Tuesday, December 13, 2005

TIAA-CREF/Clif Bar Strikes Gold at Cross Nationals

December 12, 2005

Summerhill photo courtesty of Chris Milliman

After a hugely successful season the TIAA-CREF/Clif Bar Team traveled to the National Cyclo-Cross Championships in Providence this past weekend with their sites set on both the Junior and U23 titles. With the main focus of the team being the development of young cyclo-cross talent the weekend would provide a national stage to prove the success of the program. The race weekend got started early on Friday afternoon with Brandon Dwight picking up a third place finish in the highly competitive 35-39 Masters category. Brandon was forced to contend with New England’s first major blizzard of the year serving up white-out conditions that caused many competitors to abandon with hypothermia. By the end of the day over four inches of wet snow would fall on the course setting the stage for a test of fitness and character in the U23 and Junior races to be contested the following day.

Saturday began with the highly anticipated U23 race and expectations of a final showdown between USGP champion Jesse Anthony (Clif Shot) and his year long rival Troy Wells. Setting out for their fifty minute race on the extremely technical course that would force riders to negotiate both frozen ruts and thick mud, TIAA-CREF/Clif Bar rider Zak Grabowski got the hole-shot and set a blistering pace for the first lap. Not far behind, as expected, Troy Wells was again dueling with Anthony but an untimely puncture for the Clif Bar rider early on the second lap would allow Wells to bridge the gap to Grabowski who put in a big effort to slingshot the inspired Wells and a resurgent Brent Bookwalter off the front of the strung out field. Troy eventually left Bookwalter behind and struck out on his own in pursuit of his first National title. After initially establishing a health thirty second gap on second place, a rejuvenated Anthony began applying pressure from behind and by the last lap had closed to within five seconds of Wells. With one final push Wells was able to hold on and took an emotional win in front of his family and thousands of cheering fans. Brady Kappius confirmed his status as a rising cross talent as well and took a well deserved sixth place as a first year U23 rider.

With one title already secured, team manager Ben Turner turned to his squad of well trained juniors to contend with last years Junior National Champion Bjorn Selander. Three riders quickly established themselves at the front of the race and TIAA-CREF/Clif Bar once again had a numerical advantage with Danny Summerhill and Alex Howes keeping a close watch over the strong Selander. With half the race over, Selander had pulled Summerhill away from the slowing Howes and seemed to have improved his chances of repeating his title but with two laps remaining Selander suffer a mechanical forcing him to run to the pit for a bike change. Summerhill, no stranger to wining national titles, having taken three on the road earlier this year (crit., TT and road), cruised in for the win with Howes just holding off a charging Salender for second.

The US National Cyclo-Cross Championships marks the end of the domestic cyclo-cross season. In Europe, the heartland of cross, the racing is starting to heating up and with the peak of the season just around the corner, TIAA-CREF/Clif Bar will be sending five riders overseas to test their skills against the best in the world. Wells, Kappius, Summerhill, Howes and Dwight will take a short rest and then travel to Belgium for a barrage of holiday cross races in preparation for the World Championships to be held in the Netherlands on January 28-29.

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