Cyclo-cross Explained with Jonathan Page & Danny Summerhill

What is Cyclo-cross?

As the road and mountain bike season begins to wind down in the Autumn and Winter months, cyclo-cross emerges as the action sport on two-wheels to watch. Cyclo-cross, more commonly referred to as CX, combines aspects of mountain bike racing, cross country racing and crit racing and usually takes place on tracks made of grass, mud and sand featuring man-made obstacles that often require riders to dismount from their bike and carry their bicycle. With cyclo-cross being a winter sport it’s not uncommon to see snow and rain throwing another challenge into the mix. With its origins stemming from Belgium, cyclo-cross is still an emerging discipline in the United States. For the first time this year two UCI CX World Cup races will be held in the US, first at CrossVegas followed by Jingle Bells in Iowa. 2015 marked the first year that the UCI designated an opening round of the World Cup race outside of Europe with the race at CrossVegas. 

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The Bikes

Cyclo-cross specific bikes are very similar to road bikes with light weight frames and drop handle bars. Usually the tires are wider than that of road bikes with treads similar to mountain bikes. It has become more common to see disc brakes used in cyclo-cross racing to combat the weather and course conditions.  

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CX Explained with Shimano Athletes Jonathan Page & Danny Summerhill

Shimano Cyclo-cross Athletes Jonathan Page and Danny Summerhill answered some questions about their careers in Cyclo-cross to help give you an idea of the wild world that is CX.

Danny Summerhill

Danny Summerhill competes with the Maxxis-Shimano cyclo-cross team. He first made his mark in the cyclo-cross world when he finished in 2nd place at the 2007 World Championships as a junior, and 1st at the U-23 National Championships in Bend. During the road cycling season, Danny competes with the United Health Care Pro Cycling team. 

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Jonathan Page

The most decorated male American cyclo-cross racer and a trailblazer of the sport in America. Jonathan is a 9x US National Champion in cyclo-cross and road in junior and elite. Jonathan finished 2nd at the cyclo-cross World Championships in 2007. Jonathan moved to Belgium in 2002 where he lived with his wife for 13 years to compete and train in cyclo-cross with the best in the world. 

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Q: Choose 5 words that describe cyclo-cross to you.

JP: Fall, adversity, exciting, obstacles, mud.

DS: Fun, exhausting, fast, life, family.

Q: What do you enjoy most about cyclo-cross as a discipline?

DS: I enjoy how dynamic it can be. By literally setting up some course tape through a field, some woods, or some dirt trails you can make an awesome cyclo-cross race and venue anywhere. The other thing that intrigues me is that cross racing is “down home cycling.” In my early years I would fly to different parts of the country and stay with host families in their homes.  On many occasions the entire family: mom, dad, daughter, and son raced all weekend along with me in their respective categories.  I was like the older brother coming home to race with them.  Even today, I still stay with my adopted families whenever I race in their cities.  It’s a short reunion with people you know and love who enjoy the sport as much as I do.  

JP: All the different courses.

Q: When did you first start racing cyclo-cross and why?

DS: Actually getting to it later than all the other disinclines of bike racing because I thought the idea of running with a bicycle was so counter-productive; it seemed dumb. I also didn't like the idea of smashing up a perfectly good road bike that my mom would have to pay to replace!

JP: I was 16. It was a way to stay in shape over winter for the road season.

Q: Craziest moment you’ve experienced or seen in a cyclo-cross race?

DS: God.. too many to name just one.

JP: Post silver medal at the Worlds.

Q: Favorite cyclo-cross course you’ve raced and why?

DS: Outside of America where I have lots of favorite courses, my favorite course I've ever raced in was The Diegem Super Prestige cross race just out side of Brussels Belgium. In the last few years they've change the race to a night race bringing an even more fun and exciting feel to what is already one of the more historic cross races in recent history.  Because of the race history, parts of the course which are not even UCI legal are grandfathered in. For instance: We race down this little foot path no more than a couple feet wide and fly In between these 2 houses before getting back on to the Main Street and bombing down what could best be compared to the steep roads of San Francisco. They stair step from the top of the hill to then bottom and send you at full speed over this big fly over where if you're not paying attention could totally launch you into the air.

JP: Ooooooo...i have many favorites but of course, I will always have amazing memories of Hooglede-Gits

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Q: Most humbling moment you’ve experience in cyclo-cross?

DS: Getting 3rd place at one of the USGP race in bend OR as a first year elite against Tim Johnson and Ryan Trebon. Outside of standing on the podium at Worlds as a junior this is certainly one of the proudest moments that made a lasting impact to me. It was like a changing of the guard, the U-23 who had previously been fighting for top 5's but never actually getting on the elite podium finally made it and to me was kind of like entering a whole new realm of possibilities if you will.

JP: Uff. Not sure I should really share this but...at the Nationals in 05, I was going for my 4th straight title. Cori and I both got food poisoning 2 nights before and spent most of the night in the hospital the night before Nats. I decided to start anyway and umm, let's just say that some of the symptoms were still more than present and I tossed that skinsuit right in the trash after the race... (side note-I managed 2nd that day)

Q: What excites you about cyclo-cross?

