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.
When the 2017 U.S. Cyclocross Nationals were awarded to Hartford, CT, some people were skeptical about how the course and event would play out. Hartford is not necessarily known as a cycling hotbed like other recent host cities such as Asheville, Boulder and Madison.
Any skepticism was quickly put aside when warm temperatures and rains during Tuesday’s non-championship races turned the course and riders (or sliders) into a social media phenomenon.
The conditions at Riverside Park continued to change during the week. Temperatures dropped below freezing and by Friday, Wednesday’s muddy ruts became frozen. A healthy snow came on Saturday and by Sunday, the course was snowy, cold and covered with frozen ruts.
Conditions or no conditions, the course at Riverside Park delivered. Riders got to contend with the choose-your-own-adventure Bonk Breaker Hill early in the lap, where there were choices of when to run up and whether to try to ride the narrow, bumpy path at the top of the hill.
Once the cold and snow arrived, the section through the woods became a harrowing adventure, and although it did not look as visually challenging, the technical features on the backside of the course near the Riverside gazebo created large gaps in races throughout the week.
The Elite racing featured two favorites at different places in their careers. Katie Compton has little left to prove as a cyclocross racer, having podiumed at Worlds multiple times and having won 12 straight U.S. Nationals heading into Hartford.
Stephen Hyde, on the other hand, was looking to add his name to the list of legends who have won U.S. Nationals. Hyde came close in Asheville in 2016, and in 2017, he headed to Hartford as the man to beat after rolling through the October and November U.S. UCI races.
Compton Goes for Lucky 13
Katie Compton entered the 2017 Hartford Nationals with a renewed vigor after getting some of her health issues under control for the first time in years. Her renewed power helped propel her to several World Cup podium finishes in 2016, including a win in the heat at the first Jingle Cross World Cup. She was also a part of memorable finishes at the CrossVegas and Zeven World Cups.
Compton headed to Hartford looking to win her 13th straight U.S. Cyclocross Nationals. Perhaps looking to avoid being superstitious about win number 13, or merely as a means of keeping track, Compton’s shoes in Hartford paid homage to her accomplishments.
Compton’s biggest challengers for Nationals title number 13 were likely Amanda Miller and Kaitie Keough (then Antonneau). Miller was arguably the revelation of the 2016/17 season after she finished fifth at Valkenburg and seventh at Namur. Keough won Day 2 at the Trek CX Cup against Compton and finished third at the Jingle Cross World Cup and was equally poised to challenge for the top step.
On Sunday during the Elite Women’s race, Compton’s biggest challenge came from Elle Anderson, who was back from Europe to race in the snow. Compton was the first to Bonk Breaker Hill a minute into the race, but Anderson was one of the few riders who opted to ride the bottom and then climb up the hill. Her reward was the first position coming off the hill. Compton was right behind her.
Heading into the race, Miller said she was hoping to keep Compton’s pace as long as possible. Unfortunately, her and Keough got held up along the top of Bonk Breaker Hill and the two were resigned to chasing from the second minute of the race.
Anderson stuck with Compton for a lap, and then after the second climb of the vaunted hill, Compton was solo and off to her 13th-straight Nationals win. Miller recovered to take second and Keough took home third. Anderson finished with an impressive fourth after her fast start.
Despite the snowy Hartford warm-up for the snow and ice of Bieles, the Elite U.S. contingent did not translate it into any break out rides at the World Championships. Compton rode near the top five before taking a last-lap DNF. Keough finished 10th, Anderson 11th, Miller 13th and Courtenary McFadden took 15th at Worlds.
Ryde Like Hyde
Even though Jeremy Powers wore the Stars-and-Stripes jersey in 2016 after his win at Asheville Nationals, his friend and protege Stephen Hyde entered the race in Hartford as the prohibitive favorite. Hyde had challenged Powers deep into the race in Asheville in 2016 and then turned a few heads with a 10th-place finish at the Jingle Cross World Cup. During the heart of U.S. UCI racing in 2016, Hyde won seven of eight races, including the Pan-American Championships in Cincinnati.
Powers, on the other hand, had a nightmarish season. He badly injured his ribs during two crashes at the Trek CXC Cup in Waterloo in September and was never the same afterward.
Early in the Elite Men’s race at Hartford, it appeared Hyde was in trouble on an icy, rutted course that made it difficult to recover lost time. Danny Summerhill, Yannick Eckmann and Kerry Werner were off the front early on. The concern among Hyde’s fan club, however, would be short-lived. Hyde made his way to the front at the beginning of the third lap and then pulled away from the field.
Hyde entered the last lap with a 15-second advantage on Jamey Driscoll. His first national championship was within his grasp. Then, cyclocross happened.
Midway through the last lap, Hyde got a flat in his front tire. He struggled through some of the turns toward the end of the lap, but he was still in a good spot with just the bombed-out off-camber and “pro-only” climb and descent to go.
In a decision that came very close to becoming a “what-if,” Hyde opted to ride the off-camber. Folks at home had no idea of the drama unfolding because the camera panned back to Driscoll at the instant Hyde wiped out and broke his rear derailleur hanger. He now had to run the climb and hope gravity could do its thing to give him enough momentum to reach the finish line.
It did, but barely. Hyde dismounted and ran across the finish line, bike in the air, with his rear derailleur hanging lifelessly. Driscoll came charging hard, as he did all race but came up seconds short. Had Hyde ran the off-camber or if there had not been a descent right before the finishing straight, the story of the 2017 Nationals could have been different.
As it played out, Hyde got his first national championship in a season he was unequivocally the best male rider in the U.S. Hyde went on to finish a respectable 18th at Worlds, but as he would likely say, “respectable” is not what he is after. And with U.S. Nationals a month away, Hyde will be looking to hold off Tobin Ortenblad, Werner and others to avoid being, in his words, “a one-hit wonder.”
For a trip down memory lane, watch the replays of the Women’s Elite and Men’s Elite races. The Men’s race begins around 1:47:30.
Stay tuned for more stories from 2017. We will be revisiting Hartford for a look at the memorable Men’s U23 race in a feature story and will soon have a look at the epic Women’s racing at the World Chanpionships in Bieles as part of our 2017 Year in Review.