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The 2017 USA Cycling National Cyclocross Championships will come to a close on Sunday when elite men and women battle for the coveted stars-and-stripes jersey. Events have been under way all week in Hartford, Connecticut, where amateur and collegiate racers have been slipping and sliding their way through the technical course since Tuesday.
In the elite men’s race, it’s almost certain that four-time national champion Jeremy Powers (Aspire Racing) and his former protege, Stephen Hyde (Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com) will battle for the victory. Last year, they finished first and second, and it was clear that for Hyde, who is four years younger, winning a national title was simply a matter of time.
Based on how the 2016-17 cyclocross season has unfolded, it appears that time may be upon us.
Powers has had, by any metric, a disastrous season. After winning the opening weekend in Rochester, New York — beating Hyde both days — he crashed heavily during a warm-up lap at the Trek CXC Cup in Waterloo, Wisconsin, bruising several ribs. His first objectives for the season, the opening World Cup events in North America, were a total loss. Illness followed. Powers (Aspire Racing) hasn’t won a race in almost four months, finishing behind Hyde at the Pan American Championships in Covington, Kentucky, in October, and again at the Derby City Cup in Louisville, in November.
Hyde, whose career was aided by the JAM Fund program that Powers helped launch, has had his best season to date, winning the Pan American Championships and six other UCI events in the U.S. en route to sealing the USA Cycling Pro CX series title. The Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com rider also registered his best-ever World Cup results — 10th in Iowa City in September, and 18th at Zolder, on December 26. He’s avoided illness and injury, and his consistent results have placed him 13th in the world rankings. Powers is ranked 25th.
Out of the 15 times the two riders faced each other in 2016 — tracing back to the national championship race last January — Hyde has finished better on 10 occasions, with Powers finishing better five times.
However, out of the most recent five times they have faced each other on U.S. soil, beginning with the Charm City race in Baltimore in October, Hyde has won all five races, with Powers finishing as runner-up on three occasions.
And while there are other riders who will likely factor into the race — such as three-time national champion Todd Wells (SRAM-Troy Lee Designs), Kerry Warner (Kona), and last year’s U23 champion Tobin Ortenblad (Santa Cruz) — what is certain is that on Sunday, years of mentorship, friendship, competition, and rivalry will come to a head in what is certain to be the most explosive national championship battle in years.
Race and broadcast schedule
On Sunday, racing action will start at 9 a.m. EST (3 p.m. CET or 12 a.m. AEST on January 9) with the Junior Men. The U23 women will go off at 10 a.m., followed by the U23 men at 11:30 a.m. The afternoon is reserved for the elite categories with the women’s race starting at 1:15 p.m. and the men’s race starting at 3 p.m. All of Sunday’s races will be live streamed, here. If you’re unable to watch the livestream, check out the official Twitter account @USACycling or use the hashtag #cxnats.
— USA Cycling (@usacycling) January 3, 2017
With ruts, mud, frozen ground and steep descents, the course in Hartford’s Riverside Park is highly technical, and one that has surprised riders.
“The conditions have created a much harder course than racers expected,” Tara McCarthy, USA Cycling Event Director, told CyclingTips. “But the response has been very positive. Weather will continue to evolve this week and we will adjust the course as needed for racers.”
While racers earlier in the week had to deal with a lot of slippery conditions, turning the event into a bit of a sloppy running race, the course has been drying out as temperatures are falling, making the ground and ruts rock hard going into the Friday and weekend races.
Video preview of the course :