PROVIDENCE, RI (December 15, 2006) The 2006 California Giant Berry Farms USA Cycling National Cyclo-cross Championships started in true cyclo-cross fashion this Friday: hard from the gun with no let-up in sight. Day one saw 15 riders crowned national champions in their respective age groups in weather that left riders and onlookers wondering if they really were in the middle of New England winter.
Specialized rider Ned Overend provided the first show of the day by winning the Men's 50-54 race. Overend, the first ever world mountain bike champion and multi-time national mountain bike champion, surprised riders and spectators when he chose to toe the start line in Providence, since he had passed on 'cross nationals in the past. Despite his storied past, Overend was stuck in the middle of the field at the start of the race (a front row starting position is generally considered critical in the relatively short 'cross races). Overend quickly showed that not even a poor starting position could slow him as he appeared at the front of the race merely a half lap in. There, he and California Giant Strawberries/Specialized rider, Henry Kramer, worked together to distance themselves from the rest of the chasing field, with Overend choosing to follow Kramer.
"I'm not totally sure of my cyclo-cross skills," explained Overend. "Especially my mounts and dismounts."
With two and half laps to go, Overend showed the power that has taken him to so many titles and simply rode away from Kramer and the rest of the field, earning him his first ever masters title.
Deidre Winfield of Velo Bella-Kona lived up to her rookie-of-the-year status winning the highly competitive women's 30-34 field. Winfield, who is in her first season ever of riding 'cross and who is the proud mother of a 17-month-old baby, proved that neither motherhood nor poor starting position could impede her as she simply blew the field to pieces putting over a minute and a half between herself and her fellow riders. Second place rider Mandy Lozano (Cheerwine Cycling) voiced the opinion of the field when she said of Winfield afterward: "She's been killing it all year, she's unbelievable."
The big excitement of the day came at the very end in the Men's 30-34 race. There, a surprisingly equal group of riders gave the crowd a true show as they battled back and forth in desperate attempts to escape one another. After several attacks and counters, Christopher Pietrzak (Porcupine/Specalized) had a slight lead at the beginning of the last lap only to watch it evaporate when he crashed going into the run-up allowing Ryan Leech (Meredith Group-GPOA-Cannondale) to catch his wheel. The two riders stayed together to the very end.
"I knew coming down the last downhill that whoever was in the lead probably had the jump," explained Leech. "But I was second so I stayed right on [Pietrzak's] wheel - and it was such a long sprint."
But it wasn't too long. Leech, who hadn't seen the lead for the entire race edged out Pietrzak in the last meter and a half, to take the Stars-and-Stripes jersey in front of a booming crowd.
Other notable results included Steve Tilford (Trek/VW) overcoming a bout with hypothermia two weeks before to win the Men's 45-49 category and his seventh national title in overwhelming fashion, and Mark Noble of the California Raisins Masters cycling team who won a four-man sprint to take the Men's 40-44 title.