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By Jason Sumner, VeloNews.com
A day after the ProTour season finished up at Italy’s Giro di Lombardia, the 2007-08 cyclocross World Cup gets underway Sunday in Kalmthout, Belgium. Junior and under-23 races take up the morning schedule, with the elite women rolling out at 1:30 p.m. and the men following at 3.
Among the Americans taking the startline in the day’s final race will be reigning world championship silver medalist Jonathan Page. The New Englander will be making his big time debut in the predominantly yellow jersey of his new Sunweb-Pro Job team. After several years struggling to make ends meet, Page’s breakthrough world’s ride earned him the honor of becoming the first American to land a roster spot on a top European cyclocross team.
The promotion couldn’t have come at a better time. Page missed the first half of last season after tearing his rotator cuff during a warm-up ride at the 2006-07 World Cup opener in Aigle, Switzerland. Surgery and the ensuing time off the bike had Page so strapped for cash that he started selling off spare bike parts and only turning on the heat in his house only when absolutely necessary. The salary structure in cyclocross differs from its road racing cousin in that riders typically garner at least half their income in the form of appearance fees. If you can’t race you don’t get paid.
“It was really bad,” recalled Page, who lives with his wife Cori and two young children, Emma and Milo, in a modest house in the small Belgian city of Oudenaarde. “We had candles that we’d light sometimes to save on electricity, and we have a wood stove. Luckily we got our wood for free.”
Page survived the cash crunch, coming back early from his shoulder injury to take second at last year’s national championships behind Kona’s Ryan Trebon. In any other year not winning would have been a disappointment, but considering Page could have re-torn his shoulder if he’d gone down wrong, the silver medal was quite a feat.
Back in Europe his results continued to improve, culminating with his historic world’s ride at Hooglede-Gits, Belgium, in late January. After leading late in the race, Page bobbled in a turn on the last lap, allowing Belgian Erwin Vervecken (Fidea) to shoot by him and take the rainbow jersey. Despite the lost opportunity, Page knew immediately that his life was about to change. The silver medal effort resulted in a contract with Sunweb and a tripling of his salary. Besides the increase in income and all the gear and parts he could ask for, Page also now has a small motorhome at his disposal.
“It’s definitely a big deal,” he said of the new ride that has a bed, shower, small kitchen and enough storage area for three bikes.
All those perks don’t come without a price. The team’s sponsors expect a lot from riders both on and off the bike. Page said the demands on his time have been far greater than he expected, and his past routine of riding into form during the early season hasn’t gone over well with team management. He’s yet to crack the top 5 in any of this year’s tune-up races, and he was 18th at the first Superprestige race of the season on October 14 in Ruddervoorde, Belgium.
“They have already said, ‘You know what, you better get your stuff together,’” revealed Page. “They don’t want to hear excuses. They want me to perform. They are having a hard time being patient. But you can earn a lot in the last couple months of the season so I’m not getting too worried yet. My main goal right now is to be more consistent. Being top 10 is important. Not to have any bad parts of the season and staying focused is important. Right now my form isn’t so good but I’ll get better and better as I go along.”
Check back Sunday to find out how Page and the rest of the world’s best ‘cross racers fare at the World Cup season opener in Kalmthout.