This past weekend, the US cyclocross season kicked-off in style this past weekend, with the first UCI race of the season (as in, anywhere) this past Saturday in Pennsylvania. Saturdayâ€™s Nittany Lion Cross was held under fast, dry, summer-like conditions and several riders used the opportunity to get their seasons off to a good start. However, with many of the big names of the sport missing, it was really only a sneak preview of whatâ€™s to come. As a result, we will forgo the Power Rankings this week and instead take a look at what we learned and what can be expected this upcoming weekendâ€”when everyone finally comes out to play.
One of the biggest names missing this weekend was Jeremy Powers. The Cyclocrossworld.com rider was expected to hit the starting line on Saturday as a heavy favorite for the victory. However, rumors of a no-show began to arise midway through last week, and the New Englander ultimately never made it to the race. The rest of the field showed-up as expected and a few last minute additions (most notably Luke Keough) gave the event an even more â€œeliteâ€ feel. The race itself quickly boiled down to slug-fest between Adam Myerson, Valentin Scherz, Ryan Knapp and the eventual winner, Luke Keough. All in all, it was a nice way to ease into the season, but it left us with more questions than answers.
So, hereâ€™s what we learned:
1. Luke Keough – The 20-year-old New Englander overcame a poor starting position (5th row) to join the lead group mid-way through the first lap. From then on, he remained calm and collected, and in all honestly, rather anonymous. But with a few hundred meters left, he took the inside line through the final corner, coming around Myerson to take the win. He clearly has good form and his first UCI win will be a certain confidence boost. Perhaps heâ€™ll venture onto the podium more times than we would have expected?
2. Adam Myerson – Myerson seemed to be in the perfect position to pick-up the win on Saturday. Leading up to the race he talked about how he felt the course suited him, and of his desire to take his first-ever UCI win. Myerson took control in the last half lap and did everything he needed to do to set himself for the winâ€”but it wasnâ€™t meant to be. Â Keoughâ€™s attack in the final corner clearly upset him; Iâ€™m sure heâ€™ll be out for revenge. Perhaps the added motivation will elevate Myersonâ€™s game, putting him on a few more podiums by seasonâ€™s end.
3. Valentin Scherz – Scherz seemed like he was going to dominate Saturdayâ€™s race. He took control of the pace from the start and didnâ€™t back-off until the final few laps. It was tough to tell if he made some technical mistakes, but in the final couple of laps he seemed to come unhitched at times. That said, he was there when it counted.Â He tried to make a move in the second-to-last corner, but failed to improve upon his third place position. Look for Scherz to take at least one victory in Baltimore this weekend as he dials in his form for Vegas.
4. Ryan Knapp – Knapp has quietly become the King of the Midwest. Heâ€™s bounced around podiums across the country, but has rarely had consistent success outside of his home region. His best result last year was fourth at the Charm City Cross in Baltimoreâ€”his fifth place Saturday was nothing short of spectacular considering he had four mechanicals. If he can solve his technical issues, he could be a serious podium contender as the season continues.
Looking ahead, our biggest questions will be answered in Vermont this weekend where the NECCS begins with a pair of UCI races. Tim Johnson will be making his season debut with the Stars and Stripes firmly on his back. This past weekendâ€™s top two riders (Keough and Myerson) will also be in the field as will three-Time Danish National Champion and US regular Joachim Parbo. The weekendâ€™s big surprise could come from New England native and cross-stalwart, Justin Spinelli.
The Mid-Atlantic will most likely leave us with more questions than answers as Valentin Scherz lines-up as the heavy favorite in Baltimore. His biggest challenger should be last yearâ€™s winner Davide Fratiniâ€”a rider making his season debut.
The rest of the major domestic protagonists will make their debuts in the Northwest at Star Crossed and the Rad Racing GP. Konaâ€™s twin towers (Ryan Trebon and Barry Wicks) will line up for their first races of the season. They will have to contend with Jonathan Page as he lines up for his first US race since Nationals. Itâ€™s also one of the few races the European-based rider will do stateside this year.
All in all, it promises to be an interesting weekend as several of the USâ€™s heavy hitters test their legs before CrossVegas. Everyone wants to be on top form for the Las Vegas race and this weekend will be our last chance for clues as to who will take the first big victory of the year. After the dust settles this weekend, weâ€™ll have our first look at the US Power Rankings, along with some CrossVegas predictions.
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