Jesse Anthony, the current USGP leader, has been racing ‘cross for ten years and has won an impressive seven cyclocross national championships. With such a record, it’s easy to forget the Jamis-sponsored racer is only 23 years old. Jesse is returning from a broken wrist suffered this summer and is enjoying his best form yet. Not content to be only a subject of our rider diaries, Jesse rounds out the current crew of Cyclocross Magazine columnists with his PRO-perspective column debut today.

Broken no more. Jesse Anthony was on fire at Gstar. photo: Rob O'Dea

Broken no more. Jesse Anthony was on fire at Gstar. photo: Rob O’Dea

I shocked myself with a podium place in my first race back after breaking my wrist, the Gloucester Grand Prix on October 11th. I had been training hard and feeling pretty good under the supervision of Carmichael Training Systems coach Gord Fraser, but I didn’t expect to be riding with Tim Johnson and Ryan Trebon near the end of an intense hour at my first race back. Yet there I was on a sunny day in Gloucester, MA in front a near-home-town crowd with a taped-up wrist seeing two laps to go still contact with the front group.

Fast forward two weeks to the opening round of the USGP in Louisville, KY, and again I could hardly believe the situation I was in. Halfway through the race I was trading pulls with Treefarm himself, riding comfortably 15 seconds ahead of a chase group that only a year ago I would have been fortunate to be a part of on a good day. When Ryan has one of his “attack early and never look back” days, it’s usually a grim outlook for the rest of us. Yet today I was able to match his efforts until the closing laps, and as surprised as I was, I just went with it, gave my best effort and finished second at the end of the day-my best placing in a USGP race since a fifth place I achieved in 2005.

I think I was the happiest guy at the race that day. Expectations can make or break you in this sport, and mine were so low that I was still wondering what happened to the rest of the guys that day. Did they all have an off day at the same time? How did I get this result? I’ve worked hard and given my best effort for years, but I’ve never ridden this fast!

Day two rolled around and I tried to repeat my success by following Tim Johnson in an early race attack. I did not have the same legs as Saturday, and had to watch Tim ride away from me after only a couple of laps. I took a deep breath, hit the reset button, and settled into a chase group driven by Todd Wells. Halfway through the race I started counting down the laps, hoping that I could just stay with these guys for one more. Thinking “hang on for just one more lap” managed to get me to just one to go in the race, and I still had two podium spots within reach. And in the end, I timed my effort perfectly and beat the other three riders in my group to the line for another second place finish.

It’s one thing to have a break-out ride and get on the podium in a big race, but to be able to back it up when you’re not feeling like Superman is a huge confidence booster. So leaving the first USGP weekend in Louisville, KY behind, I dove into another week of training with new motivation.

A week later and 5500 feet above sea level in Boulder, I showed up hoping to jump right back into the lead group and hunt for more podium finishes in the Boulder Cup weekend. The first day of racing was another shocking day for me, though in a much different way than in Louisville. I was just on the back of the lead group for the first two laps, but I was digging a little too deep to be there. Sure enough the altitude hit me like a ton of bricks and I treated the spectators to a Fourth of July style fireworks show as I detonated and never recovered. I ended up pulling out before the halfway point in the race. I knew racing at altitude would be hard, but I couldn’t believe it was that bad.

I thought about what went wrong all night and the next morning. In the end I figured out what adjustments to make because on Sunday I finished fifth which was quite satisfying after not finishing at all on Saturday. The key to getting through Sunday’s race was something that Ryan Trebon told me before the race. He said that racing at altitude feels like racing in slow motion. You feel like you should be able to go faster, but you just can’t. That’s the truth. The race hurt on Sunday as badly as most ‘cross races do, but I don’t think I could have gone any harder during the race and still finished well.

Altitude just drains me, but I stayed a few extra days out in the “Boulder Bubble” to hang out with some friends and enjoy the mountains a bit. By the time I flew home on Wednesday I was toast, and ready for a weekend off from racing.

I trained for nearly 14 hours over four days last weekend, and now I’m recovering from that and just waiting for the upcoming weekend of racing in New Jersey. I feel like I’m experiencing the calm before the storm. On Saturday I’m going to try to defend the leader’s jersey of the US Gran Prix. I’m totally ready for it and I feel that I have a good chance. I also feel that I’m going to have to race better than I ever have in my life in order to come out of the weekend still ahead in points.

Of course I really want to keep the jersey, but my main goal for this weekend is to go put in my best effort and see how things turn out. I’ve worked hard this fall and I’m enjoying the best form of my life. We’ll see where it takes me.

Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoy the exciting racing this weekend!

Check back here for live updates throughout the weekend from the USGP in New Jersey.

(Photo by Rob O’Dea)