Cooper Willsey heads to staging in the U23 championship event. "It's a huge honor to race for Team USA. A lot of really talented people have come through the program. To have the letters USA on my jersey really motivates me."

Photo gallery: Inside Team USA at the 2017 world cyclocross championships

by Neal Rogers


Ellen Noble highlighted a strong showing for the United States at the 2017 UCI Cyclocross World Championships in Bieles, Luxembourg, winning the silver medal in the U23 women’s race. Noble (Aspire Racing), who just three weeks ago won a national championship in Hartford, Connecticut, finished just 10 seconds off the lead. Noble led during the race, but the Netherlands’ Annemarie Worst caught her after a steep descent on the final lap.

“I increased my training,” said Noble, who hails from Kennebunkport, Maine. “Last year, I came in relatively undertrained and I placed sixth. This year, I spent a lot more time trying to perfect my skills by racing more mountain. I also did a bit more road racing so I think I was trying to become a better all-around rider. Increasing my fitness, which has been a weak point in the past, by adding more volume and more intensity has been extremely helpful to me.”

Emma White (Cannondale Cyclocrossworld.com) also notched a top-10 finish in the U23 women’s race, coming in 26 seconds off the lead in eighth place. Three other Americans finished the race: Hannah Arensman (J.A. King-BR’C) finished 21st, Emma Swartz (Trek Cyclocross Collective) finished 37th, and Ashley Zoerner (Alpha Bicycle- Vista Subaru) finished 41st.

Some riders think of second place as a disappointment, but not Ellen Noble, who proudly wore her medal after enthusiastically celebrating her finish.

In the elite women’s race, the United States had four finishers in the top 15. Kaitlin Antonneau (Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com) crossed the line in 10th place, just under two minutes behind winner Sanne Cant of Belgium. Elle Anderson finished 11th, Amanda Miller (Boulder Cycle Sport) crossed the line 13th, and Courtenay McFadden (American Classic) notched a 15th place finish. American Rebecca Fahringer (Amy D. Foundation) finished 21st. National champion Katie Compton (KFC Racing-Trek-Panache) spent much of the day in the top-10, but did not finish after she bent her rear derailleur into her rear wheel during the switchbacks portion of the course.

In the junior men’s race, Denzel Stephenson (Boulder Junior Cycling) notched a top-10 finish for the United States, finishing ninth, just two minutes off winner Thomas Pidcock (Great Britain). Lane Maher (Hands on Cycling) finished just under two minutes later in 17th, while Caleb Swartz (Trek Cyclocross Collective) and Calder Wood (Rad Racing NW) came in 32nd and 33rd, respectively. Ross Ellwood (Boulder Junior Cycling) crossed the line in 36th position, with Sam Noel (Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com) in 43rd.

The following day, the U.S. had top-20 finishers — men’s elite rider Stephen Hyde and U-23 men’s rider Spencer Petrov both finished 18th in their respective races on a course that was covered with a slick layer of mud for most of the day.

In the men’s elite race, Hyde (Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com) ran as high as 15th before crossing the line 18th, 5:41 behind winner Wout van Aert. The rest of the American men finished off the lead lap. Jeremy Powers (Aspire Racing) and Kerry Werner (Kona Endurance Team) finished two laps down, in 32nd and 33rd, respectively. Travis Livermon (Maxxis-Shimano) finished 49th, three laps down, while Tobin Ortenblad (Santa Cruz Factory Racing) finished 57th, and Jeremy Durrin (Neon Velo Cycling Team) finished 59th, both four laps down. Jack Kisseberth (Jam Fund-NCC) recorded a DNF.

Bell lap, and Stephen Hyde had just a few thousand eyes watching him negotiate a slippery, off-camber 180.

In the U23 men’s race, in addition to Petrov (Cyclocross Alliance), two other Americans finished in the Top-25, with Cooper Willsey (Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com) and Lance Haidet (Raleigh-Clement) finishing 22nd and 25th, respectively. Gage Hecht (Alpha Bicycle-Vista Subaru) crossed the line 31st, and Maxx Chance (EVOL Devo) was the 33rd rider to finish. American Curtis White (Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com) did not start the race due to illness.

U.S. riders skilled enough, and lucky enough, to be selected to compete at the UCI World Cyclocross Championships benefitted from the planning, work, and physical resources of scores of people with impressive palmares in professional cycling.

Getting 30 riders with 52 bikes and untold sets of wheels and other equipment to another continent, and then maintaining it at a world-championship level, in an environment that ranges from freezing to muddy, is something akin to a military operation, said Ken Whelpdale, a Mallorca-based American hired by USA Cycling as a professional fixer for all the organization’s world championships.

Whelpdale organizes all on-ground logistics for USA Cycling, from hotels to staff, and works closely with USAC coaches Marc Gullickson and Chris McGovern, who manage to be everywhere at the event, from the team compound, to the start line before the races, doing everything from helping riders see the best lines on the course to collecting extra kit before the start.

The riders and staff for the 2017 UCI World Cyclocross Championships arrived on Wednesday night before the races, and all visible traces of the operation were gone by Sunday night, a timeframe that Whelpdale described as comfortable due to an extra day or so compared to previous world championships.

Team mechanics took over the banquet room of Hotel Gulliver, about 12 kilometers away from the race venue. More than 50 bikes made the trip over, and a number of local professional race mechanics were hired to share the workload with those who came from the U.S.

Not all staff come from the U.S. however, as the four USAC mechanics were complemented by five mechanics and two soigneurs from different countries in Europe, all with journeyman-level experience. “We don’t bring in greenhorns to work Worlds,” explained Whelpdale, who described the process of gaining suitable work experience something akin to apprenticeship programs common in Europe for other professions. “Jann Willem started with USAC basically sweeping the floors at 18, and now at 21 he’s a World Tour mechanic with Lotto-Jumbo. There’s no way he’d get that job without experience from a program like USAC.”

Much equipment comes from the USAC service course in Sittard, Netherlands, including stationary trainers and rollers, tools including compressors and pressure washers, and most significantly, a fleet of five sprinter vans. Additionally, USAC rented one camper van and one box truck for the riders and equipment.

“The goal of all this is to make the athlete’s experience at Worlds as smooth as possible so they only have to concentrate on their performance,” said Whelpdale.

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