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Cyclocross news & racing round-up for December 17, 2005

Edited by Steve Medcroft

Welcome to our regular roundup of what's happening in cyclocross. Feel free to send feedback, news and gossip to mtb@cyclingnews.com

US Cross nationals wrap-up

Troy Wells (TIAA-CREF/Clif Bar)
Photo ©: Russ & Nancy Wright
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A jubilant Todd Wells
Photo ©: Ed Collier
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Katie Compton (Redline)
Photo ©: Russ & Nancy Wright
(Click for larger image) Katie Compton (Redline)  charging to her second consecutive National Championship.

More than 1,400 racers chasing twenty-seven jerseys competed in the Liberty Mutual US National Cyclocross Championships last weekend.

In both the elite and U23 men's races, the defending national champions, widely regarded as hand-down favorites, were unseated. Interestingly enough, both champions fell to brothers from the same family. U23 Jesse Anthony was racing for his seventh national championship in a row but suffered a first-lap flat and lost position early. Although Anthony has always been dominant enough to recover from an early deficit, 2005 USGP U23 phenom Troy Wells stayed on the rivet at the front of the race and took the championship for himself.

In the elite men's race, Jonathan Page was expected to repeat for his fourth consecutive championship but after an intercontinental flight from Belgium, he picked up some food poisoning and spent the night before the race being fed fluids intravenously. After the race, Page said: "I basically hadn't anything to eat since seven Friday morning." Although he miraculously stayed in contact with the front two (Ryan Trebon and Todd Wells) he just couldn't match Todd Wells' constant accelerations and finished third.

The elite women's race was no let down either. Just like at the 2004 Cyclocross Nationals in Portland, defending national champion Katie Compton (Redline) came from four rows back at the start and powered her way through a tough elite women's field to win. Halfway through the first lap, she cruised around pre-race favorites Barbara Howe (Velo Bella), Ann Knapp (Kona) and Maureen Bruno-Roy (Independent Fabrications) to solo to her second consecutive title. And just like last year, Compton succeeded at the highest level in women's 'cross after a season of non-UCI men's and women's local races in and around her Colorado Spring home (Compton doesn't want to claim UCI points because it would disqualify her from her place as the sighted pilot of a tandem track racing team with blind stoker Karissa Whitsell).

The storm of the century

Arguably the biggest story of the weekend's racing in Rhode Island was the weather. Starting early Friday morning, the venue came under attack from a New England winter storm so severe that the afternoon races had to be put off until Saturday and the event's vendors, organizers, volunteers and racers sent scrambling for safety.

"This was the fourth 'cross nationals we had helped promote and the ninth I announced," said Richard Fries, publisher of The Ride magazine." I honestly thought I had seen it all; snow, rain, wind, cold. I had just never seen it all thrown at us in one five-hour span. It was like something from The Truman Show; as if some evil producer stood above us pushing buttons intent on cracking us."

The first sign of trouble came when racers woke to snow. "When I came out of the hotel [in the morning before the first race] and saw snow, I had no problem. When it went to rain, I knew we could handle that - we had good clothing from Adidas and Voler. And thanks to Lyle Fulkerson, our OP's director, we were prepared with three massive, heated expo tents, three heated RVs for the core staff, and a heated trailer stage for scoring, timing and announcing."

But during the 35-plus race (started 1pm on Friday), conditions changed for the worse when the barometric pressure plummeted and the wind accelerated to a sustained 40 mph with 60 mph gusts. "The fencing all blew down," began Fries, "the course tape ripped apart, the signage winged around the venue, and 10x10 tents were cartwheeling everywhere. At one point, a pop-up tent lifted out of the pits and dropped squarely over the course! The 35-plus riders simply went through it."

It was decided that conditions had become too dangerous for the remaining two races of the day. Said Fries: "For the record, none of the officials, mechanics or marshals asked us to postpone the final two events; and those were the folks standing in the elements." It wasn't until the two 120-foot expo tents, which had become flooded refugee centers, started to "belch and burp under the force" that promoters cleared everyone from the venue.

The show must go on

To say that the postponements and the weather-caused devastation threatened the 2005 cyclocross nationals is an understatement. "After buttoning down the venue as best we could Friday night, the core staff met in an RV in what I can only say was a war council. We had a 3,200 meter course under eight inches of snow, glazed with sleet. In some places, the course tape had disappeared. Signage was all over the place, expo tents were loose on their moorings, flooded and nearly uninhabitable."

Fries said he was shell-shocked and couldn't imagine a way Saturday's marquee elite races would come together. "Just as the task seemed too overwhelming, a limping silhouette appeared through the windshield," he said. "The door opened to reveal our announcer, Joel Brown, on crutches [after hurting himself in his own master's race Friday morning] with his cohorts, Gary and Gail Dalton. We debriefed those three, all from Rhode Island, on the situation. They flipped open cell phones and made about five calls. It was somewhere between the Twilight Barking of 101 Dalmations and the prayers put out for George Bailey in It's a Wonderful Life."

Saturday morning, Fries and the rest of the core organizing staff met in the Providence Biltmore lobby at 4am. "Tom Stevens was there. Neither of us had slept - we were wandering like ghosts. He went out first, on his own, anxious to get started. The crew arrived about 4:30 to 5am in waves. When we arrived, the view staggered us. Snow was flying by shovel, by rake, by coroplast. Hell, they were using credit cards if they didn't have a tool. Our local tour club, the Narragansett Bay Wheelmen, who had been working all weekend were joined by four other local racing clubs [Cox Communications Cycling Team, Caster's Cycling Team, Arc en Ciel Cycling Team, and Union Velo Cycling Team]. We got help from Putney-West Hill riders out of Vermont and the Spin Arts Gear Works team."

