Believe it or not, it is almost time to turn the page on 2017. To close out the year, we are taking a look back at 13 of the stories that shaped the year. This list is by no means comprehensive and is loosely intended to be in chronological order, starting with the 2017 U.S. Cyclocross Nationals in Hartford.
This year was, unfortunately, not without tragic news. Steve Tilford, one of the legends of cyclocross and off-road cycling, was killed in a car crash in April. He was 57.
Tilford’s accomplishments on the bike were many. He won eight cyclocross Masters national championships and won Masters Worlds twice. Even as he moved up in age groups, Tilford was never afraid to push himself as an athlete. Tilford’s last career cyclocross race was the Elite race on Day 3 at Jingle Cross in 2016. Even in his 50s, he was still racing against the best.
Tilford was a four-time World Championship team member on the road, the U.S.’ first Mountain Bike National Champion with his victory at the first-ever NORBA Nationals in 1983 and a four-time Elite USCF Cyclocross National Champion.
As a Masters racer, Tilford was known for pushing for improvements in the sport. Just before his death, Tilford helped start the conversation about the 80% rule after the 2016 Jingle Cross that pushed USA Cycling into make changes last season.
Back in April, we put together a compilation of Cyclocross Magazine interviews with Tilford. In 2010 at Bend, his predictions about moving Nationals to January were prescient, given how popular opinion eventually turned to favor December Nationals again.
“But for the health of the sport of ’cross? I think that it’d probably be better if they still did the race before Christmas. Cyclocross is a participatory event, and it’s hard for the numbers to keep motivated all the way to January.”
We reached out to a couple folks who knew Tilford as a competitor and friend for their thoughts. Tim Rutledge raced against Tilford back when he was winning Elite cyclocross national titles and Bill Marshall worked with Tilford to grow the sport of cyclocross in Kansas.
At the 1981 Nationals in Pacifica, CA, Steve was part of the Michaels/Raleigh team out of Ames, Iowa. This was the first real ’cross team I ever had heard of and seen. It was a powerhouse group of top racers on 753 Raleigh ‘Cross bikes in the distinctive Red Black-yellow trim. Steve had a rough day at this race when he broke a frame on a difficult ditch obstacle.
Forward to the next year at Nutley, NJ where Steve was third-place to his fellow teammate and race winner, the Junior phenom Roy Knickman. Then at Plymouth in 1983 Steve just rode off the front and crushed everyone to take his first cyclocross national championship.
Steve then proved his versatility over the next few years by having great success on both road and mountain bike. Remember, Steve won the “Iron Man” award countless times at Sea Otter by racing both road and mountain bike very successfully.
Our paths crossed several times over the next 15 years and Steve was always an amazing competitor.
Steve was not afraid to say what many of us thought about the ongoing changes in the cycling world. Steve also had great insight into the sport of bicycle racing and called it “like it is” on his blog.
A great spirit has left us, but our memories of his exploits will live on.
The cycling community lost a legend in early 2017, leaving a big hole at races in the Midwest region and even nationally for those of us who travel on a regular basis. Steve’s was a familiar face that we had all come to know, respect and love to see. We knew the racing was going to be hard and the stories would be great. Steve Tilford was a permanent fixture to us because his presence was what we had all grown to know for as long as we could remember.
Steve would share his wealth of knowledge with riders of all ages and categories, making him one of the most approachable professional athletes ever. He would stop what he was doing to ensure anyone would get their questions answered or just say “hi” in passing. He made you feel welcome and a part of something big.
I learned the majority of what I know about cyclocross through Steve, and I’m grateful his knowledge was passed along to me. Steve went above and beyond to help me bring cyclocross to an all-time high in the Midwest, which continues to this day. It has also allowed so many of us to keep doing what we love to do: race our bikes. New relationships were formed, friendships grew and a cyclocross community was created.
A legend isn’t someone who is just a great athlete, a legend is someone who leaves a mark on those who surround them. We lost a true legend this year and the races simply aren’t the same without Steve, Trudi and Tucker (the dog). I’ve been to every Cyclocross Nationals since 2004 and this year will be the first time Steve won’t be present. It’s going to be an odd feeling because it’s what always happens.
We’ll all move on and do our thing but Steve will be talked about at every race we attend. This is the true definition of a legend. Steve and Trudi, thanks for everything you taught all of us and contributed to the cycling world.