right hand man] and I have been joking a lot this season after all the crappy races like ‘maybe I can start the season now’, albeit a smaller and smaller one after every race [chuckles]. Last time Franky said that to me, he added, ‘yeah, and you can peak for Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne [a pro road race held on March 2nd)].’”

He had a solid off-season preparation while based in his Utah house over the summer and even enjoyed some nice results early on in the season. After that, it all went downhill due to an unusual amount of illness, injuries, bike mechanicals and even jetlag from going back and forth between the continents. The amount of bad luck he’s had can easily crack the toughest of characters. “I’m really trying to keep it together mentally because I could just totally crumble. Honestly I could just pack it in and go not home but somewhere…. it’s just…to get constantly punched in the face every time I start to do well is tough. Who wants to race when every time something happens. It’s been tough on me, it’s been tough on my family, tough on these guys who have been cleaning my bikes, and tough on my biggest race supporter Franky .”

What’s helped him get through this challenging period has been not only his family and guys like Van Haesebroucke but also, interestingly enough, his sponsors. “I’m thankful for the wonderful sponsors I have, who have all been so incredibly supportive of me through all my trying moments. I’m not just out there riding for myself. It is a group effort and if I can just put it all together for this one day, that would be great. And just be like – here you go [responding with the legs] – with a big smile on my face. [laughs]”

At US Nationals, Page had a solid race of 6th place, despite his strikes against him. He had broken ribs sustained from a fall a few weeks before the race. He was sick enough to require a round of antibiotics that he finished off a few days beforehand. Altitude surely didn’t help his congested state. And the dry, fast course did not favor his riding style that is more suited for the typically muddy, heavy European crosses. “But that’s racing,” explains Page. Adding, “Jeremy [Powers of Team Rapha-FOCUS] did a really good job at preparing for it and rode a solid race.”

The disappointment of the day that folks in Europe were talking about was not Page’s performance but rather a set of comments from the US Nationals live video stream commentators.

“You look at Jonathan Page, you know he’s good, you know he’s pretty consistent but really what has he done this year to qualify himself… Again, what has Page done this year to qualify himself for the World Championships? An older rider toward the end of his career…” exclaimed Colt McElwaine. “It’d be nothing but legacy,” Dave Towle added. Colt finished, “If you’re Marc Gullickson [National Coach] at USA Cycling I’d gotta think you’d take the younger rider with the ride like [Allen Krughoff] has had today.” [Watch the commentary below at 5 hr 30 min on YouTube or below.]

 

In response to the criticism, Page simply said, “It was a little bit harsh but I think they have no idea how hard it is here [in Belgium-area racing].” And it turned out that both Page and Krughoff were selected for the team.

Between Nationals and Worlds, Page has had some test events to gauge his fitness progression and to work out the remaining kinks. “As of now, I’m a little bit uncertain of how I feel. In [Soudal Classics] Leuven [Jan. 19] I felt a little bit better but midway during the race I had a lull. The fact that I could come back towards the end of the race and finish strong gives me hope that it will come around by Worlds. I’m pretty sure my lull was because of jetlag and am still getting over being sick. It is still like snot everywhere. I’m certainly not racing at 100%, but at least now I don’t feel like I’m totally empty. There’s something in my legs again.” His ultimate test before Worlds was Nommay World Cup on January 26th, one week before the big day. He placed 23rd out of 66 finishers. (The other USA riders’ placings were: Jeremy Powers-15th, Tim Johnson-31st, Ryan Trebon-45th, Jeremy Durrin-60th, Allen Krughoff-64th.) It proved to be a yet another positive experience as he was able to come out of it with no mishaps helping him to be both mentally and physically geared up for the big day.

What he surely has in his favor going into Worlds is that it is held in Hoogerheide, a race location where he’s finished a few times between eighth and 10th place. Over the last years, the track has become more technical, which suits Page’s riding style. They also expect mud which gives him an additional boost of hope.

Hoogerheide is located a bit over an hour away from his house in Oudenaarde which means less stress before the big day as he can sleep in his own home the days leading up to the event.

Even with all that’s in his favor, Page remains optimistic while keeping his ambitions modest. “Honestly I’d be happy with any result. I’m not gonna put a number on it though; I just want to do well. And that will depend on if I’m feeling well,” explains Page. Adding, “I think I have enough time [the two weeks] before Worlds to put it all together but I still have to cross my fingers. I’m still hopeful. I’m not in any way nervous – other than the pressure of just wanting to perform.”

When asked if he has any pre-Worlds rituals that he follows, he responds, “I have been very regimented in the past but I’ve kind of decided to relax and go with the flow this time around.” Adding, though, “Last night I changed a few things – put old saddles on my bike, thinking something’s gotta work. Even if it’s all in my head. I’m just going with what I know – old shoes…”

Looking past Worlds, Page has given his future much thought. “In terms of the next evolution of our lives, I’d really like for us to settle down to give my family a chance to do something that they want to do. We are toying with the idea of just racing in the US next season but that will depend on my financial sponsorship situation. I need more travel money if I want to race in the US. I don’t have a team, per se, to cover the costs with their travel budget. It’s cheaper to race here in Belgium but it’s also better for my family to live in The States to start their lives.”

No matter Team Page’s future, their present focus is fully on Worlds. “I really do believe it will come together – Cori thinks it too. But I haven’t been able to prove it yet. Now is the time!”

Check out Vardaros’s feature on Page in Issue 23.

[Ed. Note: Due to controversy surrounding the quotes from the commentators at Nationals and a dispute as to what the context of one of the quotes is stating, one of them has been changed slightly from the original version.]

Christine Vardaros

Christine Vardaros is an Elite ’crosser who started her career in the US and quickly transitioned to life as an American expat living and racing in Belgium. Cyclocross Magazine's European eyes and ears, she maintains a Rider Diary in both print and online, and contributes features regularly as well.