Spencer Petrov (Cannondale p/b CyclocrossWorld) has been through a lot this season in dealing with the effects of a concussion suffered in September. Sunday's U23 Men's race in Louisville provided Petrov with a chance to put a lot of his struggles behind him if he could get a win or spot on the podium.
Being back in the Ohio Valley was also a bit of a homecoming for Petrov. He grew up in the Cincinnati area and raced in the OVCX series during his Junior days. Petrov has history in Louisville as well, having first raced in the Derby City almost a decade ago.
Heading to Nationals in the Derby City, Petrov was coming off a difficult season. He suffered a concussion on his first race weekend of the season and has spent the season slowly returning to health and cycling form.
"It's been a tough year," Petrov said. "I had concussions that took me out the first half of the season and it was hard. I was just happy. The gratification I have now and all that hard work that I did, and that grit that I had. All those nights not sleeping, all that anxiety, I beat it."
On Sunday, Petrov got the chance to put all that behind him in the U23 Men's race at Joe Creason Park.
Midway throught the first lap, Petrov was ready to do just that. He got off the front with Eric Brunner (FCX Elite) at the first climb and stayed with the defending Nationals runner-up heading to the final climb up to Pit 2.
It was on the long, muddy slog that Petrov made his move. He accelerated past Brunner and got a lead at the top. When the lap was done, his advantage was up to 12 seconds.
From there, the race was all Spencer Petrov. After suffering through so much this season, the Ohio Valley native bounced back to take home a dominant U23 Men's title.
"It was a battle out there, you were fighting the course," Petrov said. "I was prepared mentally for that fight. It was a battle, I'm super proud."
Redemption at Joe Creason
With Gage Hecht racing the Elites and defending U23 champion Christopher Blevins training for next mountain bike season, there was some uncertainty surrounding Sunday's U23 race at the start line in Louisville.
The front of the race quickly sorting itself out with Petrov, Brunner and Denzel Stephenson (FCX Elite) getting to the front at the first climb. 2017 U23 national champion Lance Haidet (Donnelly Cycling) chased in fourth.
Brunner and Petrov dropped Stephenson in the second half of the lap and headed toward the final run up to Pit 2 together.
It was there that Petrov really sprung to life. Step by step, he opened up more space on Brunner. At the top at the end of one lap, his lead was 12 seconds.
"I took the lead just leaving the bowl," Petrov said. "I wasn't concerned about leading on lap one. I didnt need to burn matches then, I just needed to stay upright. I did, I accomplished that goal."
After the race, Petrov said he was more than ready to take advantage of the running sections. "I've got long legs, I'm a good runner, I like to run. It was something that I wasn't scared of. In fact, I thought it was in favor of me."
The next two laps, Petrov blew the door off the front of the race. After two laps his lead was 58 seconds. After three it was 1:30.
"From there, Laps 2-3 is when I wanted to give the gas because then everyone who tried to nuke it Lap 1 was going to be hurting," Petrov said.
The last lap was anything but easy, but Petrov finally got a few moments to savor his victory after cresting the climb and heading onto the pavement one last time. After everything he has been through this year, some of it will at least be forgotten thanks to his U23 National Championship.
"I'm good in these types of conditions where you've got to hurt, you've got to keep chugging along, you've got to have your head up," Petrov said. "I had my pit crew, I had my director, I had friends and family out there who were giving me time gaps and words of encouragement."
A Close Battle for Second
While Petrov was off to claim his cyclocross destiny, a tight race for second broke out. After the first lap, it appeared Brunner was headed for second after finishing second at the 2017 Pan-Ams, second at 2018 Reno Nationals and second at the 2018 Pan-Ams. The chasers, however, had other plans.
In Lap 2, Haidet started to close the gap to Brunner and appeared to be ready to fully bridge at the climb to Pit 2. Haidet could not complete his bridge and still trailed heading into the second half of the race.
Haidet again appeared ready to bridge up to Brunner in Lap 3, but could not quite make contact. Then, in the second half of the lap, Brannan Fix (Alpha Bicycle - Groove Subaru) and Nicholas Lando (Competitive Edge Racing) made their respective moves. The two almost bridged at the climb to Pit 2 and sat only five seconds behind Brunner at the bell.
Fix and Lando finally made the bridge to Brunner at the sandpit. The chase for second now had three riders.
After the big descent, Fix moved to the front and made his move on the run up to the limestone steps. His late energy gave him a gap on the other two that he would not relinquish to take second.
"Everyone in front of me kept making mistakes, and I kept trying to minimize those, keep the legs moving and keep them fast" Fix said. "I just never really sat up or gave it a second thought and went hard when I could. It was a nice comeback for sure."
Brunner held on in the last lap to take third.
For more from the U23 Men race, see the interviews, photos and results below.
Visit our dedicated Louisville Cyclocross Nationals page for all of our 2018 Nationals coverage.
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Spencer Petrov: Winner Interview
Brannan Fix: Second Place