As riders rolled out of their hotel beds on the morning of the US National Cyclocross Championships, they were greeted by temperatures of 9F (-13C). It was truly ‘wear everything in your kitbag’ weather, turning the usually soft Connecticut mud concrete-hard and making every corner an icy obstacle course.
Rapha rider Ellen Noble, who came to the race as the defending under-23 champion, spent the hours before her race deliberating over the details with the team’s two mechanics, Tom Hopper and Brandon Davis. They covered tyre pressures, glove choice, pitting strategy, trying to find the limit of what was physically bearable in such conditions.
Cross mechanics aren’t only responsible for keeping bikes in working order, especially when the weather stays the wrong side of freezing for three days straight. Tom and Brandon shovelled snow, defrosted the hoses of their pressure washers, kept the propane heaters ticking over, dried out wet and cold race gear, and stuffed a steady flow of chemical hand warmers into the gloves and overshoes of their charges. And in between all this, they served as Jeremy and Ellen’s unofficial gurus, confidants, and cheerleaders, dispensing advice and wisdom in short salvos, tyre pressure gauge in one hand and hot coffee in the other.
It all came together for Noble, who simply rode parts of the course that her competition couldn’t, somehow making her tyres stick to the ice through the course’s most technical corners and precipitous descents. Her advantage grew steadily each lap, fuelled by the sort of confidence that only comes from perfect preparation. After a cautious final lap, she crossed the finish line thirty seconds over her closest competitor, arms aloft.
By the time Jeremy Powers’ race came around, the elite racers had somehow chiseled racing lines into Hartford’s ice. As the reigning champion, Powers was called to the line first, bundled in several jackets until the moment before the start. Cross is a capricious sport, and after three championship wins in a row it was Powers’ turn to experience some bad luck. Four turns into the race, Powers found himself behind Jeremy Durrin (formerly of Powers’ development team, the JAM Fund) who bobbled and had to put a foot down, opening a gap to the racers in front.
This gave Powers some work to do, and he dutifully started chasing the early leaders. The bad luck struck again: a frozen rut held onto his rear wheel for a moment too long, his tyres slid on the ice, and his knee connected with a tree trunk just outside the course tape. He was up and racing seconds later, but the leaders had already shot out of view.
There’s not a cross racer in the country who hasn’t pulled the sport’s short straw, and Powers is no exception. After fighting through to 24th place, he congratulated the winner, Stephen Hyde, in his customary fashion.