Volunteers climbed all over the venue and brought nationals back to reality. "We had people hit the expo tent and clean that up. The signage went back up. The course tape unravelled. The grills were lit." After all the work, Saturday's races started on time. "I think the exhibitors and sponsors were stunned when they arrived on Saturday morning."

People had stepped up against all odds. "The guy from Saris, Conrad Tufte, had his windshield broken en route to the event and he still made it and smiled. Our expo co-ordinator, Steve Huntress, ripped tendons and ligaments in his right forearm on the first day of set-up but returned and never missed a beat. Our star announcer, Joel Brown, announced for two straight days despite having his Achilles tendon punctured on day one. Tom Stevens completed all the breakdown duties on Monday despite being doubled over vomiting due to a stomach virus. Even our best official, Diane Fortini, attended Saturday and Sunday despite have had a seven centimeter brain tumor removed just two weeks prior."

To sum up the accomplishments of the cyclocross nationals crew: "There was eight inches of snow covering a 3,200 meter-long by three meter wide course. That's 9,600 square meters of area that needed to be cleared. We had 80 outfits of clothing for volunteers provided by Voler and Adidas but we ran out Saturday morning when the volunteer base ballooned to 140; people who didn't ask for so much as a bowl of soup."

Cyclingnews was on hand all weekend. Check here for our live coverage from the major races, race reports, results and over a hundred photos.

US squad for 'cross world's

USA Cycling has announced five riders who are automatically selected for the US squad that will travel to the cyclocross world championships in Zeddam, Netherlands, January 28-29, 2006.

Daniel Summerhill earned an automatic bid after capturing the junior men's national championship, while Troy Wells (TIAA-CREF) and Jesse Anthony (Clif Bar) each earned automatic selections to the team in the U23 category. Wells rode to a national title on Saturday to earn his selection while Anthony won the 2005 Crank Brothers US Gran Prix of Cyclocross series to earn his.

Katie Compton (Redline) and Barbara Howe (Velo Bella) earned spots on the elite women's team. Compton rode to her second consecutive national title on Sunday while Howe was the highest-placed American in third at the conclusion of the US Gran Prix of Cyclo-cross.

Automatic nominations for the elite men will be announced on January 10, while discretionary nominations for the elite women, junior and U23 men will be announced on December 15 and discretionary nominations for the elite men will be announced on January 13.

Oregon 'cross season closer

Oregon's cyclocross season comes to a mud-strewn conclusion Sunday, December 18, when downtown Portland bike shop, Veloshop hosts the third race of its cyclocross series at Blue Lake Regional Park in Northeast Portland.

Hundred of cyclocross racers are expected to take on the challenging Blue Lake course, with its rolling grass fields, hairpin turns and ever-popular sand pit. Racing starts at 9:30 a.m. and continues all day, with the Men's Category A, Single Speed, and Masters race taking place at 2 p.m. There's $400 in prize money for the top finishers in the Category A Men and Women events.

For more information see www.veloshop.org and www.obra.org .

Tsujiura defends crown at Japanese 'cross nationals

By David Alvarez

Keiichi Tsujiura (Bridgestone-Anchor) wins
Photo ©: Makoto Ayano
(Click for larger image) Keiichi Tsujiura (Bridgestone-Anchor) wins his fourth consective Japanese cyclocross champion title.

The 11th Japanese Cyclocross Championships were held in conjunction with the fourth round of the Kansai Series, in the city of Sakai. The slightly surreal race venue was an ocean-side park on a man-made island in Osaka harbour, surrounded by factories and garbage incineration plants. With slightly cloudy and cool conditions, 53 riders toed the line for the elite men's start.

A lead group of eight took off from the very beginning, and this would prove to be the big break of the day. The riders, including previous champs Masahiko Mifune and Keichi Tsujiura, worked together for the first few laps, with no real attacks being launched. Behind them the rest of the field formed into small groups on the fast and windy course.

Drama came early as Tsujiura rolled a tire on the second lap. Luckily, it was just before the pit and team-mate Raita Suzuki was there to pull him back up to the front group. On the fourth lap, local favorite Mifune flatted and crashed, and he lost contact with the lead group for good.

Not long after Mifune's mishap, Tsujiura launched a brutal attack that split the rest of the lead riders, looking impressive as he continued to put time every lap into his nearest competitors. He would cruise in for the win, with time enough for a lengthy celebration as he coasted up to the finish line.

Ayako Toyooka (Bicinoko.com) wins
Photo ©: Makoto Ayano
(Click for larger image) Ayako Toyooka (Bicinoko.com) wins her first Japanese cyclocross title

After the main group splintered, Suwako Racing Team strongman Masanori Kosaka and Shimano Drinking rider Shingo Shiraishi rode in tandem, with Kosaka taking the sprint for 2nd. It was an excellent result for Shiraishi, a mountain bike pro who excels in courses with more climbing.

Ritsumeikan University showed its continued development of top cycling racers, with two riders finishing in the top ten. Masahiko Mifune fought back for 8th, just ahead of Bridgestone Anchor rider and current National MTB champion Raita Suzuki.

In the women's event there was not quite as much drama, but an equally dominating performance as Bicinoko.com rider Eiko Toyooka used her power on the flat course to take the white jersey of the Japan national champion.

Click here for results and photos.

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