American cyclocross viewers who have only kept up with the Elite races this season might think that the big focus of the year is the 11-nationals-winning Katie Compton who stood on the overall podium for the World Cup, or Jeremy Powers’ dramatic season to get front row call-ups at the big races and finish with a top ten in the overall World Cup standings. With both athletes performing at a big level, there will certainly be high expectations for the United States.
However, as Saturday morning rolls around, another American will take the stage, and ever since he started competing in Europe this season, he’s been taking the cyclocross community by storm.
That rider’s name is Gage Hecht: the current 17-18 Junior National Champion and an international sensation.
How big of a deal is he? Last November, the 16-year-old defied all expectations by winning the Koksijde UCI Junior Race, which was right off his victory at the inaugural Pan-American Championships held in Cincinnati. The story doesn’t end there, however. He followed that up with a win in the Men’s Elite Race in the Colorado State Championship over big names like Allen Krughoff.
He collected two top fives at Zolder and Namur, and then after the United States National Championship Race, he pulled off a stunning third place finish at Hoogerheide against some of the best Juniors in the world. Even Logan Owen had something to saw about the young rider: “Gage has had a good year this year and has been riding well against some pretty strong juniors. He’s definitely a contender for a top five or podium this year.”
When the UCI points reflected Hoogerheide, the rankings had Gage Hecht sitting in second place, just behind the talented Belgian, Eli Iserbyt. Also, despite not starting at the first round of the Junior World Cup, at Valkenburg, Hecht managed to put himself fifth overall in the standings for a first-row call-up at 2015 Worlds.
We interviewed him while he was preparing for his travels between Hoogerheide and the Czech Republic. He’s traveling with some of his Junior squad as well as fellow Coloradoan Meredith Miller, but was able to fit the time in before his flight. Below is part two of our two-part feature on Gage Hecht. Don’t miss part one, our detailed look at Gage Hecht’s “A” bike, a Moots PSYCHLO X RSL, we examined after he won the Junior 17-18 National Championship Race.
Cyclocross Magazine: “Let’s start with last weekend, would you call your third at Hoogerheide the best finish of your career?”
Gage Hecht: “Definitely. I think I could consider that the best race I’ve ever done; I’m so ecstatic about it.”
CXM: “Equally as impressive as the podium finish was the way you dictated the pace at the front of the race by the end of the first lap. How did the race play out?”
GH: “I typically haven’t had great starts this year. but this was possibly one of the greatest starts I had all season over here. I went into that first corner top five, then by the time I reached my way to the pits, I wasn’t far off the front and managed to get into fourth. Then I was able to get away in the first lap and create a little bit of a gap. As the race settled back in, I found myself back to second than third, but then managed to keep that third for the remainder of the race.”
CXM: “With your performance at [Hoogerheide], are you approaching Worlds differently? Or at the very least, are your expectations raised?”
GH: “I’m hoping to get a top five if not another podium. That’s definitely my goal there.”
CXM: “What’s this week’s training been looking like for you, feet up or business as usual?”
GH: “This is going to be a taper week for me, just making sure my body is well-rested… [On most weeks], training over here is just heading out on the road, and eventually doing intervals. They can range anywhere from 30 seconds: those sprints out from a stoplight, or just like a five minute effort. Often we’ll go hunt out for the dirt trails near the house before the ride is over.”
CXM: “But you must throw in a lot of technique training, too, right?”
GH [laughing before answering]: “We’ve actually been staying near where the Dutch National team is staying, and they’ve gone and set up some ’cross stretches on the property. It’s so much fun training on the course that they were doing.”
CXM: “Getting to use their course? Did you ever try to intentionally go out there and train with them head-to-head?”
GH: “We don’t see each other too often, usually just in passing, but the guy who got second at Hoogerheide was staying across the street, which was pretty cool.”
CXM: “Are you inspired by any American Junior medalists of the past?”
GH: “It’s amazing to see where the trail comes from. I remember watching a video from the late 90’s when a Junior won the Worlds in the snow… Matt Kelly I think rings a bell [referring to Kelly’s dark horse win over Sven Vanthourenhout in Poprad, Slovakia during the 1999 Junior World Championship, who was the first of three American Juniors ever to podium]. It was real fun to watch. I’ve been watching Worlds now for many years, and I’ll go and find old VCR [cassette tapes] of cyclocross races. I will always look at Sporza online, always good to watch.”
CXM: “We watch European races mostly for enjoyment, but it’s hard to miss the techniques and tactics. Do you find them educational?”
GH: “There’s so much you can learn from those. Technique, since I’ve ridden some of these courses, I know that the [footage] shows how much of a mess it can be over here. But it is amazing what these guys can actually ride. I try and keep an eye on what lines they are taking and especially how they are keeping their bikes balanced. It’s pretty cool to see that. But I also like watching how their strategies play out during a full race. Sven especially, watching him from the last few years, you can tell he’s one of the smartest cross riders out there.”
CXM: “But there has to be things you can only learn by traveling over there, right?”
GH: “European racing really just teaches you to be fast on a bike.”
“Following wheels close is a big one. Some technique and just pushing myself to be fast are really the things I learned by being here.”
CXM: “And let’s talk about courses. Between the ice at the Colorado State Championships, the mud at the KMC Cyclo-Cross Festival, races with sand, you seem to get through anything. What’s the ideal Gage Hecht course?”
GH: “This year I’ve found my home in the snow. That’s definitely my favorite. The ice is so much fun, just being able to play in the ice and snow is what I like to do.”
CXM: “Nice, so are you hoping for snowy weather?”
GH: “It looks like there’s a good chance for that. I’m super stoked.” [Our recent look at the forecast does predict that the Juniors have a good chance of seeing snow].
CXM: “We recently put up a poll on our website about American cyclocross racers most likely to medal at Worlds. You were the overwhelming favorite. Do you think this expectation comes with a burden?”
GH: “I think there is. Just having the support of so many people is amazing, but I have to say that it comes with quite a bit of pressure on your shoulders. A lot of it comes from the country, you’re representing the U.S.”
Second ranked Junior in the World, Gage Hecht, will take the course at Tabor on Saturday at 11:00 local time. Be sure to stay tuned to cxmagazine.com for more breaking news as the journey to the 2015 Cyclocross World Championship continues.