Field Notes: US Cyclocross Nationals 2016

When the cyclocross riders arrived for the 2016 edition of the US National Cyclocross Championships this year, they did so under the long shadow cast by a larger-than-life name in United States history: the Vanderbilts.

The Vanderbilts made their wealth in the early 1800s when many illustrious families like the Rockefellers and Carnegies were also were staking claim to industry. The patriarch of the family, Cornelius Vanderbilt, built his empire in the railroad and shipping trades, but it was his grandson George who undertook the enormous task of building up the family estate in North Carolina. Inspired by the working estates of Europe, the Biltmore includes what is still the largest private residence in the United States, which at the time of its creation, included more than 125,000 acres of surrounding land.

The Vanderbilts’ now famous property would play host to this year’s nationals race, and event organisers promised there would be no repeat of last year’s debacle in Austin, which saw mud and rain delay the racing.

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The nationals race in the United States isn’t like many of the more dominant cyclocross nations’ editions; at its core, cyclocross is inclusive in the US, not solely an elite race. This year’s racing featured 57 different categories for racers to push themselves on, riding a similar course to the one the pros would tackle. Racing began on Tuesday and ran through to Sunday, the traditional day for elite racing.

Even with all of the distractions over the days leading up to the elite race, excitement for Sunday grew as each category crossed the finish line. Wild speculation about the ever-changing weather conditions and who was or wasn’t on form was exchanged like gossip at the water cooler. We caught a glimpse of what was to come on Saturday afternoon during the elite-only practice session, which showed just how difficult pulling on the Stars and Stripes would be. Light drizzle on upper sections of the course saw several contenders for both the men’s and women’s fields go down hard.

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Riders woke up to clear skies on race day – the heaviest rain of the week having thankfully passed through during the night – meaning conditions on the grass and clay course would be moving from muddy to tacky. It was now time for the Biltmore to make its mark in the sand of US cyclocross history.

The women’s elite race ran according to script, with Katie Compton and Georgia Gould making their gap permanent by the end of the first lap and Kaitlin Antonneau fighting to get on their wheels for most of the race. The bell of the final lap signalled the end of Gould’s chances, and Katie was able to win her 12th consecutive national championship in emphatic fashion.

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Then it was Jeremy Powers’ turn. As the riders lined up in their starting grid, the press and fans jostled to get their cameras or phones close to the riders’ faces. The determined look on Jeremy’s face said it all.

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Less than half a lap into the racing, the selection was made and the trio that everyone predicted had gone clear. Stephen Hyde, Logan Owen, and Jeremy Powers would trade punches for a number of laps. Owen had two big digs but the fitness of Powers and Hyde was evident halfway through the proceedings. While the race wasn’t easy for Jeremy, he looked confident throughout and, with two laps to go, barring a major mechanical, it was clear the title of national champion was his to keep for another year.

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The next day Jeremy summed it up for us: “I think yesterday’s result for me was important, it was a big deal because I had a target on my back. Stephen has been racing really well and I think it was possible for him to beat me, but I also believe I was the best on the day… You don’t want, ‘oh man he got a flat’ or ‘he broke a wheel’ or something else out of his control happening. It was a real bike race yesterday and I was better on the day, but that won’t always be the case. I think he has a national championship coming to him if he stays the course, and I think Logan has one as well.”

Jeremy and his Aspire Racing team will be competing at the Lignières-en-Berry World Cup race in France on 17th January, followed by the final round in Hoogerheide in the Netherlands on 24th January. The World Championships are being held in Heusden-Zolder, Belgium, on 31st January.