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Hecht Ready to go for the Gold at #CXNats

As the cyclocross season began, Gage Hecht was juggling his training schedule. He was wrapping up his road season and at the same time preparing for the year’s first cross race.

The transition between disciplines happens regularly for riders. For Hecht, this year it required being fit for the UCI U23 Road World Championships. It also meant getting ready to launch into a season focused on defending his Pan American U23 cyclocross title and on progressing in the discipline he loves.

September proved busy, and it came on the heels of a successful summer on the road. At this year’s USA Cycling Amateur Road National Championships in July, Hecht won U23 titles in both the Individual Time Trial and Criterium. In August, he lined up in the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah for the first time, riding with his with his Aevolo team in his first 2.HC-category event. He followed a week later with the Stage 1 win at the Colorado Classic and finished the event third overall in the points classification.

Gage competed at the 2018 UCI World Championships in the U23 ITT

The win in Colorado was big for the 20-year-old who hails from the Denver suburb of Parker. After he started racing at age 9, he took annual trips to the climbing stages of the USA Pro Challenge that then crossed his state. Watching the pro riders had long inspired him, now he was among them.

Hecht’s own drive and talent in the sport was evident early on. In 2009, at age 11, he took home both the 10-12 year old National Road title and the 10-12 year old Cyclocross National Championship, and he went on to win titles across disciplines through his junior career.

His winning hasn’t ceased. And, last year, at Joe Creason Park in Louisville, Kentucky, he captured the 2017 Pan-American Cyclocross Championships U23 Men’s title.

As this September rolled around, Hecht knew he had a full plate between a World Championships and preparing to defend that Pan Am title. He started his cyclocross season with Rochester, then left for Innsbruck, Austria, where he finished 23rd overall in the U23 ITT at the 2018 UCI Road World Championships. When he returned, he shifted his focus solely to cyclocross and has proven to be the U23 rider to beat.

Hecht has collected multiple cross wins this season, including the C1 men’s elite race at the Cincinnati UCI Cyclocross Weekend, riding for Alpha Bicycle Company. And in November, he won his second consecutive Pan American Cyclocross U23 Championship to retain the title.

Hecht won the 2018 U23 Pan American Championships

Now, he’s set to return to Louisville, hoping to carry this momentum into Cross Nats where, next Sunday, he will go after the Elite title instead of U23. 

Hecht talked about shifting between disciplines, his success in 2018 and preparing to race against the top riders in the country.

You successfully defended your Pan Am title – how did you feel going into that race after transitioning from the road season, and also going in with some momentum from the win in Cincinnati?

“I had a lot of confidence going in. I was racing pretty well the early part of the season and had been pretty competitive with all of the guys that were in my category. I also did a good amount of training going in, so I felt like I did most of what I could do to be ready for the event and I didn’t feel like I was under-prepared or behind on something. I was kind of nervous about whether or not I would have good luck and whether the legs would turn out that day and how strong the competition would be. It was a strong field, so I was pretty happy to come away with the win.”

You’re now racing against riders you watched as you were coming up the ranks. Describe that feeling of lining up alongside them?

“It feels amazing, it feels incredible. You know that you’re going to grow up to maybe be strong enough to hang on their wheels, but it’s hard to picture that you’ll be that fast someday. I don’t think I ever really imagined as a kid that I’d ever get to this point. I always wanted to be. It’s just a cool feeling to be here finally.”

What have you been able to learn from competing with the veterans?

“Every race there are learning opportunities. I always try to reflect after the races and think about what I could have done better, what I could have done differently, what I did that was good. I try to duplicate what was good and fix what was bad. I’m always talking to the guys, like Stephen Hyde and Kerry Werner – those guys have a lot of knowledge and wisdom. Kerry talked me through the sprint in Cincy and gave me information on what he would have done differently if he were in my shoes. Those guys really lead by example as well, and I’m learning from them how to have a little bit of patience in the field. If you watch Stephen, he has good starts, but it’s pretty rare that you see him right on top of the hole shot. He’s patient with getting up to the front. So, I’m learning how to have that patience, how to not panic when you’re not at the front at the first corner, and also having the patience to be able to come back from a little mistake. At Pan Ams, I tripped on the stairs and had to pick myself up and chase back after a little bit of a gap. It meant coming together and making sure I didn’t raise my heart rate too much, or sprint too hard or burn too many matches getting back to the group. That was important to my success in that race.”

You started winning at a young age. What have you learned along the way that has helped you improve as a rider and continue to progress?

