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By Fred Dreier
A day after playing the role of Ryan Trebon’s punching bag, Tim Johnson punched back. The Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com rider dropped the country’s best — Trebon included — to take an impressive solo victory at Sunday’s Mercer Cup, the sixth race of the 2009 U.S. Gran Prix of Cyclocross.
Johnson rode most of the day on his own and crossed the line nearly a minute up on series leader Trebon (Kona-FSA).
“Yesterday even though I lost, I had a good race, Ryan was just stronger,” Johnson said. “I was bummed I didn’t win yesterday, so I put some of that energy into today. I knew I might be tired but I wasn’t going to go any slower.”
Johnson owns a reputation for come-from-behind success, and often suffers from sluggish starts. But on Sunday he sprang to the front of the men’s field alongside Italian rider Davide Frattini (Fuji). Following were Jesse Anthony (Jamis), Chris Jones (Champion Systems), Geoff Kabush (Maxxis-Rocky Mountain) and Dan Timmerman (RGM-Richard Sachs).
Trebon, however, appeared caught out from the gun, and struggled in 10th place trying to pass.
“I heard Ryan wasn’t up there, and I had a clear line,” Johnson said. “All of the off-camber stuff was slippery and people were having trouble. It’s a lot easier if you have a clear shot at it.”
The course at Mercer County Park was baked by sunshine for most of the day, and the rays stiffened the sloppy mud that had rendered the loop nearly unridable on Saturday morning. Speeds on Sunday were higher on the hardening surface, and organizers shortened the loop, removing a long straightaway on the course’s backside.
“It was still really heavy in places,” said Kabush, who briefly led on Saturday before a broken derailleur forced him into 11th. “But you didn’t have to run today, which was nice.”
The Canadian champion followed Johnson on the second lap, but succumbed to the American’s pace. Johnson surged ahead while Kabush faded, tangling with Trebon, Jamey Driscoll (Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com) and a resurgent Todd Wells (Specialized) before finally finishing fourth.
Trebon assumed the runner-up position at the race’s midpoint, but by that point, Johnson was out of reach.
“I had good legs but not great legs. I suffered mightily out there,” Trebon said. “I tried to chase and it was staying at 30 seconds. Then 30 seconds went to 50. That was a pretty good gap.”
Wells, who finished 10th on Saturday, had the surprise ride of the day, clawing his way from 31st place into third. The Specialized rider missed most of the last month after fighting a bacterial infection and a cyst on his backside that required surgery. Wells said he came into the weekend unsure of what to expect from his body.
“I hadn’t done a hard effort like that since CrossVegas,” Wells said. “I was just hoping not to get lapped today.”
Four in a row for Nash
Katerina Nash (Luna) took her fourth consecutive USGP victory in style, leading from start to finish and winning by a sizable margin.
But unlike Saturday’s race, Nash had company for the opening two laps, as pint-sized Vermonter Amy Dombroski (SRAM-Primus Mootry) hitched a ride on the Luna rider’s rear wheel.
Nash, who is preparing for the 2010 world cyclocross championships in Tabor, Czech Republic, said she welcomed the challenge.
“She rode strong, I was a bit concerned,” Nash said. “I was hoping she’d do a little work, but she kept sitting on me so I had to let her go. No freebies.”
Dombroski lost Nash’s wheel after the second lap, but maintained her runner-up position to the line. Behind, Meredith Miller (California Giant Strawberry) beat Georgia Gould for the final spot on the podium.
“I just kept the power on and tried to stay on Katerina’s wheel,” Dombroski said. “She’s so strong right now. She’s on a different level.”
Maybe so — but winning is still not a walk in the park, not even for Nash.
“Today it was drier so I didn’t have to take bike changes,” Nash said. “It’s no different. You just go hard and it hurts.”
• Wells and Dombroski collected the SRAM Most Aggressive Rider awards for their respective performances on day two in New Jersey.
• Valentin Schertz won the U23 men’s race after finishing ninth in the elite race. Schertz, the runner-up in Switzerland’s junior national championships in 2007, has spent six weeks living outside of Philadelphia with a host family as part of a language and racing exchange. “The level is about the same in Switzerland,” he said. “It is nice here.”