Four weeks before Cyclocross Nationals, Jack Kisseberth and Scott Smith were riding in the JAM Fund van with the organization's co-founder and coach Al Donahue and development team rider and mechanic Ian Gielar. They were on the long road from Western Massachusetts to Reno. The four of them raced in Oklahoma and Texas and went for several training rides in the desert to acclimate for the cyclocross national championships. Smith, Donahue and Gielar headed to New Mexico where they met up with another JAM Fund boss, Four-time Cyclocross National Champion Jeremy Powers and his Aspire Racing team. Meanwhile, Kisseberth flew out to his parent's house in Northern California to spend a full month training at the coast.
"For the first time since the summer, I had a long block off of racing to focus on training," Kisseberth said. "I found that hard four- to five-hour rides with intervals were passing by like nothing."
Toward the end of that training block, Kisseberth had a special visitor: another member of the JAM Fund family, Defending National Champion and JAM Fund Alum Stephen Hyde (Cannondale/Cyclocrossworld).
"Showing Hyde around the roads I had been training on freshened up the training and allowed me to crank out the last few hard rides I had left," Kisseberth said.
Kisseberth and Hyde pushed each other hard during interval training that week. Kisseberth said he felt stronger than he had ever been. A year ago at Hartford, Kisseberth finished fourth in his breakthrough national championships with the elite men. His prospects for a podium finish in Reno were promising.
"Not only had I put in one of the hardest blocks of training I had ever done, but after an up and down season I went to Reno without the pressure that riders like Hyde and Tobin [Ortenblad] were surely feeling," Kisseberth said.
When Kisseberth and the rest of the JAM Fund team got to Rancho San Rafael Regional Park in America's "Biggest Little City," they were as ready as they were going to be. Kisseberth was having a good week leading up to the championship race. He won the 23-39 non-championship event on Tuesday. Smith got fifth. Both were looking strong during practice runs on the off-camber descent on Saturday until the sun went down. At the start of the elite national championships on Sunday, Kisseberth got a front row call up next to the race favorites that included Powers and Hyde.
"Jack Kisseberth is a rider that I really like watching," said former cyclocross national champion and race announcer Tim Johnson during the live broadcast. "He puts so much into riding his bike as fast as he can, and man he hangs it out there."
Smith started in second row. Both had an excellent start, with Kisseberth in second and Smith in eighth coming out of the holeshot. If that was any indication of what was to come, it was going to be a very good race for the JAM Fund guys.
The field stretched into one thin line as the elite men zig zagged through the sandpit. Both Kisseberth and Smith bounced up the Belgian stairs and held their ground in the top ten. The training in Albuquerque in the weeks leading up to Reno was paying off.
Three minutes into the first lap, Powers took control at the front and pushed the pace. Gaps were forming. Kisseberth and Smith were in the lead train of about twelve riders. But as they ran up the first big climb, the space between bikes grew larger. Kisseberth was fourth on the descent, showing his fine-tuned skills by posting a front wheelie, flicking his rear wheel out to take a nice tight line through the 45-degree turn at the bottom of the descent. Smith made the turn taking the inside line too, smooth and steady.
By the time they completed their first lap, there was a clear separation of six leaders that included Powers, Hyde and Kisseberth. Smith was in a chase with the likes of JAM alum Anthony Clark (Squid), Jamie Driscoll (Donnelly Sports) and Former Cyclocross National Champion Jonathan Page (Assos/Shimano).
Then, lady luck ran out. At the end of the fourth lap as Kisseberth was approaching the run-up, he hit a sharp rock hidden in a puddle. His front tire deflated. It was impossible to ride the off camber with a flat. He was forced to run the entire hill section and lost contact with the other four leaders.
"Right before Powers and Hyde put in a dig to split the group with three laps to go, I flatted and lost the opportunity to really test my legs," Kisseberth said. "I still had matches to burn. I knew we had a sizable gap to the rest of the field, so I kept pushing myself to give it all I had."
Kisseberth ran the descent and coddled his bike a long way to the pit where Donahue and Gielar were waiting with a fresh bike. The eighth and final lap was painfully close. Coming into the finish, Kisseberth, Curtis White (Cannondale/Cyclocrossworld) and Tobin Ortenblad (Santa Cruz) were only seconds apart. Kisseberth got sixth.
"While this wasn't the result I was aiming for, I'm feeling good knowing that I had the fitness to contend at the front of the race," Kisseberth said. "Who knows what would have happened without flatting. I just know I still had some fight left in me."
Smith finished sixteenth in his last national championships racing for the JAM Fund.
"For whatever reason, I just couldn’t get my legs to the result I wanted," Smith said. "I’m not disappointed though. I’ve had my best season to date with multiple podiums and a UCI win. I fixed an on-going knee issue that I thought would end my short lived career. Probably the biggest news this year is that it is my last season with JAM Fund. I’m so thankful for the time I’ve spent on the team and for everything I’ve learned and have been able to give back through the program."
Smith isn't sure what his next move will be. But he hints that he'll still be racing.
"I don’t have any plans as of right now for next season, but I’m working on it and hope to come in faster than ever," he said. "I’m excited for this new chapter, and can’t wait to see where it goes."
Other members of the JAM/NCC team raced at Cyclocross National Championships. Anna Savage had one of her best nationals yet, getting tenth in the junior women 17-18, which raced in a combined field with the U23 women.
"The season definitely ended on a high note," Savage said. "It’s hard to believe that was my last race as a junior. I’m so thankful for everyone who helped me this year, especially my coach Scott Smith and my dad."
Savage's father Todd worked the pit for her and fortunately, she didn't have any mechanicals. She enjoyed a clean, consistent race.
Kale Wenzcel and Chris Norvold represented JAM/NCC in the U23 race. It was a blistering fast event and Wenzcel held on for 29th place. Norvold was not having his best day and crashed on the tricky descent onto his left shoulder. Injured and unable to hold the handlebars, he could not finish the race.
Coach Donahue raced on Thursday with the master's 40-44, sprinting at the finish to get a fourth place podium spot. Donahue spent the bulk of the week overseeing the JAM Fund team practices and warm ups and also coaching his several athletes competing during the week including defending champ Stephen Hyde.
JAM/NCC's elite rider Natalie Tapias skipped out on Reno and for good reason. She had the opportunity of a lifetime, spending three weeks racing on the European pro cyclocross circuit, getting her first overseas race experience.
The season is over for most of the JAM Fund team, but Kisseberth has more racing to come. Following his sixth-place nationals finish and top ten overall standing in the USA Pro Cx rankings, Kisseberth was selected to represent Team USA at the World Championships at Valkenburg, Netherlands on February 4. But not all athletes are fully support so he needs help to get there. Please consider giving a boost to Jack in his RallyMe campaign to offset the cost of travel overseas for this great opportunity to race for the U.S.