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An interview with Jonathan Page, September 5, 2007
In pursuit of a passion
He's finished second in the World Championships, but one figure stood undisturbed by the crowds at the NRC criterium in North Carolina: Cyclo-cross Jonathan Page. Page escaped notice from all except the most hardened 'cross fans, preferring instead to take a back seat to the criterium stars. Cyclingnews' Laura Weislo talked to the understated, mellow family man in between the global travels which he takes in pursuit of his passion - cyclo-cross.
As the road season winds down, most of the racers are a bit worn out, haggard, or burnt out. There aren't as many smiles in the peloton, and the edginess of a long season of racing brings out anger or just plain orneriness in the best of riders. But one face in the crowd at the recent criteriums in North Carolina beamed with a relaxed, happy-go-lucky attitude that stood out amongst the adrenaline junkies: that of Cyclo-cross Worlds silver medalist Jonathan Page.
Traveling with his wife Cory and youngest child, Page certainly didn't look like someone who'd been jetting back and forth across the Atlantic many times per year for the past several years - he appeared rested, relaxed and fresh. However, in between meeting his new team and doing a few road races in Belgium as part of the team bonding experience, and the beginning of the upcoming 'cross season, Page was back in the USA to get some speed work in the short, intense NRC crits that fill up the late season North American calendar.
Page laid out his itinerary after the North Carolina races. "I go to Chicago [for Elk Grove], then to water parks in Wisconsin to have fun with Cory's sister, then we go back to Europe at the end of August. Then I come back to do the Michigan [cross] race weekend [9/22-23] and ['cross'] Vegas."
The criteriums are part of his tune-up for 'cross season, and Page was fairly aggressive in the Hanes Park criterium, launching a late-race attack that pulled away a promising group. But Page denies that he had any illusions of winning the criterium. "I was just trying to stay out of the way. Sometimes it's a little too scary for my liking with guys diving here and there... I was just trying to stay safe."
The weather, a sweltering heat wave with high humidity, was quite different that what he's used to experiencing in 'cross season. The extremes of temperature, weather and race conditions are something he's learned to steel himself to. "I've become immune to just about everything, or so I hope," he laughed. "I just race my bike and try not to think about it."
Page can now look forward to a season of his favourite cycling discipline - hopefully without the debilitating injury he suffered early last season when a "stupid little crash" left him with torn tendons and a ruptured muscle in his shoulder. The injury left him out of competition for most of the fall 'cross season, but he made his comeback just in time to hit the US National Championships and then head back home to a rapid fire succession of intense races in Europe.
A quick return to form put him in a perfect position for the World Championships, and when one favourite after another crashed and dropped behind, Page was at the front battling with Erwin Vervecken, ultimately missing out on the rainbow bands with a miniscule bobble on a final bend that left him with silver.
Page has had time to finally relax and reflect on his accomplishment in the 'cross worlds in January - something that didn't come right away. "There were still races after Worlds, so I kept racing for another month. Then I took a little break after 'cross season - just a couple weeks, then I keep going," Page said of his annual schedule. "Normally I start racing 'cross in the middle of September, around the 16th - my birthday - is usually the first race."
Page and his family decided upon the life of an expatriate in order to fully immerse himself in the European 'cross season, and is now based outside Gent in the heart of Flanders - the cosmic centre of Cyclo-cross. Coming back to his native land is less a homecoming than a road trip. "We visit America more than we stay here," Page explained. They've made their home in Belgium, and bounce from place to place when they come to the US. "We either stay with Cory's parents in Minnesota or my mother in New Hampshire, or just on the road at different races."
The total commitment to the sport and immersion in the European scene is something Page insists is absolutely necessary to have success on the world level. "So far I haven't seen anyone (who can make it in Europe)," Page explained. "It's not just me, it's my whole family - we moved there. My family and I have made that commitment to move there." Of the other racers in the US, he said, "I haven't found [another] person who has totally committed themselves to doing a European 'cross campaign."
There is a big push in the USA to bring the UCI World Cup across the Atlantic, but the logistics are difficult and Page isn't optimistic that it will really happen. "It's a big undertaking financially to get everyone over here. It's all right there in Europe - all the races are a car trip or short plane ride. It's more difficult than you would think [to fly to the USA to race]."
Part of the resistance is the expense, but the short 'cross season leaves little time for recovery from jet lag, and because points determine start positions, few people are willing to risk falling from the UCI standings due to illness or fatigue from travel. "Some want to venture out and do it, but some want to stay home and I can't blame them for it. It's really tiring. We fly over here [frequently] and it takes a while to get going."
Page is not only going into the season with the enhanced confidence from his performance at Worlds, but with the added bonus of a new team to support him - the Sunweb ProJob team. It will give him more financial stability as well as some compatriots to share the pain with.
"My contract started in July, and I've been racing with the new team on the road. We did the Tour of Liége and some one day races around Belgium. They're a good group of riders, they're all 'cross riders. We're trying to get some team camaraderie," he explained why they race road together. "It's funny because we're a team, but in the 'cross races, you're almost an individual rider when it comes down to it."
On the squad, Page will be joined by Tom Vannoppen, Sven Vanthourenhout, Jan Verstraeten, David Willemsens: "Those are the heavy hitters," Page said. "Also some young guys who are also very good." One important change is in his equipment - he will have the coveted Dugast tire sponsorship. "Now I have all the right tools to choose from," Page smiled, knowing that these hand-made tires are the secret weapon for the top riders. "But I have to learn how to use them and do it properly. Not everyone knows how to choose the tire pressure, how you prepare for the different races - that's what cyclo-cross is."
The prospect of fine-tuning his knowledge of which tire to use for which conditions, and at what pressure seems to be something he relishes - the very essence of the sport that makes it different from racing a criterium. "You can be strong as an ox, but if you make a bad choice in tires or pressure - that is a big difference. That's the difference in cyclo-cross - there's a lot of factors all thrown into one."
Page's prime example of the many factors that come into play in 'cross was captured in a youtube video that made the rounds on the internet forums after the Hoogerheide World Cup in Holland. "There was this section that was straight down, left 180 degrees - and it was like bloopers and practical jokes with all the guys falling down." Laughing, Page said "That was a tire selection right there!"
Page's favourite kind of course is one that is selective, he exclaimed, "Last year it was the world championships!" He continued, "I liked the course - it was difficult and not everyone could do every section very well." He prefers to have a course that selects riders who have mastered all of the technical aspects of 'cross racing. "Selective courses - ones where you have to make the lead group in order to win the race. I try to find good things in every section - sand, mud - all the technical parts."
That is one reason why Page prefers the racing in Europe over the US. "Depending on where you are, it depends on weather, mud - even sand can be a factor. It's the same in North America, but the courses are harder in Europe, plain and simple. If they don't have the terrain, they take a bulldozer and truck in dirt or sand - cut a tree down... they make it difficult."
One difficulty he did not appreciate in Europe was the mistreatment of his mechanic Franky Van Haesebroucke who was assaulted by security at the Krawaten Cross in Lille, Belgium in February.
Van Haesebroucke suffered a concussion and possible nerve damage from the incident, but is fine now, and is ready to support Page for another season with his new team. "He's doing OK. I couldn't believe what I saw when I saw Franke on the ground," Page said, looking disturbed. "Holymoly - that was a scene, it was ridiculous. Animals. They take it too serious - it's just a bike race."
But with the incident behind him, Page is looking forward to moving forward into the new season with his new team, but happy to have Van Haesbroucke at his side again. "He'll still be my mechanic. Same thing, I just wear a yellow jersey and shorts now," Page explained. "If it ain't broke don't fix it."