During the 2015 Cyclocross National Championship, Zach McDonald rode to a strong third place behind Jeremy Powers and Jonathan Page, his second Elite Men’s podium in three years. That finish, as well as his wins at Day One and Day Two of the Dallas Resolution CX Cup, convinced the Worlds selection committee to reserve him a spot to compete in Tabor on February 1st. Along with Crystal Antony’s late surging performance and selection for Worlds, Zach McDonald’s place on the team is strong proof that the selection committee still places a strong emphasis on late-season results for riders who only fulfill the self-funded criteria.
This will be his second year competing at the World Championships in the Men’s Elite Race after his long stretch racing in the U23 field. In more than one way, McDonald showed us something completely different in Austin than he did in Boulder.
In our pre-season interview with Zach McDonald, we touched on his last year’s performance at 2014 Nationals, where he jumped off his bike in the middle of a disappointing race and had a beer with fans. “I don’t mind if people don’t like it, and I don’t mind if people like it,” he had said during the interview. “I was done [with the race] and somebody just handed me a beer. I’ll have some fun and continue on for another day.”
In our last interview with him, only minutes after finishing third in Austin, he struck an interesting chord, humbly acknowledging the fitness of the riders who beat him along with the surprise of Powers’ new-found technical prowess:
Considering McDonald is one of the most well-known bike handlers in cyclocross, it was no shock that he found his way to the podium on a technical, muddy course. What did surprise many of the spectators was they way he did it.
“It’s one of those courses that you can’t make mistakes,” he said. “I made mistakes and got out-ridden.” His own synopsis of the race wasn’t a credit to a true summary, where he spent most of the race keeping pace with the leaders, and although he trailed, mistakes or mechanicals by Page and Powers could have easily put him back in the hunt in the last few laps.
He rode like his usual, aggressive-style self, pushing his wheel to the limits around corners. In his interview with us after the race, he told us that he made too many mistakes on a course that demanded a perfect ride. During his chase of Page and Powers, his wheel slipped multiple times and he bobbled near the run-ups. It wasn’t his technique that propelled him to third, it was his willingness to suffer.
On the pavement, his arms were draped over his handlebars in a show of exhaustion. In the mud, all his strength was being used to both chase the leaders and keep away from Danny Summerhill, Dan Timmerman and Stephen Hyde. McDonald showed a hunger on the course that he hadn’t shown in the year prior. He was an adopted hometown hero in the race, with the locals cheering him on. His new team, Cyclocross Project 2015, is based in Austin, and focuses on hosting clinics for young riders. As he said during the interview, it was important doing well in a race with this crowd behind him.
“It kept me going,” he told us. “It kept me motivated. Coming out here and doing some clinics definitely got me some pull with the crowd.”
With Nationals behind him and Worlds ahead, McDonald will likely be switching gears for the international stage, and many will be watching how he fares with an American jersey once again. Similar to the race in Boulder, McDonald had a few social media critics who commented on his quickness of pulling out of the 2014 Cyclocross World Championships at Hoogerheide. For Tabor, it should be interesting to see if McDonald is still driven by the same hunger he showed us in Austin. Can he still push forward without a hometown crowd? Will he fight tooth-and-nail like in Austin if he’s not in the top third of the race? These are questions that can only be answered in a little over a week.