At ease, ready to race: Tim Johnson talks ‘cross nats
The three-time U.S. 'cross champ is at ease going into Sunday's title race, saying, "No one knows what’s going to happen, especially me"
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BOULDER, Colorado (VN) — There’s been a lot of talk this week about who’s going to win the men’s elite race Sunday afternoon. Jeremy Powers (Rapha-Focus) seems to be the consensus favorite, but not by much, as the men’s field is full of guys who could ride to a win and no one would really be surprised.
Tim Johnson’s name has also been bandied about this week. And why not? He’s a three-time national champion, and has had a sharp year thus far, winning six times and racking up a passel of top threes. If someone isn’t running around calling him a favorite, it’s … Johnson.
“I would love to be. I don’t think I am, but thank you. That’s always nice,” the Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com rider told VeloNews Saturday morning, a day prior to the USA Cycling Cyclocross National Championships.
“I’m not going to read every word about the entire race and actually think that matters to the race, because it won’t until we actually get going. … They call it a race because we have to actually race it and figure out who’s going to win. I’m happy to call Jeremy [Powers] a favorite all day long. I think Ryan [Trebon] is also a major factor to watch for. It’s a course with a lot of things that he likes.”
Johnson comes to Boulder with few troubles in prep, having spent time tuning up in warm Southern California.
“I’m getting here in a good spot where I’m able to look at the race like a race and not worry about this or worry about that. It’s nice to get to a race without any major issues, or problems getting sick. No one knows what’s going to happen, especially me,” he said.
The Valmont Bike Park course has been in flux for days. A heavy snowstorm blanketed Colorado’s Front Range last weekend, and colder temps have kept the technical course muddy all week, with frozen mud early in the mornings. High winds and hundreds of racers, though, have helped dry it out, setting the stage for a very fast Sunday of elite racing.
“If we could have raced yesterday afternoon that would have been awesome. I think it’s just drying out by the second,” Johnson said.
“Pete [Webber] put together a really killer course, and it’s got a lot of tough sections that we haven’t seen here at Valmont. I think knowing Pete’s wish he would have loved to have made a course that was just terrifying. Every section, every turn. I think he did a good job.”
Others have agreed, noting the course’s myriad off-camber sections, and its long — for cyclocross, at least — climb.
Johnson won national titles in 2000, 2007, and 2009, so it’s safe to say he’s learned to deal with the scene of nationals over the seasons.
“The surroundings of the race, the weekend, all the people, walking 10 feet and seeing a bunch of people I know … there’s a lot of outside stuff that’s really unique to nationals. But once the race actually happens, it’s all about just what’s going down right there at that moment,” he said.
“If you’re worried about the result before you actually get to the end, then you’re not thinking about how to stay upright when you’re going balls-out.”
Johnson also said the race will miss three-time champ Todd Wells (Specialized) who is out with knee pains, and that the field will have to keep an eye on Jonathan Page (Fuji-Spy), the current national champion.
“He’s always going to be a threat, every single year. No matter what his lead is like, no matter how many times he has some crazy setback. He’s always been one of our most talented ’cross riders in America, and this year’s no different,” Johnson said. “I think he’s definitely going to be a threat.”
Boulder has turned out in droves for the races all week, and the crowd is anticipated to be enormous for Sunday afternoon’s elite races. The weather has been sunny but very windy all week, but that may turn: As of Saturday morning, the National Weather Service called for a slight chance of rain and snow before 3 p.m., with high winds and temperatures in the 30s. It won’t keep Boulder spectators at bay.
“I think I’m going to be able to look up on the hill and see probably the majority of people I would have been able to recognize. … This idea has been in play for so long, and to see the development of Valmont go from idea, to executed, to now this? This is just so cool to see it all come together,” Johnson said.