Eric Brunner solos to U.S. ’cross national title

Scott Funston took the gold medal in the men's U23 national championship.

Photo: SnowyMountain Photography

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WHEATON, ILLINOIS (VN) — In a 68-minute battle over a tricky course, Eric Brunner (Blue Competition Cycles p/b Built) won the 2021 USA Cycling national cyclocross championship ahead of Curtis White (Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld) and defending champion Gage Hecht (Aevolo).

“It’s just been a dream. I don’t know what to say,” Brunner said of winning the national title two weeks after winning the Pan American’ cross title. “The conditions did not suit me. I really did not expect it to go like that. I’m a bit at a loss.”

Brunner separated himself on the first lap and carried a 12-15 second margin over Gage Hecht (Aevolo) for the next two laps.

Both Brunner and Hecht race for Aevelo on the road.

Defending national champion Gage Hecht chased Brunner for all by the first lap of the race and ultimately finished in third. (Photo: Greg Kaplan)

After the third lap, Brunner went into time trial mode but did not ride conservatively, with Hecht, White, and Kerry Werner (Kona Maxxis Shimano CX Team), and Caleb Swartz (Giant/Neff Cycle Service) all chasing.

Hecht and White separated themselves from the others by the midpoint in the races, but still trailed Brunner by an ever-increasing margin, even as the lap times dropped by more than half a minute from the start.

Brunner is hitting his stride in the 2021 season. He had a few top-15s in the early autumn and then rode onto a series of podium appearances before winning the Pan American cyclocross championships, in Texas, two weeks prior to his national championship win.

“I was a little bit nervous, not that I couldn’t ride well, but with the amount of mud, and tight corners, and wet conditions, I knew it would be important to start fast and not be behind anybody who made a mistake, or not be too far back if I made a mistake,” said Brunner.

The mud which had frozen overnight had thawed under sunny skies.  Temperatures hovered in the mid-40s for the elite men’s race.

The sandpit forced riders to navigate about 100 meters of fine sand in deep ruts.  (Photo: Greg Kaplan)

Situated in Cantigny Park, at the edge of a golf course, in suburban Illinois, about 30 miles west of Chicago, the course required riders had to contend with a single set of double barriers, a sandpit, stairs, and mud-covered off-camber twists and climbs over constantly changing surfaces on each lap.

Through the first several laps, the field of 46 strung out as the course went from near-ideal to greasy conditions, with the sun casting long shadows that made finding a good line more challenging.

“It was a good bit drier than it was when I rode at noon,” Brunner said.“I was pitting once a lap until near the end, then every half lap. At one point I had a rear flat and rode a quarter lap on a flat.”

This is Brunner’s first year racing elite. He was the 2019 U23 national cyclocross champion.

While some racers plan on a brief but intense European campaign at the end of the month to gain experience and also prepare for the UCI world championships in Fayetteville, Arkansas, Brunner plans to stay Stateside.

“I came into the [cyclocross] season pretty hot from Europe, and at the beginning, I was pretty cracked physically and mentally. So I am going to spend time at home, relax, and then ramp it back up for worlds,” Brunner said.

2021 USA Cycling elite national championship men’s results

  1. Eric Brunner (Blue Competition Cycles p/b Built), 1:08:30
  2. Curtis White (Cannondale p/b, 1:09:07
  3. Gage Hecht (Aevolo), 1:09:10
  4. Kerry Werner (Kona Maxxis Shimano CX Team),1:11:51
  5. Caleb Swartz (Giant/Neff Cycle Service), 1:12:14

Complete elite men’s results

Men’s U23 national championship

Scott Funston won the 2021 USAC national cyclocross championships. (Photo: Greg Kaplan)

In the U23 category, Scott Funston (Blue Competition Cycles) earned the national title over five laps in 54:15, ahead of Andrew Strohmeyer (CX Hairs Devo) who trailed by 2:14, and Daxton Mock (Trek Cyclocross Collective), 2:44.

Behind Funston, Strohmeyer and Mock traded positions, and ultimately conditions played a part in Strohmeyer being able to pull ahead and stay away in the final two laps.

Men’s junior 17-18 national championship

Magnus White (Boulder Junior Cycling) won the men’s junior 17-18 category in 36:25, ahead of Andrew August (Cannondale p/b Cyclocrossworld) and Frank O’Reilly (FinKraft Cycling Team).

An American in France

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