Eric Brunner 2021 CX Nats
National Championships

Eric Brunner Is Confident Heading Into Nationals to Defend His Title

By: Jim Rusnak  December 06, 2022

Eric Brunner said he doesn’t think many people picked him to win the USA Cycling Cyclocross National Championships last year. But after the season he’s had so far, this year will be a different story.

Eric Brunner, 24, not only comes into this year’s national championships as the defending Elite Men’s champion, but also on the heels of five straight wins in November, including the Pan American Championships in Falmouth, Mass.; the Really Rad Festival in Falmouth (Days 1 and 2); and the Northampton International in Northampton, Mass. (Days 1 and 2).

In addition, he finished 11th at the UCI World Cup race at the beginning of October in Waterloo, Wis., and followed that up a week later with a fourth-place finish on the World Cup Circuit in Fayetteville, Ark. His showing in Fayetteville was his best finish ever at an Elite Men’s CX World Cup.

“The highlights for me have been winning the Pan Am Championship, as well that fourth place in the World Cup in Fayetteville,” Brunner said. “I started off the season all right. Got a bunch of second- and third-places in the USCX Series, and I felt like I was in okay form, but still building. The 11th place in Waterloo was a big confidence booster for me, especially considering I had a bit of a mechanical in that race. I knew that a top 10 was well within reach for me on the World Cup, and sure enough the next week, I got it.”

And so it is that Brunner comes into the USA Cycling Cyclocross National Championships, Dec. 6-11 in Hartford, Conn., as a heavy favorite with a bit of a target on his back.

“I think I’m the guy everyone’s looking at a little bit, which in a way makes it harder,” Brunner said. “Then again, it’s not a bad problem to have.”

Brunner recently took some time from his training schedule in Boulder, Colo., to talk about Nationals and his goals for the rest of the season.

What have you learned about yourself and your racing from your successes so far this season?

Brunner: Mainly that I can be competitive with the European riders, and that I feel like, in the States now, I’m at the point where I can win even if the day doesn’t go perfectly. Coming off five wins in a row, I’m very confident heading into Nationals. Of course, I know everybody is going to bring their “A” game as well, so it’s not a done deal at all, but I’m very confident heading into that race. I’m also looking forward to heading over to Europe after that and testing myself out there. I feel like I’m going to be much more competitive over there than I’ve been in the past, which is very exciting for me.

What are some things you think you need to do to defend your national title?

Brunner: I think just trust my preparation. I also like the pressure. I want to use that [pressure] to get excited for the race and have a high level of excitement heading into it. I think that helps me a lot, and it’s not so hard for me to get up for a championship race, because they’re very important to me. The last thing is to just race calmly, patiently, and when the time is right, make a move.

What do you like best about competing at Nationals?

Brunner: I like Nationals a lot because it’s one of the few days that gets a ton of attention from outside the cyclocross world. And of course, within the cyclocross world, it’s a massive deal. I love that everybody’s watching. I love that the other riders — myself included — kind of have that pinned as one of, if not the most, important days of the season.

Besides winning and defending your title, what would define a successful race for you at Nationals?

Brunner: I always just want to ride the best race that I can, regardless of result. If I make a mistake or have a mechanical or something, I don’t think that will reflect on my race as being a bad race. It’s important for me just to work through that, and oftentimes it works out better than you expect, even if the race is going badly partway through.

Beyond Nationals, what are some of your big objectives for the rest of the season?

Brunner: I will be heading over to Europe after Nationals. The rest of the season, I am really looking forward to riding on some hard courses in the mud, a couple big sand races, as well. I think success for me in those races is just having the strength both mentally and physically to go for the full hour and finish strong. I think that can be a lot harder to do on those European courses with heavy mud, and a lot of elevation and a lot of running.

I think one thing I’ve been doing well so far this season is just training through the races. I want to get a good training block between [my first race in Europe in early December] and the final two world cups and World Championships [in early February.] I’ve got a couple week break in there to try to keep building my form throughout December and January. The World Championships in Hoogerheide, Netherlands — other than nationals — is my big goal for the remainder of the season.

What are your goals for Worlds?

Brunner: I’d love a top 10. I think that’s very realistic. Honestly, it’s not so much about the result for me. This will be my first Elite World Championships in Europe. I raced worlds in Fayetteville last year in the U.S. Mainly my goal is just to keep an upward trend in all those races in Europe and finish out the season as strong as I can.

What will be your biggest challenges at Nationals and then going forward the rest of this season?

Brunner: I think weather at Nationals will be a big challenge. I haven’t looked at the Hartford weather lately. I know the last time we raced there, it was completely frozen over. I don’t know if that will happen again, but I can see it being wet and cold, and of course Europe is the same deal. Maybe not as cold as the East Coast right now, but still very wet.

Other than that, just recovering between the races. I’m going to do so many races over the Christmas period, and ultimately that may mean skipping a race or two that I planned to do. My schedule is definitely flexible. I would rather ride fewer races well than try to do as much as I can.