Jeff Bahnson raced to 44th place in Zolder, Belgium Dec 26, 2009. ©Bart Hazen

Cyclocross Magazine got the inside story on the Zolder World Cup from US Junior Jeff Bahnson. Jeff is in Europe as part of EuroCrossCamp (see embedded journalist Nathan Phillips’ first diary entry from the camp here) and will return to contest the World Championships. From bike arrival problems to his first World Cup race in Zolder, Bahnson’s gave us an update on the experience so far.

by Jamie Mack

After taking second at US Nationals, Jeff Bahnson (Thule-Van Dessel) was already focused on another goal, being named to the US team for the World Championships.  After a hectic season, Jeff’s stress was only beginning as he raced to pack and prepare for the EuroCrossCamp experience. He was hard at work fulfilling his school obligations right up until the night he left. As successful as Jeff has been on the race course, through it all he has managed to match those achievements in the classroom.

This wasn’t to be Jeff’s first trip to Europe as he previously spent a year living and racing in France with his family, but this trip would be unique.  The solid support structure of friends and family that Jeff has behind him in the US would not be making the trip.

Transport of the bikes to Izegem started the ball rolling the wrong way when Bahnson’s Van Dessel’s arrived little more than 12 hours before the Zolder World Cup. Facing an early morning start, Bahnson wrenched the bikes together himself at the house in Izegem, relying on what he has learned from Delaware Cross Coalition of Delaware (DCCofD) leader Tom McDaniel.  McDaniel, the closest thing that Jeff may have to a formal mentor back in Delaware, has been in touch with the young rider to provide guidance and technical advice for the tasks he usually takes care of in person.

Getting the bikes to the race course made a tense day more difficult as the bikes were not transported in the truck with the other Junior bikes, meaning that they didn’t arrive at the venue until a little more than an hour before the start.  With little time for a warm-up or pre-ride, the day was not off to an auspicious start.

Bahnson started well, but hit issues as soon as he rounded the first turn. Grabbing a handful of front brake, Bahnson felt the cable slip and found his next direction was towards the pits. Switching to a spare bike, Bahnson looked to charge back into the field only to have another cable problem, this time shifting, cause yet another delay. Talking to McDaniel, his frustration at not being there was evident. This was a rare occasion, outside of a rolled or flat tire, that Bahnson has suffered from mechanical problems and McDaniel is the main force behind that record.

The course featured an element or two that were more technical than the normal conditions seen in the US. In particular one slick, technical descent got the better of Bahnson. For a rider known for technical skill that may seem to be a bad sign, but any descent that can also derail the likes of Sven Nys deserves some respect. During one of the crashes on the descent, US rider Michael Spinks shared Bahnson’s fate as the two ended with tangled bikes. Spinks unfortunately took the worst of it with broken spokes and a potentially damaged fork.  Bahnson would go on to finish 44th, while Spinks was a DNF.

Speaking with Bahnson, he seemed to be taking the struggles in stride. Lauri Webber, Jeff’s Mom and a successful racer in her own right, wasn’t concerned. Lauri was confident that Jeff could move past the events leading to today and find success in the upcoming races, adding that “Yannick getting punched in the face is likely to help his psyche,” referring to an apparent altercation between Eckmann, who finished 19th, and another junior. After a crash and tangled bikes, Yannick was apparently on the receiving end of the other rider’s frustration.

Given the ups and downs that Jeff has faced with illness through the year, it’s safe to say that he knows how to handle adversity. Despite suffering through flu during the early part of the season, Jeff continued to show the power and determination that has brought him to the  level of the elite juniors in the US.  The riders that the US has sent to Europe, and yes I include German-born Eckmann in that group, are a tough lot, and I think that they will all do their community of ‘cross fanatics proud. As they forge ahead along their tough Euro ‘cross trail, our juniors will show what they are made of, and what their futures hold.