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BOULDER, Colo. (VN) — As the week has pressed on here in Boulder, the wet Valmont Park course has dried and become faster, but still challenging, and the community has turned out in droves, even for morning masters racing. When the elite men toe the line to cap the USA Cycling Cyclocross National Championships on Sunday, one three-time U.S. elite ’cross champion will be missing: Todd Wells.
We asked Wells, who is sitting this one out due to knee pain, to break down the contenders in the men’s race. The Durango, Colorado, resident and new father has lined up against many of the top contenders for a decade or more, and has stood on the elite podium at cyclocross nationals seven times. Of his companions at those medals ceremonies, only two men — Marc Gullickson and Travis Brown — are not among the favorites for Sunday’s tilt.
Wells is uniquely positioned to understand the strengths and weaknesses of each of the pre-race favorites and if he were a betting man … he wouldn’t.
“I think this year is one of the most exciting years so I wouldn’t even want to pick one,” he told VeloNews. “There’s too many, and like what I said, the course seems like it’s going to be fast, so that’s for the group racing. That really just comes down to the end. We all think most of the guys are at a pretty similar level. I think it will come down to if it is fast and group racing, it’s more of a mental thing, ‘who wants it more?’”
In Wells’ words, here is how the Specialized rider from Durango, Colorado, sees it going down, and what each rider needs to do in order to earn a national championship jersey.
The Favorite: Jeremy Powers (Rapha-Focus)
Well, I think Jeremy probably is a favorite. … I don’t know if he has had the most wins, but it seems like he’s had the most wins this season. He’s had slower starts this year than in the past. A lot of the times, he’s come in from the back of the field. I think, for Powers [to win] he needs to be good from the beginning.
Ryan Trebon (Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com)
For Trebon to win, I think he needs to not have any problems. He is a super strong guy. Someone can attack and get a gap … that doesn’t crack Trebon. He will bridge across and go for it. It’s not that another rider will beat Trebon. It’s that he will beat himself, if he has some problems, he drops a chain … or he has a crash. Those things seem to be the only way Trebon really slows down mentally. The other riders don’t seem to really dictate his race. It’s more himself.
Tim Johnson (Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com)
I think Johnson and Powers are two of the punchiest guys in that group of four that could win. … [Powers] latches on with one or two laps to go, attacks, and he’s gone. I feel like Johnson is also a type of guy who can attack with one or two laps to go and hold on for the win. For Timmy J, I think he just needs to have a good day. He’s shown that he can win any type of race this year. He’s won by substantial amounts, nearly a minute in one or two of the races. I think he just needs to have a good day.
Defending champ Jonathan Page (Fuji-Spy)
I feel like he’s racing against the best guys in the world every weekend in Europe. I know from racing mountain bike World Cups, the way a World Cup race goes, and the way a domestic race goes, is completely different. The World Cups are so fast, and you have so many guys driving the pace. It’s pretty much you go as hard as you can off the line, and you just suffer the whole time trying to go as fast as you can because unless you’re winning that race or with the first two or three guys, you’re not really sitting up, doing tactics, thinking about where you’re going to save energy here or there.
You’re just in full-on chase mode. Page is used to having those guys. He’s used [riding] to flat-out the whole time. Here in the U.S., he’ll be riding at the front, so when he goes flat-out, the whole time, guys sit on him. He doesn’t have someone to chase because he’s usually at the front, so it’s a different dynamic. I think for Page to have a good race, he needs the course to be hard … so it’s just everyone for themselves and everyone goes to their maximum. When he’s in the lead group with Powers and Johnson and Trebon, one attacks, they all come back together, it gets easy, one attacks it gets easy. Page is used to just flat-out the whole time. I think he needs a hard course.
Jamey Driscoll (Raleigh-Clement)
He’s a diesel type of guy. He seems to go one speed the entire race, so I think, like Page, a harder course favors Driscoll. Those three guys — Powers, Johnson, Trebon — they’re used to “go hard, rest, go hard, rest,” whereas, Driscoll seems like, when he’s on a good day, he’s off the front a little bit, and when he’s on a bad day he’s chasing. Rarely is he in that group yo-yoing on and off.
Zach McDonald (Rapha-Focus)
I haven’t followed Zach that closely the previous years, but it seems like he got a better run into nationals the previous year than he had this year. One thing that we’ve seen with Zach is that he can really target a race. I assume he’s targeting national champs and the past couple years have shown that he is great. He knows his body. He knows how to peak and target an event … he’ll be ready to go this weekend. He’ll just need a little bit of luck on his side.
Daniel Summerhill (K-Edge-Felt)
He’s won one or two races. In one or two races, he’s beaten everybody, I think, this year at some point. He’s like Page. He likes to race hard. He’s viscous on the front. He’s not going to sit in that group. He’s just going to drive it. For Summerhill, I think a selective course would benefit him.