A Risky Bet on Brotherly Love
Laurens Sweeck (ERA-Circus) is a man on a roll early in the 2017/18 cyclocross season. Sweeck took home a first and second at Jingle Cross in Iowa City. With more American racing on tap this week, could he keep up the impressive results?
Last year, at the CrossVegas World Cup, Sweeck finished third. This year, most of his Belgian peers stayed in the Midwest between the World Cups, choosing to avoid more flights, hot weather and the leg-sapping grass of CrossVegas.
Would a trip back to Vegas be worth the gamble? Sweeck, ranked fourth in the world, didn't really need the points, but had an opportunity to race for a C1 win. Missing were last year's CrossVegas World Cup winner Wout van Aert and second place Michael Vanthourenhout. Also missing was 2017 Jingle Cross World Cup winner Mathieu van der Poel. All three were resting their legs ahead of the Waterloo World Cup.
Was Sweeck at CrossVegas to hoard more UCI points, or just as an excuse to hit the tables with his Jingle Cross winnings?
"It wasn't especially for the points, it was not that necessary, but for my brother, he can use them," Sweeck explained of his decision to return to Vegas for the final CrossVegas race at the Desert Breeze Soccer Complex.
Diether agreed with his brother's assessment. “For me it was a little bit important to get a little more UCI points," he said. "We tried to figure a way out to come to here."
More Is Better
Four-time National Champion Powers didn't need to figure out a way to come to the last CrossVegas in Vegas. Coming was a "no brainer" said Powers. His sponsors were present at the race, and a midweek UCI C1 points pile was on tap.
"For me it was a logical decision," said Powers. "Obviously Focus and Kask are sponsors, and they’re here, and that’s important to us. But that’s not the only driving factor. I looked at it and saw there’s a C1 in Vegas. I don’t know why everyone said no. It kind of baffles me. We've always done this trip. We do a big race, then we go to Vegas, and then do another big race. This is a C1. Friday is a C2 at Trek. If Friday was a C1 at Trek I would have totally understood. Points-wise, it was a no brainer. I’m a little disappointed in the other riders for not coming.”
"This is a C1. Friday is a C2 at Trek. If Friday was a C1 at Trek I would have totally understood. Points-wise, it was a no brainer. I’m a little disappointed in the other riders for not coming." -Jeremy Powers
Regardless of how many Americans showed up, Sweeck would still have been the odds-on favorite in Wednesday night's race. With most of the European riders staying in the Midwest and heading to Waterloo, Wisconsin for this weekend's World Cup, it was up to the points-hungry Diether (ERA-Circus) and Americans like Powers and Canadians Michael van den Ham (Garneau Easton p/b Transitions) and Geoff Kabush (Scott / Maxxis) to slow Sweeck's season down.
A Plan to Stack the Deck
On Wednesday night at the Desert Breeze Soccer Complex, strong winds were blowing across the fields. After a recon lap, the Sweeck brothers came up with a plan. They'd attempt to escape the field together and take turns in the wind, similar to the two-woman time trial Nash and Pendrel midway through the women's race.
“I spoke with my brother, and we said we'd try for two [of us to escape], with all the wind," Laurens Sweeck said.
If Sweeck was showing the pressure of being the favorite or of having a pre-set plan, he certainly was not showing it early in Wednesday night's race under the lights. However, his brother Diether, just as any other cyclocross racer save for Kevin Pauwels and the last two Jingle Cross winners, may have been feeling the pressure to keep up with his higher-ranked brother.
After a half lap parade, Sweeck moved to the front shortly before the uphill sand pit and blasted through the tough feature while most other riders were forced to dismount and run. Sweeck's attack lit up the course like the Vegas strip. When the sand settled, there was no one left on his wheel. With just one pass of the sand pit, he had 10 seconds in hand and a firm grasp on the first-place points his brother was coveting.
Sweeck's attack happened so swiftly and suddenly, the rest of the field was left battling for second barely five minutes into the race.
Hot Action in the Chase Group
While Sweeck was extending his lead past twenty seconds on the second lap, a group of three riders—Powers, Diether Sweeck and van den Ham —broke away to form the chase. At the start of the third lap, defending U23 national champion Lance Haidet (Donnelly Cycling), wearing his stars and stripes kit, briefly attached to the chase.
Haidet eventually dropped off and former junior national champion Bjorn Selander (Borah Teamwear powered by Bingh) came powering back to join the chase. Geoff Kabush (SCOTT Sports - Maxxis) also dangled at the back of the chase during the middle portion of the race.
Beginning with the fifth lap, the chase group took on a familiar pattern. Powers and Diether Sweeck rode the uphill sandpit and opened up a small gap on the other riders. Van den Ham would quickly close the gap and then a minute later Selander would rejoin.
