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An interview with Jonathan Page, October 5, 2005
29-year-old Jonathan Page is carving an unusual path for himself in cycling. Shunning the growing US cyclocross scene, Page lives in Belgium through the winter along with wife Cori and new baby, Emma, and competes in the intense and fiercely competitive European cyclocross circuit. His only concession to US racing is when he makes a mid-season pilgrimage to the United States. Cyclingnews' Steve Medcroft found out a bit more about this cross warrior and how he handles racing the way he does.
During the December 2004 version of that pilgrimage, and for the third year in a row, Page took a solo win in the US National Cyclocross Championships. This year's win, in soggy Portland, Oregon, was the one he says he's most proud of. The past two national championships had seen Page finish a minute or more ahead of the field. In this season's race though, Page felt sluggish and lacked the kind of dominant power he'd come to depend on in domestic races. "I wasn't in top form," he said. It was more than just a down cycle though; he was suffering from severe iron deficiency. The fact that he won showcases his incredible talent for cyclocross.
But Page is not a one-dimensional racer. When his 'cross season ended in January with the 2005 World Championships in St Wendel, Germany (he finished 14th, the highest-placed American), he almost immediately kicked off a road campaign back in the States with the Colavita Cycling Team. "I did the entire road season with the team with the exception of two or three races," he said in September, 2005; just before leaving the States to set up home in Belgium for his 2005/06 campaign. "It was my best road season ever and I think it was because I had a great team."
The immediate transition to and from racing on the road could've meant that Page didn't get the proper recovery and rest before cyclocross. But in his fourth year of focusing on 'cross, Page knows how to get his down time; he usually takes most of August off and ramps back into racing in late September. Once the wheels on his plane hit the Belgian runway, "I race at least once per week but most of the time two or three times per week from now until the end of the season in Feb," he says. "This year, I'm doing all of the World CUS, all of the Super Prestige Series races and some of the GVA Series races."
The first Page
Growing up in Hilton, New Hampshire, Jonathan Page was a "fairly good" downhill skier and soccer player in school. "I got into cycling because my older brother was into it," he said. "And my best friend was into it too; he got a mountain bike and started to race. I thought it was pretty neat."
Page won the first bike race he ever entered; a time trial. "It wasn't very far; ten miles maybe. In Plymouth, New Hampshire." At 14 years old, the win was encouraging enough that Page tried his hand a few more times that year. I did some mountain bike racing and some other races but I don't remember them very clearly. I just did it for fun, for recreation. Our local bike shop, Riverside Cycles, started helping me out after that. I started doing more mountain bike races. I had an Off-Road Mountain Sport. Toe clips and the whole bit."
Two years later, Page's induction into the sport that would become his primary passion came at the hands of his coach; Toby Stanton. "I got pretty serious," he said. He won the junior National Championships race at 16 and the 17/18 junior category in cyclocross in Seattle the next year.
Besides coach Stanton, another key alliance for Page were with brothers Frank and Mark McCormack (who now manage Page's road team; Colavita). "Frankie coached me along the way," Page said. "When he was riding for Saturn, I lived with Toby Stanton half a mile from Frankie's house so I'd train with him regularly. He still gives me a lot of advice and I still use his knowledge."
Also as a junior, Page got his first chance to race in Europe. "It was in Germany or Switzerland, before the junior world championships. We went over on a Wednesday and raced the weekend before Cyclocross World Championships. Before that, I had raced in Europe with the junior national team on the road so it wasn't a total culture shock but it was also amazing to see how everyone reacted out there. There were a lot of people at the races and they were pretty well run. Everything seemed bigger and more organised than races I had done before so it seemed like a big deal."
Transition to a working pro
Since becoming an elite racer, Page has always known he could make a decent living in European 'cross although "it's taken me this long to be able to make money," he said. "It wasn't easy. Especially coming to Belgium where the racers are the best in the world. I came over here four years ago for the first time to race in Belgium, and I was promised 11 start contracts ('cross racers are paid start money by promoters and agree under contract to appear at races). Not for very much money but enough to travel with. Only three of them ever came through, so it was a struggle. I guess you have to earn your keep and keep proving yourself so it was very tough. I was just scraping by and was just figuring out how to handle the travelling. I kept telling myself 'I can do this, I can do this.' And try not to get too discouraged."
Page took that first year's rough experience and came back a little more experienced; a little more organised. "It was taking care of the simple things that made the biggest difference," he said. "Like, we had a car lined up and friends to stay with. Then we got our own apartment. Things like that."
With the logistics under control, Page tries to focus on getting in as many races as he can in the short season to maximise his earnings. "There's probably more than 40 races in a season," he says. "To tell you the truth, I don't know even know how many I did last year. We raced most weekends. And mid-week races too. They like holidays here; if there's a holiday, there's a bike race. There was one week when there was only one race; a world cup race on Sunday. Then again, if you talked to me the week between Christmas and New Years, I was doing eight races in two weeks."
And despite the heavy schedule, he's made time for a trip home to compete in the US National Championships the past three consecutive years. Having won the jersey in 2002 and 2003, he came home in December 2004 fatigued; recovering from severe iron deficiency and was especially proud to win. "I knew I wasn't in top form at the time. When you're going well, it's easy to win. When you're not going well, it makes it that much more taxing on your mind and your body, so it was good to have that race over with."
The family man
Page accomplishes all this racing, all this achievement, with family in tow - for his entire European campaign, girlfriend (now wife) Cori has been by Page's side; a built-in support crew. A crew that grew by one in October 2004 when daughter Emma was born; a development Page took in stride. "People say that having a child changes your life and until you actually do it, it's just talk. It does really change your life but it also brings more joy to my life. And Cori's too. The bottom line is that having Emma along is just another thing to plan. Everything just takes a little longer."
The extra effort doesn't stop his support crew from attending every race though. "They come if they want to," he says. "But they always come. We pack up Emma in the car seat in our van and whenever it's really nasty weather we have this sling that we put on Cori then she wears a jacket over the top to cover Emma and she's out there cheering."
Jonathan will be writing a diary for Cyclingnews throughout the 2005/06 cyclocross season.