Steve Tilford won’t be defending his USA Cycling Cyclocross National Championship this year, making it only the second time since 2004 that the former Mountain Bike World Champion won’t contest (and win) a Masters National Championship cyclocross title.
Tilford joins a growing list of defending and past champions not racing in the Boulder event. Three-time National Champion Todd Wells is skipping the event due to a knee injury, and 2013 singlespeed National Champion and former U23 champion Adam Craig is staying home, well, just because.
Tilford has been suffering from shingles this season, and effects from the illness continue to prevent the Topeka, Kansas-based rider from feeling healthy and training well. As a result, the eight-time Masters National Champion and two-time Masters World Champion didn’t make the trip to Gossau, and won’t be racing in Boulder this week.
“This shingles thing isn’t something that’s predictable, and predictability is something you need in athletics,” Tilford wrote on his blog. “It has been about two months now and my leg is still seized sometimes. Plus, the headaches.”
Tilford has never lost as a Master at the Cyclocross National Championships, winning in 2004 in Portland and continuing his dominance through both years in Providence and Kansas City, and then in Bend and Verona, only missing the first year in Bend. Eight victories, many by huge margins. We’re sure that some racers his age, while not happy that Tilford is sick, are psyched to have a better chance at a National Championship this year in Boulder.
The pile of Masters titles has its downsides however, as Tilford has told Cyclocross Magazine on several occasions, including at the 2013 Louisville’s Masters Worlds, that winning titles now is more of a relief, instead of a joyous moment, especially after his injury-impacted season last year. See him elaborate (and display) this emotion in the video from Louisville 2013 below:
Tilford further explains the sentiment on his blog, saying, “I told [Ned Overend] I didn’t get very much satisfaction out of [winning Masters Nats]. He agreed. [I'm] not trying to belittle anyone else, but it is more of a relief than a happiness I feel after the races. I’ve never lost a Masters National Cyclocross [title] and I’ve had some pretty awful physical days. If I’m riding good, I’d just rather go and see how I stack up against the Pros.”
The former pro races against Elite Men most cyclocross seasons, and isn’t shy about expressing his discontent with the UCI rule that prevents racers with UCI points from racing Masters Worlds. Tilford believes the Masters World Championships should welcome competition at the highest level for a certain age group. Instead, Tilford maintains that the current rule either disqualifies the fastest racers, or in his case, encourages them to not race all-out in UCI races to avoid earning points.
Tilford has won and worn plenty of championship jerseys over the years, but the sickness-plagued 2013/2014 season never gave Tilford a chance to wear his 2013 UCI Masters World Championship jersey, since he didn’t race any Masters races this year.
However, we’re willing to wager that Tilford will win another National Championship and World Championship before too long, and just might continue to be undefeated at Nationals as a Master. Only this year, he won’t have to face the joy-sapping pressure of being the odd-on favorite when he arrives in Boulder. Tilford still plans to attend the National Championships as a spectator, and says he still gets plenty of joy from watching races.
Only this year, by not toeing the line in a race, he’ll also bring joy to at least one other Masters racer as well.
Am I the only one that thinks that his complaint about the UCI points rule, is silly? The reason they have the rule (excluding riders with UCI points from competing in Nats), is to create the necessary separation between pro and amateur classes, that helps to grow the sport. After all, if top pros could enter any race they wanted, lower class racers would never have a chance to win and would give up. I think riding the UCI pro races and trying not to place intentionally, just so you can win another amateur title is chickenshi*. He needs to move up in class if he can place and let someone else win the amateur event who deserves it.