Danny Summerhill (Felt-Holowesko Partners-Garmin) rode inside the top ten early in the race -  Kalmthout 2009 Cyclocross World Cup. © Bart Hazen

Danny Summerhill rocking the US national championship colors in Kalmthout World Cup. © Bart Hazen

by Josh Liberles

Newly-crowned American U23 national cyclocross champion Danny Summerhill (Felt-Holowesko Partners-Garmin) has been racing straight through after winning his Stars n’ Stripes jersey. “After Nationals, I went home after a long stint on the road,” said Summerhill. “I’d been doing a bunch of racing, then was in Oregon from before the USGPs all the way through Nats in Bend. I had two days at home [outside of Boulder, Colorado] before heading off to Europe.”

The next stop was Geoff Proctor’s EuroCrossCamp, a program that gives top Junior and U23 US ‘cross racers a major dose of the Belgian racing scene. This marked Summerhill’s 5th or 6th consecutive year – he’s lost count – of coming to Belgium for the busy Christmas week of cyclocross races. Combine that with a couple of visits to the same house – also the base for the US National U23 road team – every summer, and Summerhill has gotten to know the European race scene and Belgian lifestyle well.

EuroCrossCamp started off really well for Summerhill, who got onto the Elite podium, taking the top honors among U23 riders, in his first race off of the plane in Lichtervlede and followed it up with a strong 15th place after that in the Kalmthout World Cup U23 race.

After that, a combination of bad luck and mishaps (as well as errant elbows) kept him from getting the results he’d hoped for. The European fields are so competitive and aggressive, one mechanical, or circumstances in the pack beyond a racer’s control, can easily be the difference between a top-ten and second-half finish.

“It can be challenging being here as an American. I usually go home between EuroCrossCamp and Worlds, but this year decided to stay for the duration to avoid the travel time. On paper, it sounds like it’d be good staying in one time zone, but mentally it gets stressful,” said Summerhill. “Most of the guys we’re racing against are going home between races, not living on the road.”

How to construct an effective season always has uncertainties and elements that are trial and error. Summerhill confesses that he’s always trying new things, continuing to learn what works well for him and coming up with ideas for future seasons. “Next year, maybe I’ll do something more along the lines of what Tim Johnson has been doing this year and staying at home for a while after Nationals before making the trip over to Europe,” said Summerhill. “There are trade-offs between getting in the intensity of European racing versus having a fresher head being at home for longer and having family and friends around. That mental aspect is just as important as the physical training.”

Danny Summerhill, U23 winner. © Joe Sales

Danny Summerhill winning U23 Nationals © Joe Sales

However, Summerhill remains upbeat and focused. He’s already nailed one of his season’s primary goals – taking the Stars n’ Stripes prize at U23 Nationals, a goal that had eluded the two-time Junior national champ up until this year. Worlds, of course, is another big target event, but Summerhill is reluctant to vocalize the specific result he’s chasing there. “I don’t like going into races, setting goals too high and not making them – it’s a real bummer. I’ll just say that my goal is to do the best I can. A top-10 or top-15 would be wonderful, but I don’t want to dwell on it. I hope that everyone [from the American team] can have their day.”

Stybar and Compton are Summerhill’s picks for the Elite races. “It would be nice to see a non-Belgian take it, and he’s done a great job so far,” said Summerhill. “My prayers are definitely going out to Katie this year, with her dealing with the leg cramp issues. I hope she can kick butt for one more race this season.”

“I’m also hoping that our US riders, including Yannick Eckmann [a German Junior who lives and races predominantly in the US], can pull out some good results. Like me, they’ve all had a mix of both some good results and bad luck. We’ll see how the snow will treat us in Czech!”

With a silver medal at Worlds as a Junior in 2007, a 7th place in the Espoir edition of Paris-Roubaix and several other big results in both disciplines, Summerhill’s future looks bright on the road and in cyclocross. He has one year left as a U23 in cyclocross and two seasons on the road to try to add another national championship to his collection. Summerhill hopes to keep racing at the highest possible level in both sports, but recognizes that, at some point, he may need to make a choice. “If I were able to make it as a Pro Tour rider on the road in Europe, that may mean a sacrifice and take away from ‘cross,” said Summerhill. “That would be a bummer since I love it so much – I enjoy both immensely, and to give one up would be hard.”

“Actually Tim Johnson has been a good model for that, too. He races at the top level domestically in the US in both disciplines – that would be another way to do it. I’m just glad that I still have a couple more years to decide!”

Find complete coverage, reports, photos and replay our live coverage from Saturday and Sunday in our 2010 Tabor Cyclocross Worlds Coverage Center.