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An interview with Jonathan Page
US boy bearing the 'cross in Belgium
By Jeff Jones
Twenty six year old Jonathan Page is one of the few US 'cross riders based in Belgium, the heartland of cyclo-cross racing. Page has been riding cyclo-cross for 11 years, and while he may have signed a pro road contract with Prime Alliance, he has plenty of ambition left in 'cross, as Jeff Jones discovers.
CN: Why did you get into cyclo-cross?
JP: I got into it when I was 15 because it seemed like a good thing to do in the off season. My coach said maybe you should try this out. My friend Frank McCormack was doing a lot so I really got into it.
It takes that long to get good at this level. I look at some of the guys here and they've been doing it all their lives.
CN: You've just signed your first pro contract for Prime Alliance for the 2003 road season. How will that change things?
JP: It's something I'm very excited about. A new opportunity for me. I've ridden as an amateur for a long time, but as a pro, I've only had one stint with a pro MTB team. Now I'm being given an opportunity to ride my bike for money which is great!
[Prime Alliance manager Roy Knickman] was coach of the U23 team when I was on the national team, so I've known him for a while.
Prime Alliance has been very supportive of my 'cross program. I'll come into the road season after a break in April. Around September they've allowed me to think about doing 'cross again. I'm very lucky that I've got this flexibility.
CN: How much riding and how much running would you do in a typical 'cross race?
JP: It depends on how much rain there's been and it varies according to the course. Some courses, like last Monday in Niel, are underwater! Half the course was in fields of mud!
There's a lot more riding for the most part - I'd say about 80/20 (riding/running) but on dry course it could be up to 95 percent riding. If you don't have any momentum it's better to run. It's important as you can gain time. It might not be a lot of time but you can gain some.
CN: How important is technique over strength and fitness, compared with say MTB racing?
JP: I'd say it's pretty high. You only have an hour, so you have to make sure every second of that counts. If you're not good at it, the next person certainly is.
CN: How wide are the courses normally?
JP: Typically it starts on a road, then goes into a field with a narrow track. The start's important. There are really skinny places where one line is the only thing that you can do. Most of the time you can pass on one line faster than the other. You can pass other riders, but it takes a little doing. On a typical course you could fit maybe four riders across.
CN: How do you train for cyclo-cross?
JP: I do my running in the morning before breakfast, about three times a week. I'd run between 20 minutes and 1 hour, never more than an hour. During the workout I'd break it up by doing uphill sprints, and those funny American football drills - high knees etc.
I ride in the afternoons, training along the same lines as a road racer. I keep the rides a little shorter. I also do some cyclo-cross specific work.
Rules and money
CN: What's your opinion on the country based start order, that the Belgians are so annoyed about? [In big 'cross races, riders start in rows according to their country's ranking rather than their individual ranking. Thus, lower ranked countries generally have an advantage over higher ranked ones.]
JP: I don't mind it [laughs]. The last two years I've been over here I've had to start on the last row or just about there. I spent the whole race going from the back to the front. You don't have a chance to catch up unless you're superman.
Now I'm in the front rows and I'm starting to get better. There are about 35-40 starters, which doesn't look like a lot. But in the running sections and round tight corners there is a big accordion effect.
CN: Is there much money in 'cross?
JP: I believe it's one of the better fields of cycling in terms of the money. Compared to the US, I get start money, which is great because you're not always out of pocket. I think the top riders make a pretty good living. They get their salary and start money. It's a job and these guys are darn good at it.
The USA vs. Belgium
CN: With the cancellation of the SuperCup this year, but more UCI ranked 'cross races in the USA, what's your opinion of the US scene at the moment?
JP: I'd say it's improving to a point but I don't see a lot of depth. You've got the same guys beating each other into the ground but no up and coming riders. I'd like to hope that it is getting better. Regarding the UCI points, it's amazing that there are that many races. I think it's not a true reflection of the state of 'cross in the USA.
CN: Why are Belgians so good at it?
JP: It's just because it's plain old hard. The weather is difficult. So many people are good at it already that you have to have to want it. I think these people have grown up racing and know how to race. They're heroes over here.
It's an interesting sport. It's been around for ever - I was looking at photos from the 40's, and there were thousands of people out watching them lugging their 200 lb bikes up the hills. It's in the blood.
Now and beyond
CN: Are you based in Belgium for the whole season?
JP: I'm here with Franky van Haesebroucke and his wife Cindy, staying with my new wife Cori. Franky has invited us into the house, taken us to the races, and shown us around. I got here on October 22, as I stayed in USA to do some UCI races in order to collect some points for when I'm over here. That worked out well because I can start nearer the front.
CN: Why did you come over to Europe?
JP: I think one of my motivations was that pretty soon I was going to have to get a regular job if I didn't. Then I got the pro contract with Prime Alliance, so I wanted to see what I could get out of it here. Over here I could get a bit of money and try to improve. If you want to be the best you have to race with best.
CN: What's your racing schedule like?
JP: This week I do one race and generally I'll do anywhere from one to three races. In December, starting Christmas and going straight through the New Year up to January 3rd, I think there's a race on every day. I'll come home on December 3 and do one race in New Hampshire where I'm from, then the nationals in California. Then I come back to Belgium, do all the World Cups and hopefully be there for the World's.
CN: Finally, could you outline your immediate and long term goals?
JP: This 'cross season I want to qualify for the US team in the first World Cup. I'd like to finish in the top 20. Obviously, I'll also try to win the National Championships. Then I want to come back to Europe and finish out the season very strongly.
In future I'll do my new job as a pro road rider to the best of my ability. I prefer hard races. If it comes down to a little group, I have a good finishing sprint. That's probably my strong point.