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Snow and ice, several crashes, a front puncture on the last lap, and a snapped rear-derailleur hanger in the final 300 metres of the race couldn’t stop Stephen Hyde from soloing to his first U.S. national cyclocross title Sunday in Hartford, Connecticut.
The Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com rider, who came into nationals as the hot favorite while enjoying his best season to date, overcame a first-lap bobble to fight his way into the front group, and then rode away from four chasers on a slick, treacherous course that almost certainly saw every rider touch the ground at least once.
Hyde’s win was never assured, however, as he held a tenuous gap of 20 seconds over Jamey Driscoll (Clement) into the last of nine laps on a course littered with frozen ruts covered by snow.
On the final hill of the course, which descended onto the paved start/finish straight, Hyde lost control and crashed on his drive side, snapping the rear derailleur hanger and forcing him to run the final icy section before remounting. He coasted onto the pavement, looked over his shoulder, dismounted, and ran the bike across the finish line, celebrating and hoisting the bike into the air as Driscoll flew past two seconds later to take the silver medal.
— TheSlowRidePodcast (@TheSlowRidePod) January 8, 2017
“I’m elated,” Hyde said. “This was such a hard course, and these guys were so good. I knew I was strong, but a course like this limits how much you can pedal. It really brought out the best in everyone. These are some of the best bike handlers I’ve ever seen.”
The anticipated battle between Hyde, 29, who took silver last year, and the defending champion, Jeremy Powers (Aspire Racing), never materialized. Powers won his first two races in September but crashed heavily in Wisconsin and has struggled with injuries and illness since; he was caught up in a first-lap bottleneck at the top of the course’s most difficult section, dubbed “Bonk Breaker Hill” and never saw the front of the race again, finishing 24th, two laps down.
“It was… a bike race,” Powers told CyclingTips. “I had my problems. I had a crash where I hit my knee really hard, and I couldn’t walk for a minute. It’s still really sore. I hope it’s all right. It just wasn’t a great day. I don’t want to make any excuses. It hasn’t been a good season, and it wasn’t a great day today. I’m happy for Stephen. He’s had a great season, and he’s a deserving winner. He’s racing well, he’s training well. He’s a friend, and it’s nice to see.”
— USA Cycling (@usacycling) January 8, 2017
The first-lap bottleneck atop the climb was, in part, due to Hyde’s bobble at the front, though a logjam was inevitable due to the conditions and the number of riders in close proximity. With two lines available — the lower line was shorter, but could not be ridden — Yannick Eckmann (Boulder Cycle Sport-YogaGlo) took the running line and the early lead, followed by Kerry Werner (Kona).
By the end of the first two laps, the front group had been whittled down to four riders — Eckmann, Werner, Hyde, and Tobin Ortenblad (Santa Cruz).
“My big goal was to be first up that hill, and I was, and then I botched it,” Hyde said. “I tripped, and I slipped, everything was going wrong. But I kept it cool. There’s a big speed limit on a course like this. I had to take some risks, and do some good bike driving, and it paid off.”
Eckmann ultimately lost contact with the front group, while unheralded Jack Kisseberth, riding for the JAM Fund program that helped launch Hyde’s career, bridged across and briefly rode into second place before fading back.
Behind, Driscoll slowly moved his way up, passing Werner and Kisseberth on the fifth of nine laps to become the first chaser on course. While Hyde’s advantage never stretched above 25 seconds, Driscoll could not close the gap; his silver is his third medal at nationals, to go with silver in Kansas City, in 2008, and bronze in Madison, Wisconsin, in 2013.
“It was a bike driver’s course, no doubt about it,” Driscoll told CyclingTips. “Sometimes the bike would drive you. You had to predict where it was going to go. I honestly didn’t have the best legs. On the pedaling straights I was just gritting my teeth. I didn’t feel good. But I think I was just efficient enough, and fast and smooth enough, in the dirt sections to make up for that.”
— USA Cycling (@usacycling) January 8, 2017
Hyde acknowledged that Driscoll had pushed him all the way to the finish line.
“Jamey is so good in these conditions,” Hyde said. “He lives in Utah and he’s from this area, he’s an incredible snow rider. [In addition to the snapped rear derailleur hanger] I also had a flat front tubular on that last lap. I was scared.”
Werner finished third, 31 seconds behind Hyde, for his first podium finish at cyclocross nationals.
“It was a tense start to the race, but when Stephen pulled away, you could see that he was loosening up,” Werner said. “I think the hardest part was the little chicane before the finish, on the off-camber [where Hyde crashed and snapped his derailleur.] That was quite slippery. The first three laps we rode up it, but then it started getting super icy. The downhill after it was really bad. There wasn’t one super hard section, it was more like all of a sudden there was black ice, and you had to be on your toes. You expected to have bobbles, and you couldn’t allow yourself to get shaken, you just had to remember where they happened.”
— Cyclocross Magazine (@cyclocross) January 8, 2017
Kisseberth finished fourth, 56 seconds back. Ortenblad, last year’s U23 national champion, rounded out the top five, 1:04 off the winning pace.
Four-time national champion Jonathan Page (Fuji) finished seventh, 1:40 back. Three-time national champion Todd Wells (SRAM-Troy Lee Designs) finished eighth, 2:49 down. Only 42 riders were listed as finishers.
Earlier in the day, Katie Compton (Trek-Panache) won a 13th consecutive national title, ahead of Amanda Miller (Boulder Cycle Sport-YogaGlo) and Kaitlin Antonneau (Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com).