For the first time in a while, Jonathan Page is lining up at today’s Cyclocross National Championships as a longshot in most fans’ minds. Racing and living in the States this year, one would have expected to see the former European-based American on more UCI podiums and near the top of the list of favorites once again, after a near-miss in Austin in 2015. Cyclocross Magazine’s Ricoh Riott caught up with Page a few weeks ago to find out how the four-time Elite Men’s National Champion is adapting to life in the States and to see if Page is expecting to join the list of title favorites including Jeremy Powers, Stephen Hyde, and new Elite Logan Owen.
by Ricoh Riott
After spending more than dozen years in Belgium, veteran American cyclocross pro Jonathan Page has returned to his homeland and settled in with his family in Ogden, Utah. A trailblazer for all American racers taking on Europe, Page also has a unique perspective on the changes as cyclocross racing becomes more global and a new generation of U.S. talent starts gaining ground internationally.
Page’s resume cements his place as America’s all-time most successful cyclocross racer internationally. This four-time National Champion also boasts a silver medal at the World Championships 2007 in Hooglede Gits—the only U.S. Elite male racer to ever stand on the podium—as well as a solid career in European domestic and World Cup level racing. For the second time in his career, tire issues cost Page a possible win at the U.S. National Championships in 2015, which was soon followed by family tragedy surrounding a 23rd at the 2015 World Championships. This rocky start hasn’t slowed him down for this year however with a first place at Jingle Cross Day 1 in Iowa following strong results at the Subaru Cyclo Cup 2015 and both days of CXLA in Los Angeles showing he’s still a strong contender.
CXM caught up with Page to find out his thoughts on moving back to the US, the flourishing scene he’s found here and the new opportunities for young American racers. Where does he see the future of our sport? Along the way Page hints he has a few new things on the horizon…
Cyclocross Magazine: How are you feeling following your big move back to the US?
Jonathan Page: Actually, since arriving in June, I have been dealing with a cough/asthma that doesn’t seem to want to go away here. I must be allergic to American air. But otherwise, we are enjoying the things that we have missed all these years, like grocery shopping after 8pm or on a Sunday for instance, Halloween, Christmas decorations and lights, visiting family more than once per year…
CXM: What lead you to choose Ogden, Utah as your new home—did you consider a return to your native New Hampshire?
JP: We considered the East Coast and are still not opposed to moving again. We don’t know where we’ll end up but Ogden, with it’s great mountain bike trails and close proximity to skiing, seemed like a good place to start!
CXM: With Sven Nys announcing his retirement and Tim Johnson winding down his racing too, the number of riders of your age is thinning out, but your recent performance implies you’re taking your racing as seriously as ever. Does your return to home soil mark a new approach to racing, or is it business as usual?
JP: You know, I am unsure about my future right now. I was really excited to race in the States after so many years away. However, it has been a challenge, both mentally and physically, to have been unhealthy an entire season so far. It is also much harder to travel around in America as a sort of one man team than I thought it would be. I have already made the decision that if I race another full season in the States, I’d have to have a team that travels to the races to help with logistics, bikes …
I have already made a deal with a few of my current sponsors for another couple of years and I have a potential opportunity to stay in cycling but only race part time… I would definitely take that opportunity if it works out. Over the years, I have been fortunate to learn from the sport’s best. It would be fun to get to pass that on to the right people. If not, my wife and I have several ideas outside of cycling that we would be excited about.
CXM: How was training for this season outside your Belgian routine? Were you happy with your training progression without some of the racing opportunities you might be used to in Europe?
JP: The volume is great here in the States now! The racing calendar has come a long way in my career. I don’t feel that being here limited me at all. My only training limiter has been my health. I think a racer can easily prepare for the season on American soil.
CXM: You were involved with the organization of the Utah State Championships. How did you enjoy being on the other side of the tape?
JP: Thankfully, I was not in charge. I have a seasoned vet in that position. I have just helped promote the race and map the course. It’s fun though and gives me even more of an appreciation for the organizers who do it all, most of the time for free, here in the States so that us ‘cross riders and fans have something to do every weekend!
CXM: Do you see yourself becoming more involved with event organization, could this be a path for you after your racing days are over?
JP: I will definitely do some of this even while I am still racing. If you have good people involved, it’s not work, it’s fun. Takes a lot of time though so I won’t be doing too many each year.
CXM: On the subject of local racing, the U.S. has no shortage of UCI C1 and C2 events but no unified national series following the disappearance of the USGP. What are your thoughts on how this might affect the development of good domestic riders and prepare them for racing outside the U.S. and on to World Cup level?
JP: I’m just thankful that America is on the map and that we have so many UCI races to choose from these days. Back in Belgium, riders could skip out on some of the big races and head a bit further to a UCI race in France, Germany, or even Spain and Italy from time to time. I think that here in the US, we still have enough opportunity to race against all the top guys if we have the travel budget for it.