With two to go, Powers and Sweeck were finally able to use their sand savvy and power to make an attack stick. Powers exploited the gap at the sand with an attack and the two were away from the chase group.
The decisive move between the two came at the sand pit. Powers spent much of the second half of the race driving the pace in the duel. After many practice runs at the sand pit in warm-ups, he had the section dialed.
"I knew that for sure that [the sandpit] was the deciding factor in the race," Powers told Cyclocross Magazine when asked about all his practice runs. "I was actually trying to do it in my 46x26, and I couldn’t keep my cadence high enough at the end. So I decided to do it in my small ring, and that was how I rode it. That gave me enough confidence to stay on top of my gear at the top."
Powers rode it cleanly each lap, and anticpated a sprint finish for second. However, on the last lap, Diether Sweeck pulled ahead to take the lead into the sand pit and surged. He rode it cleanly, while Powers bobbled and had to dismount.
"When I lined up, I thought there’s always a chance, but I thought I was racing for second [behind Laurens]," Powers admitted. "And I raced for second, I raced as hard as I could, and I made an error when I was going as hard as I could in the sand. I bobbled, otherwise we probably would have been evenly matched. I rode it every other lap, but the last lap I had a little too much water on board.”
Better Late Than Never
Laurens Sweeck had time to look around and saw his brother's move. He had a chance to make good on their plan, and slowed down at the end of the last lap to allow his brother to catch up with him shortly before the finishing straight.
The two came down the last stretch together. Diether would get a pile of UCI points and a memorable finishing photo to send back to folks in Belgium.
Their plan to ride together would finally be executed. The two rolled down the finish straight with big smiles, showing off their brotherly love, but there still would be no gifts. Laurens had his hands up in the air, one bike length ahead, taking his second win in three U.S. races.
Powers finished third to round out the podium. Selander took fourth and Van den Ham fifth.
See the full photo gallery below the results.
Zachary Schuster and Andrew Yee contributed to this report. Photos by Andrew Yee.
Men's Results - 2017 CrossVegas
|1||1||Laurens SWEECK||ERA REAL ESTATE - CIRCUS||1:08:38|
|2||2||Diether SWEECK||ERA REAL ESTATE - CIRCUS||1:08:38|
|3||3||Jeremy POWERS||Aspire Racing||1:08:53|
|4||17||Bjorn SELANDER||Borah Teamwear powered by Bingh||1:08:55|
|5||5||Michael VAN DEN HAM||Garneau-Easton p/b Transitions||1:09:32|
|6||8||Geoff KABUSH||SCOTT Sports - Maxxis||1:09:47|
|8||14||Hector Fernando RIVEROS PAEZ||Stans NoTubes p/b Maxxis / CZ||1:10:21|
|9||7||Lance HAIDET||Donnelly Sports||1:10:31|
|10||10||Cody KAISER||LangeTwins / Specialized||1:10:36|
|11||43||Denzel STEPHENSON||EVOL Devo Elite||1:10:43|
|12||15||Andrew JUILIANO||GRIT WORLD RACING p/b SHIMANO||1:10:59|
|13||11||Troy WELLS||Team CLIF Bar||1:11:24|
|14||9||Mark MCCONNELL||Hot Sauce Cycling||1:11:39|
|15||6||Jonathan PAGE||Shimano Clifbar KindHuman||1:11:47|
|17||21||Allen KRUGHOFF||Krughoff Racing||1:12:00|
|18||20||Jules GOGUELY||Apex / NBX / Hyperthreads||1:12:19|
|19||16||Benjamin SONNTAG||Team CLIF Bar||1:12:39|
|20||19||Dylan POSTIER||Garneau-Easton p/b Transitions||1:13:38|
|21||13||Kevin BRADFORD-PARISH||Gillespie/Set Coaching||1:13:46|
|23||36||Molly CAMERON||Point S Racing||@2Lap|
|24||18||Isaac NILES||garneau easton p/b transitions||@2Lap|
|25||33||Timothy RUGG||Ride With Rendall||@3Lap|
|26||31||Jose Alfredo PACHECO ROSES||BUENA PARK BICYCLES||@3Lap|
|27||12||Brannan FIX||Alpha Bicycle Co.-Groove Subaru||@3Lap|
|28||42||Ryan RINN||Vive La Tarte||@3Lap|
|30||40||Jared NIETERS||SEAVS/Haymarket pb Van Dessel||@3Lap|
|31||35||Aj SNOVEL||Jakroo HiFi p/b Felt Bicycles||@4Lap|
|32||37||Parker BLOOM||Broad Street Cycles||@4Lap|
|33||34||Oleksiy UKHANOV||Hudson/Ludwig & Larsen Racing/||@5Lap|
|DNF||39||Fred MILLS||Point S Racing|
|DQ||30||Alex WILD||Specialized Racing|