Analysis: U.S. worlds team takes shape ahead of key qualifying period
With six weeks to go to the U.S. ’cross worlds team selection, a handful of riders are qualified and the squad is wide open
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Just six weeks remain before USA Cycling announces its roster for the 2013 elite cyclocross world championships in Louisville, Kentucky, but much is to be decided for the host nation’s squad of 21 riders.
While national champions Katie Compton (Trek Cyclocross Collective) and Jeremy Powers (Rapha-Focus) are among the riders to have automatically qualified for the team, if the January 14 roster announcement were to be issued today, as many as 13 discretionary selections could find themselves booking flights to the Bluegrass State.
Many of the top contenders will descend on Belgium during the week of December 10. There, they’ll tackle the Kerstperiode races, a slate of seven events over 10 days, bookended by a pair of Bpost Bank Trofee races, the Grand Prix Rouwmoer in Essen on December 22 and the Grand Prix Sven Nys in Baal on January 1. And with the World Cups in Namur and Zolder just three days apart, this will be the most important time for riders to show themselves ready to ride the Kerst bounce to the worlds.
But today, with the fourth round of the World Cup, in Roubaix, France, in the books, where do the four U.S. teams stand?
The team, as of today
If the January 14 deadline were today, eight riders would automatically qualify for the worlds team, based on USA Cycling’s criteria. USA Cycling will determine the worlds team based on a set of criteria for automatic qualification that it published earlier this year. Those criteria form a hierarchy, with the top standard for Americans a top-five World Cup finish between October 21, 2012 and January 6, 2013 (no Americans meet the first criterion, a podium at 2012 worlds). The third criterion, a national championship win, could draw in additional auto-qualifiers in early January, if a rider that has not qualified otherwise takes a win in Madison, Wisconsin.
Powers and Compton would each qualify on three criteria, with Compton getting the nod for having won three rounds of the World Cup this season (she also leads the overall), while Powers meets the fourth criterion as the top-ranked American in the elite men’s standings released November 27. The sixth criterion awards a berth to the top points holder from the North American C1 events — Compton and Powers should each take that honor as well when the Trek U.S. Gran Prix closes out in Bend this weekend.
Joining them would be elite men Ryan Trebon and Tim Johnson (Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com), the second- and third-ranked U.S. men in the UCI standings, respectively; Kaitlin Antonneau (Cannondale), who finished ninth in the elite women’s World Cup opener; Zach McDonald (Rapha), who finished fourth for U23 men at the Tabor World Cup; and junior men Logan Owen (Redline) and Curtis White (Hot Tubes).
USA Cycling’s cyclocross program director, Marc Gullickson, expects to fill every one of the United States’ 21 worlds spots, which means that, if the qualifying period ended today, there would be three available slots each for the elite men’s and women’s and junior men’s categories, and four for the U23 men’s group. That’s a lot of room on the bubble for discretionary selections. The USA Cycling selection committee will make those selections between the application deadline of January 4 and the roster announcement.
Automatic qualifiers, if the season ended December 3
Katie Compton (Criteria #2, #4, #5)
Kaitlin Antonneau (Criteria #4)
Jeremy Powers (Criteria #4, #5, #6)
Ryan Trebon (Criteria #4)
Tim Johnson (Criteria #4)
Zach McDonald (Criteria #2, #5)
Logan Owen (Criteria #2, #5)
Curtis White (Criteria #4)
Big bubble for elite men
Trebon and Johnson — who would each be qualified based on their current UCI standings, which could change significantly before January 14 — are technically the least secure in their automatic selections. Still, it is difficult to imagine a situation in which two of the most successful Americans over the last decade could sit out their home worlds. But, as Gullickson reiterated this week, they’ll have to prove they deserve a discretionary selection relative to their countrymen should they fall out of auto-qualifying territory.
“For those guys that haven’t made their mark, it’s going to come down to the remaining big races and we’ll obviously be looking at the World Cups,” Gullickson told VeloNews. “We’ll have a strong contingent at Namur and Zolder and we’ll also look at nationals closely. It’s hard to say [who the discretionary selections will be]. There are a lot of guys that are going to be on that bubble.”
With three open selections at this point for the elite men’s squad, the USA Cycling selection committee may end up with a few very difficult decisions. Riders sitting on that bubble include former worlds silver medalist Jonathan Page, who sits 33rd in the UCI standings today; 29th-ranked Jamey Driscoll (Cannondale); and 47th-ranked Chris Jones (Rapha).
Driscoll and Page, who has twice finished 29th in World Cups this season, but has shown improving fitness in recent weeks, are capable of top-15 results at the World Cup level, which would auto-qualify them by USA Cycling’s fifth criterion. Jones is on the rise of late as well and though he has not yet decided whether he’ll head to Europe after the USGP finale this weekend, the Rapha man is set on seeing through his three-year-old commitment to Louisville.
But it is Danny Summerhill (UnitedHealthcare) that has shown the most upside this fall when he’s been able to hit the national circuit. Summerhill lacks the points he likely would hold if he had full team support for ’cross and at this point it’s unclear whether he’ll make a run at worlds with his neo-pro road contract about to commence with UnitedHealthcare. That should become clearer after the team’s first camp in mid-December. A number of sources tell VeloNews that, if Summerhill continues his recent show of form and commits to worlds, he would be a top pick for a discretionary nod.
Former national champion Todd Wells (Specialized) and newly crowned singlespeed world champ Adam Craig (Rabobank-Giant) are also yet to commit to a push for a worlds birth. Craig and Wells may need to win nationals — which is certainly possible, particularly for a motivated Wells — to auto-qualify.