CXM: We’re seeing some young riders fast-tracking their progression to Elite lately, do you think it’s easier to reach this level now than in the past?
JP: I’m not sure about that one. Back in the years, I used to race in the Elite races in the States too, just to get some training and skills. Back then, that was the only motivation to race up. However, these days, the young guys make a lot more money in start money, contracts and prize money if they race in the Elites as U23s or even juniors. I don’t know if they are more skilled than back in years or not but I’d do the same thing as they are doing!
CXM: Does an American rider trying to break into the European circuit now have an easier job than you did—would a talented rider who committed to living and racing in Belgium as you did, now find less barriers to success?
JP: In my opinion, yes. Back then, I had lots of barriers. ‘Cross wasn’t very popular here, for a start, so just getting myself into World Cups successfully was a feat. There were several instances where I traveled to the venue, only to find out that my paperwork was incorrect and I would not be starting. These days, Marc Gullickson does everything for us. I get an email asking for my contact info for the race then another with the pertinent information and most of the time, who has my number and where they’ll be. I used to have to go to all the meetings myself if indeed I did manage to get in. Then there was the fact that U.S. Nationals were in December, different than everyone else’s Nationals. It was a pain. It was also a lot more difficult because the Worlds Team criteria centered much around U.S. racing… I had to work really hard—and have a lot of luck—to make the team some years. Not many people knew about the races in Europe and there were many years where I was pretty much forgotten. There was no USA house, no teams from here headed over there for blocks of racing, no media following me to let people know that I actually was making headway there. I was constantly yelled at. Things like, “Go home American!” or “You have no place but the back in this peloton!” And I would have to work really hard just to get into the non world cup races. Just to be on the start line. Sometimes I’d be promised starts in races only to not be on the list. All of this was really frustrating. Sometimes I really thought I was nuts for staying there… my wife thought that even more so.
CXM: Who do you think are the young U.S. riders to watch?
JP: I know there are lots of good U.S. riders coming up. The more opportunities these kids have in the way of teams and racing, the more of the good ones we’ll see. We might be able to keep some of them in ‘cross instead of having them all disappear to road if the sponsorship and mentor opportunities continue. Right now, I don’t know who the good ones will be. For me, the trick is the post-U23 years. When you are old enough to have a job that makes real money like your friends, when you don’t fall into that “young rider” or “junior rider” category that everyone wants to help. When you have to race with the big dogs weekend after weekend. I know America is going to have a lot of them and it’s going to be exciting!
CXM: Women’s racing has been growing steadily, both domestically and internationally, and with it an increasing discussion about support, coverage and prize packets. What do you feel is the best way forward for the women’s side of the sport?
JP: Honestly, I cannot believe that there is, in 2015, inequality for the women. I think it should be fairly simple to work out start/prize money system based on number of participants at the top. A few years ago, the argument that there were so few “good” women was stronger but now, I would say there are just as many “good” women vying for top spots in the big races as there are men! Therefore, in my opinion, there should be just as much of everything for women as there is for men. It’s hard. I’ve heard comments with my own ears that make me realize that change is going to be slow, but I for one, am more than willing to support however I can. Even if that means less start or prize money for me, less TV time or coverage for me. I believe that is only fair. I have two girls and I hate to think that inequality is their future in sport. I think that the women and the men need to stand up for what is fair and right together.
CXM: Equipment has progressed significantly since you started racing. Does this make your job easier, or add another layer of complexity to consider?
JP: Some of the progression has made my job easier… some harder.
CXM: You’ve been riding your current Fuji Altamira for a couple of seasons and must have it well dialed-in, but have you made any changes to your setup recently that are working out well for you?
JP: Ha! I’m always making changes.
CXM: What are your thoughts on the discs vs cantis debate?
JP: Except for snow—tested again today in one and a half feet—I would rather ride canti.
CXM: Do you have a favorite course or race from your career? What makes that event special for you?
JP: Well, I have a lot of favorites. I’ve been doing this a long time. Of course the race in Hooglede Gits, Belgium will always be special for me but who knows if that is because of the course, or what happened there(Ed: World Champs second place). I have always liked Hoogerheide as well. I got to do Jingle Cross in Iowa finally and I really liked the course and atmosphere there. Actually, I liked being at all the U.S. races I did so far this season. Again, I am not sure it was about the courses so much as the atmosphere and the fact that people were genuinely glad to have me. Pretty nice feeling after so many years away.
CXM: Where can we expect to see you for the rest of the season, is an appearance on the line at the World Championships in Heusden-Zolder on the cards?
JP: I would like to be on the line at the Worlds this year. I am hoping that this January has an entirely different feeling than last January. If I make the team, a big family event will determine whether or not I can go over beforehand for some World Cups but that would be my best case scenario plan.
CXM: Thanks a bunch for your time, and good luck for the rest of the season.