DS: Like I said above Family is a big part of cyclocross to me and spending an entire season on the road amongst people and fans you don't actually know makes it that much more exciting to come back to your roots and see all the people & faces I've spent so many years growing up with.

JP: Variety. Weather.

Q: If cyclo-cross is your true love, which sport is your mistress?

DS: Honestly I can't really say I have a mistress, racing bikes in any capacity be it on the road cyclo-cross or even the BMX track racing on two wheels is my true love, and not defined by any one disciplined

JP: Skiing

Q: Describe your cyclo-cross riding style?

DS: I've been told I race cycle cross in recent years like a roadie, I have an entire road season built into my legs so although I don't have the snappy punch out of the corners that genuine cross races do I have enough power built up from a long road races that I am able to get up to speed just on my own time, which I think is why I spend so much time riding the front because I can dictate exactly how hard were sprinting out of every corner haha.

JP: Smart? Hard?

Q: Most legendary cyclo-cross racer?

DS: Sven is an international given and will go hands down in the history books as best cyclo-cross racer forever but if we're going to stick to just American legends I'd say Tim Johnson would be my pick.

JP: I don’t pick favorites.

Q: Favorite cyclo-cross training ride?

DS: There's a private high school close to where I live that even has its own horse riding trails and Lake and what makes it A favorite for me is getting to ride with my mom there and teach her how to ride cyclocross on the same trails and circuit that I grew up riding on.

JP: Oh. Again, as I have been doing this 20+ years, I have many...depends which country I'm in and now in my new home of Park City, UT, I’m still finding cool new rides!

Q: Is there anything unique about the way you have to train for cyclo-cross?

DS: I think I trained differently than most spending a lot more time on my road bike then on cross bike because I feel like bike handling skills will always come back within a day or two but power is something lost or gained with hours of training

JP: I like to spend as much time as possible in the woods to keep it interesting and fun. After so many years of bike racing, it takes a special road or group to ride with to hold my attention on a road ride. Luckily my coach knows me well.

Q: As two American riders, what can you say about the up and coming talent in the U.S among cyclo-cross racing?

DS: Up-and-coming US talent is definitely biting at everyone's heels if not already here, 2 obvious names would be Logan Owen and Yannick Eckman 2 younger guys from The Cal giant cyclo-cross team who in my opinion are the US future of cross

JP: America has awesome talent!

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Q: This cyclo-cross season history is being made with two UCI World Cup races being held in the US for the first time. What can you say about the growth of the sport here in the US?

DS: personally I think we should maybe take a step back to where we were a couple years ago, focusing more on national calendar series races and events like the US Grand prix . Don't get me wrong having two world cups is very cool I just think the US racing scene would be better off if promoters could ban together and turn their individual weekend races into more of the series so that all races could coexist and not overlap which only weakens the talent pool showing up to both races on the same weekend and in turn doesn't really do much for the growth and ability of us American racers.

JP: Unbelievable if you compare it even to when I first lived in Europe in 2000!

Q: What makes CrossVegas so special?

DS: Cross Vegas the special for many reasons of course being under the lights and the pressure of "the big show" of Interbike it is also cool to bring all the European talent to the states so early for such a cool showcase event. Although they are adapting when the euros first started coming over there shock to the system was fun to watch because it gave them a small taste of what it's like for us Americans having to come over to Europe for months on end without family and try and make a go of this sport over there.

JP: The atmosphere!

Q: Disc brakes or cantilever for cyclo-cross?

DS: I used to hate the idea of disc brakes because it seemed like it took away from the history of what cyclo-cross racing really as well as the fact that being a road nerd we are all about saving weight and of course disc brakes add a decent amount, but after season on disc brakes I will never go back they are absolutely amazing and I am for sure a believer

JP: Cantilever!!!

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Q: Best part about being a professional cyclo-cross athlete? 

DS: Getting to travel all over to some of the biggest and smallest places in the world and the states and the stories that come from those travels I don't think I could get if I did anything else.

JP: I’m only away from my family 1-2 weeks at a time.

Q: Do you have any special rituals the day of a race?

DS: I'm superstitious in general so any prerace rituals that would've helped me do well at one race will be the same prerace ritual until I have a really shitty race and scrap it and find a new superstition to work with

JP: I like to drink espresso with my wife.

Q: Do you have any superstitions that have to be done in order to race well?

DS: Yes most definitely racing with the number 13, enough said

JP: Nope.

Q: Walk us through the day leading up to a race start:

DS: Depending on my energy and of course time of the race I try and sleep in as much as I can before grabbing a quick bite to eat and kitting up for a quick 45 minute to hour spin.

From there I get back to the hotel eat my prerace meal which is usually a big bowl of rice and eggs or oatmeal and honey three hours before the start, try and drink a couple bottles of water as well then put a clean uniform on and head to the course. Are usually like to do a couple easy laps A hot lap (a lap at pretty much race pace) mess around with tire pressures for all the bikes and then jump on the trainer. Maybe slam a gel and head to the start

JP: Well, now that depends on lots of things: am I alone or with family/friends, is it day 1 or day 2, is the weather bad or good, etc...

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