Madison, Wisconsin welcomes the 2012 USA Cycling Cyclocross National Championships this week. The five-day event gives out 50+ titles to riders from across the country who have invaded the mid-West town. The event culminates on Sunday with the Elite Men’s race, which promises to be one of the most exciting races of the season. Of course, the biggest news is the date change, which moved the race from its December slot, to the more traditional January weekend. The other news, which has been known since September, is the absence of three-time (and defending) national champion, Todd Wells. Wells ended his season after Thanksgiving in order to prepare himself for the 2012 Olympics in London.
The national championships have been dominated by four riders since 2000, with three men winning three times in the past decade. These three men are Tim Johnson (2000, 2007, 2009), Todd Wells (2001, 2005, 2010), and Jonathan Page (2002, 2003, 2004). Ryan Trebon (2006, 2008) is the only other rider to win the stars and stripes. Clearly, there’s one name missing from this list, the US best rider the past two years: Jeremy Powers. Which yields the ultimate question: is this his year?
Last year, Powers’ hopes ended in disaster as he crashed while leading the race with Todd Wells. While Powers managed to hold on to third, it was clearly not the result that he and most of the cross world expected. Powers has had another successful season, with a top-ten at the first World Cup round, a USGP title and a number of victories throughout the United States. If Powers can hold it together for a full 60 minutes, he may finally be able to put on his nations colors.
Throughout the year, though, a flying Ryan Trebon has been the thorn in Powers’ side. The two men have traded victories and everything seemed set for a showdown in December in Bend for the USGP title. Unfortunately, Trebon missed the final weekend of racing and a planned European campaign after suffering a knee injury in Louisville, Kentucky in November. However, any questions about Trebon’s form were answered last weekend in Chicago, where the Oregon native destroyed the competition en route to two victories. It appears that the time off may have actually improved Trebon’s from and his shot at a title.
Tim Johnson looks to join the illustrious four-timers club, a feat not seen since Don Myrah won his fourth title in 1993. While course conditions have reportedly improved, Johnson’s bike-handling skills could become a huge factor if the course is icy and/or slick. So far, Johnson’s season has been considered sub-par compared to recent years. However, he has two victories and a pair of top-20 finishes in the first two World Cup rounds. More importantly, he brings considerable experience to Madison and has been focusing on this weekend all season.
Then, there’s Jonathan Page, who last won a title in 2004. Page often flies under the domestic radar as he spends virtually all of his season racing in Europe. Page often seems like an afterthought at nationals despite the fact that since his win in 2002, he has finished on the podium of every national championship, except 2010, when he skipped the race. Page kicked off his season with four podium appearances stateside. However, his European season started off poorly and it’s been an uphill battle for the three-time champion. With that said, it appears that he may be coming into form at just the right time, with a pair of top-ten finishes to wrap up Holy Week last weekend.
Should the stars align and the aforementioned riders fail to bring it in Madison, look for Power’s teammate Chris Jones to make a run at the podium. New England standouts Jamey Driscoll and Justine Lindine could also figure into the mix.
One last note, the United States has 2,205 pts., which is good enough for fifth, ahead of Germany, but behind the Netherlands.