As sports fans, we watch sporting events for any number of reasons. Fun, diversion, camaraderie, weird obsessions, whatever it might be.
One of those reasons for many is the hope that if we watch enough events, we will get to witness something special. It does not happen often, but every once in a while a great game or race comes along that stands out as an event we will remember not just next week but next year.
So what makes a cyclocross race achieve greatness? That is a good question.
In ’cross, the races we remember seem to come down to battles between two riders—Nys v. Stybar, 2014; Vos v. Cant, 2017, the races may start with large groups, but they usually seem to come down to a duel between two. The chess match between the two, the attacks and counters push riders to their limit and force them to raise their respective ’cross games to another level.
We remember the examples above because the stakes were so high. Great races can happen locally on any given Saturday or Sunday, but true greatness is usually reserved for those races when the most prestigious titles are on the line.
Finally, there are the storylines. Every athlete comes to the line with a story—where they are in their career, what they’ve accomplished that season, what they have not accomplished that season. These stories can elevate a race to something that is about much more than just a race.
This calendar year, there have been a number of cyclocross races that were nothing short of barn burners. Today, we look back at six classic races that have a good chance of being remembered years from now.
Use the next button to read about each.
Stephen Hyde v. Jeremy Powers – 2018 U.S. Cyclocross Nationals, Reno
When the U.S. cyclocross community gathered in the desert at Reno Nationals in January, Stephen Hyde and Jeremy Powers were each at a different point in their cyclocross journeys.
Hyde was then the one-time defending U.S. cyclocross champion looking to avoid being, as he put it, a one-hit wonder. Hyde’s early season was derailed by illness, but he hit his stride with a massive win at Pan-Ams in Louisville and a successful block of Kerstperiode racing in Europe. He headed to Reno looking to add another title and solidify his legitimacy as a cyclocross champion.
Jeremy Powers headed to Reno looking to prove that he was still one of the best in U.S. cyclocross. Reno Nationals came after two tough seasons for Powers that were marred by an injury in 2016 and a heart issue that resurfaced at Pan-Ams in 2017. After a long training block in Arizona, he had a really big something to prove in the race at Rancho San Rafael Park.
Add in Tobin Ortenblad, the top domestic racer of 2017, Curtis White racing in his first Elite Nationals and Kerry Werner and the stage was set for a good one.
In Sunday’s race in Reno, Powers went to the front and drove a blistering pace at the front. Only Hyde, Ortenblad, Werner and Jack Kisseberth could match his pace at the front.
White popped off with a flat tire on the hill, then Kisseberth flatted as well. About the same time that Kisseberth flatted, Werner dropped off the pace. The lead group was down to Powers, Hyde and Ortenblad with three to go.
Just inside three to go, Powers finally made an attack. Hyde then countered right before the stairs. Ortenblad was spent, and it was now down to Powers and Hyde.
The JAM Fund mentor and mentee with two laps to go and a national championship that would mean so much to both on the line.
The two stayed together into the last lap. Well into the last lap. Wheel-to-wheel, they cleared the barriers and headed through the field toward the big hill on the far side of the course.
Hyde tried to pass Powers, but Powers shut him down. Then in an all-out sprint to the last corner before the bridge to the run-up, Hyde got past Powers.
With a small advantage, Hyde extended his lead on the run-up and technical hillside. That gap was all he needed to win his second-straight U.S. Cyclocross Nationals and more importantly, get that validation as an athlete whose follow-up was as good as his first big hit.
With his second-place finish, Powers proved to the cyclocross world—and himself—that he could compete at the highest domestic level. As we would soon find out, the race also marked the end of an era for him as it was the last race for the Aspire Racing team he started and nurtured.
For more from the race, you can read our race report and my retrospective on the battle between Hyde and Powers and what it meant to the two men.