One of the themes from the Lakewood Cyclocross Nationals week has been that anything can happen in the last lap of a cyclocross race, and that is why you need to ride to the finish of every race.
That theme played out yet again on Saturday afternoon in the Junior Men 15-16 race. The result was both triumph and heartbreak on the sport's biggest stage for two young men.
The Junior Men 15-16 race started with Benjamin Crismon (Giant / Appriss) taking the first turn onto the grass after the long start straight. After the riders charged up the first run-up and down the first of two descent chutes, Crismon, Jack Spranger (Broadmark / Mt. Si Racing) and Frank O'Reilly Jr. (FinKraft Racing Team) broke off the front. Behind them, AJ August (Cannondale p/b CyclocrossWorld Devo) and Ian Brown (Speedvagen) led the chase.
By the time the leaders reached the first run-up, the lead trio was a lead quintet. Coming back down after the climb up to the top of the orchard, the group was again three after one of the lead riders crashed at the top of the second descent chute.
At the end of the first lap, the lead group swelled to six—Spranger, O'Reilly Jr., Brown, Crismon, Adrian Magun (Apex Racing) and Tanner Wescott (Cascadia Junior Cycling Team).
The second of three laps featured more group racing, with the lead four of Spranger, O'Reilly Jr., Brown and Crismon holding together and Wescott staying within striking distance. After that second lap, five riders were still together at the front. The race would come down to which rider could maneuver in the group and pull off some bell-lap heroics.
The aggressor at the start of the bell lap was Brown. He led the charge up the run-up and earned a small, but measurable 4-second lead at the bottom of the first drop. Spranger led the scramble to keep him in check.
The riders wound their way through the flats past Pit 1 and then toward the second steep run-up. One-by-one, with about 3 seconds between each rider, the leading 5 riders hit the run-up and shouldered their bikes. Brown led, Spranger was second, O'Reilly Jr. third and Crismon fourth.
Brown cleared the wall first and led the long drag up to the top of the orchard. Then, while trying to extend his gap, disaster struck.
At the bottom of the long descent back to the second chute, Brown's chain fell off and got wrapped in his crank. He had to jump off an run, remounting only to take the plunge back to the bottom of the course.
As Brown ran toward Pit 2, Spranger finally caught up and sped past him. By the time Brown reached the pit for a new bike, he was back in third place after O'Reilly Jr. passed him as well.
With a renewed energy, Spranger rode out the last half lap to take the Stars-and-Stripes and prove the old cyclocross adage true.
"I had a huge burst of motivation and just put it in another gear. It was so amazing to hear everyone yelling," Spranger said. "I was just going hard through all the straights, then taking it easy through the corners so I wouldn’t mess it up right before the end."
O'Reilly Jr. held off Brown to take second, and Brown wrapped up a heartbreaking third. Wescott and Crismon rounded out the wide-angle podium.
For more from the Junior Men 15-16 race, see the winner interview, photo gallery and results below.
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Jack Spranger: Junior Men 15-16 Winner Interview