One big question is just how far Page’s 2007 worlds medal and veteran status can carry him with the committee, which the federation has instructed to weigh current medal capabilities and developmental potential when deciding team rosters. Summerhill, Driscoll and Jeremy Durrin (JAM-Focus) are young riders that could garner attention for their long-term upside. It is difficult to imagine, however, a Louisville worlds without Page, who relocated to Belgium following his worlds podium to fully enfold himself into elite European ’cross.
Assuming that one of the three most consistent riders in the U.S. this season — Powers, Johnson or Trebon — wins nationals, the selection committee will almost certainly be faced with choosing half of the elite men’s roster, with Summerhill, Page, Driscoll and Jones holding the strongest shots at making the team at the moment. Yes, that’s four men for three slots.
Mad dash for discretionary picks
On the women’s side, if no more women were to auto-qualify — and that’s a big “if,” given Amy Dombroski’s (Telenet-Fidea) consecutive 11th-place World Cup finishes — two of the three discretionary picks will almost certainly go to Dombroski and Georgia Gould (Luna).
While Gould, who came into the ’cross season fresh off her bronze-medal rides in the Olympic and world championship cross-country races, hasn’t raced in Europe this fall, history — and her 2012 results — has proven that she’ll likely be able to ride from the U.S. circuit onto the worlds team. Dombroski brings the valuable mix of being young, capable of a top-15, and employed by the highest-profile team in the sport.
From there, there will likely be a scramble for the last selection between Maureen Bruno-Roy (Bob’s Red Mill-Seven), who has already tackled multiple European stints in 2012; Meredith Miller (Cal Giant-Specialized), who returned over the weekend at CXLA from a fractured hand; Nicole Duke (Alchemy Bicycle Company), who is on the mend from early-season health issues; the young and upward-trending Crystal Anthony (Cyclocrossworld.com); and Spooky Cross winner Teal Stetson-Lee (Luna).
Multiple sources have told VeloNews that the selection between these riders is a coin toss at this point. Duke was the second-best American woman at worlds in 2012, but has struggled through the first half of the season before landing at Alchemy. Miller could ride herself back into the picture if she can prove herself in Bend and Zolder, though she’ll likely need to be one of the top three Americans in the latter to hold a realistic shot at Louisville.
And then there’s Bruno-Roy, who sits fourth for Americans in the UCI standings, at 29th, and is a two-time worlds team member. Bruno-Roy has proven herself capable of a top-20 ride on the World Cup, but is also one of the most well-liked athletes among the top U.S. women — a characteristic that Gullickson said generally contributes to discretionary selections, though he would not address any specific riders.
The short of the elite women’s qualifying picture is that the next six weeks should see an all-out scramble by Dombroski, Miller, Duke and the others to secure an invite to the Bluegrass State in February. Most of the contenders will head to Europe from Bend, making for an entertaining Kerstperiode for American fans.
Who joins McDonald?
The top of the U23 category is clear — but that is it. Zach McDonald has proven the class of the field in the U.S. this fall, save for Yannick Eckmann (Cal Giant-Specialized), who will likely miss worlds after applying for dual German-U.S. citizenship this year.
Beyond McDonald, the espoirs group will likely comprise development riders like Cal Giant teammates Cody Kaiser and Tobin Ortenblad; first-year U23 Andrew Dillman (Bob’s Red Mill); mountain bike worlds team member Skyler Trujillo (Boo); Marian University sophomore Joshua Johnson; and former mountain bike nationals podium finisher Chase Dickens (American Classic).
“Over 10 years, it always seems we have a lot of range in the U23,” said Eurocross Camp director Geoff Proctor, who will take a number of the espoir and junior riders to Belgium in December. “We’re more wide open in the U23 historically for a number of reasons.”
Those reasons include school commitments and the physical differences between 18-year-olds and 22-year-olds, according to Proctor, who will take a full roster of U23 and junior men to the Zolder World Cup the day after Christmas. That day in Zolder will give a good look at who the four riders we’ll see with McDonald might be. At this point, it appears the two young men with the inside line are Ortenblad and Dillman. Beyond them, the selection is, as Proctor says, wide open.
Murky juniors race
The most difficult category to predict six weeks out from the worlds selection is the junior men. Logan Owen and Curtis White have automatically qualified based on their World Cup results. It’s hard to imagine a scenario in which Owen doesn’t take the top honors in the USGP qualifiers and one of the two doesn’t win nationals. Owen has won seven straight junior titles and rode away from the field at the Derby City Cup last month.
From there, three discretionary selections remain. Names like Maxx Chance and Spencer Downing (Clif Bar Development), Nathaniel Morse (Hot Tubes) and Peter Goguen (CF-Trek) stand out. But with roadies and mountain bikers dabbling in the discipline and lesser-known riders staying regional until nationals, even Proctor is unsure at this point who the top prospects are for selection.
“Any of these guys are capable,” he said. “I’m pretty encouraged by the future… they all deserve a fair shake.”
Like the U23 men, Zolder — and then nationals — could play a major role in the selection. A top-30 isn’t necessarily going to punch any tickets, but the results sheet, and even more importantly, the way in which the prospects handle themselves on European assignment, will go a long way towards Louisville.
For the junior men — and for every one of the remaining 13 slots across the categories — the U.S. team is very far from solidifying.
As Gullickson says, “Don’t put a strike through anyone’s name at this point.”