“I have a passion for going out and riding, so that comes pretty easily for me. Back when I was 9 years old, I didn’t have a set training plan. I just remember coming home from school every day and immediately getting on my bike, creating a course around the neighborhood and trying to time myself with a stopwatch. I would try to figure out how much faster I could go and where I could improve. That kind of drive to improve has kept me motivated.”

What have you taken away from being part of USA Cycling development programs?

“It has been great for getting exposure and learning how to race with different riders because racing over in Europe is a bunch different than racing here. The coaches have a lot of knowledge and are good at teaching different skill sets and combined with being in a pool of other young athletes, you start to develop ideas and tactics that work. It’s all good for the growth of athletes.”

What tactics do you use to stay focused and let your race be your own?        

“Part of it is you have to go into every race knowing that there’s a lot of stuff out of your control, like course and weather conditions. A lot of the time those conditions can affect mechanicals. Plus, there’s the other racers around you. You have to almost be willing to lose because of those factors and be content with the fact that the cards aren’t always going to be in your favor every day. You have to be ready to accept that. I think that’s part of it. Maybe another part of it is being in the moment. Maybe it’s planning a head a few steps, but also being ready to chase back something. It’s trying to think about the consequences as things are happening instead of just acting on instinct; it’s trying to take a few seconds to think about it all.”

You had a strong road season with great results, including a nice finish in your home state. What was it like to get that stage win at the Colorado Classic?

“It was incredible. I grew up watching what used to be the USA Pro Challenge and what’s now the Colorado Classic. We always would go watch when it came through, so it was really cool to not only compete in the race but to also get a victory in one of the stages. I had no anticipation going in of doing anything close to that. Most days in Utah it was just riding to stay in, maybe getting a break here and there. From the way I felt after Utah, I didn’t really anticipate I’d be in a position like I was in Colorado.”

You were preparing for cross season and road Worlds at same time. How did you manage your training and schedule?

“The ITT is an intense effort and a fairly similar time frame to a cross race – 40 minutes to an hour. So, I was really focused on making sure I was ready for that length of a race. I didn’t come into cross season quite as punchy as I would have liked to have been. But, since it was early in the season, it was at a time where I could give up a few days of cross training to be on the TT bike and get ready for Worlds. I could train enough where I could get ready for TT Worlds and come back and have fun on the cross bike again.”

What skill sets can you take from road to cross and vice versa to improve your riding in both?

“In road racing, there’s starting to be a lot of gravel on courses, so handling is becoming more and more important. I found in Utah and Colorado that when you’re racing on mountain roads, the cross handling skills start to play in and you can use that to your advantage to recover, be a little more aggressive in the pack and not waste as much energy. On the road, I learn how to suffer a bit more – the climbs really teach you how to suffer and maintain that focus while being in a state of pain, and I can put that forward to cross. Also, I think I learn on the road how to handle speed a lot better. I think that really translates on to the cross bike as well. The tactics also transfer over really well – it’s like being in a breakaway every cross race.”

In the future do you see yourself focusing on one discipline or the other?

“It’s hard to know right now. I really love both and I think I could have a future in both. It kind of depends on what comes about the next year. I love cyclocross and I have to say that’s a passion of mine. I feel like I have a blast being out there and being out in the dirt and mud in the winter. If there was a harder one to leave, it would be cross for sure. But, I’d still have a pretty difficult time leaving road. As of right now, they’re both helping me develop pretty well on both sides, so until the schedules really start conflicting, I’m going to try to keep doing both as long as possible.”

What are your favorite features on a cross course?

“My favorite stuff is anything you can get a nice rut into. So be it deep mud, sand, even ice and snow sometimes. Something where you can come into a corner and really hit that line. It’s a great feeling when you can hit that line perfectly, the tires hold, and you rip around the corner. I think that’s the one of the best feelings in cross racing.”

What’s been your focus in preparation for Cross Nats?

“Racing is a great tool to keep sharp, so I’ve been racing as much as I practical. With Louisville being so muddy and hilly, I’ll want to make sure I have the power to be there with all the other riders.”

Hecht will be racing in the USA Cycling Cyclocross National Championships at Joe Creason Park in Louisville, Kentucky. The race weekend runs from Dec. 11-16, 2018.

How To Follow #CXNats: Starting Tuesday, all races will be covered on @USACyclingLIVE on Twitter. Live streaming from Cross Nats will be available on USA Cycling’s YouTube and Facebook channels on Sunday, Dec. 16. Live coverage from the Junior Men’s, youth Women’s (ages 17-22), U23 men’s, Elite Women’s, and Elite Men’s races begins at 9 a.m. ET.

If you are local, racing will be happening every day starting Tuesday December 11. Come to Joe Creason Park and enjoy a day of racing and 

For more information, please contact Kelly Fox at kfox@usacycling.org.