Coming to America: Interview with Valentin Scherz

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Valentin Scherz rides to a strong fifth place at the Whitmore's Landscaping Super Cross Cup. ©Tom Olesnevich

by Jed Kornbluh

Valentin Scherz, an 18-year-old Swiss cyclocross rider who has been living in and racing around Phiadelphia. Scherz is currently the MAC Elite leader and will be fighting to keep that lead as the final round, in Reston, VA quickly approaches. In a recent sit-down with Jed Kornbluh of nyvelocity.com, here’s what he had to say:

JK: Valentin, thanks for sitting down with us today. There seems to be some serious confusion among race announcers on the proper pronunciation of your name. Can you sound it out phonetically for us?
Scherz: So I think it’s time for me to explain how to spell my name! I suppose I can do it with a story. A few weeks after my arrival, I was walking in Philadelphia with Dave [Berson], the nice guy who is hosting me. He had been saying my name in the American way as it looks, you know, “Valen-tine”, because our first contact was via email and he got used to saying it as he read it.  I tried to explain him how to pronounce it… but it was too difficult because you haven’t a sound like that in English.  But as we walked by the bakery “Au Bon Pain” Dave was pronounced it with the French-like accent! It was the example I was looking for! P-ain and Valent-in have the same final sound. That’s for my first name.  My last name is a German word. (which means something funny… I’ll let you figure that out). It’s a bit like “shirts”, but with an “a” sound instead of the “i” in the middle of the world. Anyway, I like how my name sounds with the American accent, so feel free to say what you will!

JK: Tell us where you are from and how you ended up in the States for the first half of the UCI season.

Scherz: This is actually a nice story- In Switzerland, we have mandatory military service for four months, which requires I take a free year to do it (actually I’ll begin it in March). But before that, I wanted to live my dream for a while: to be a professional rider. I wanted to improve my English and discover a new part of the world, too. Coming here seemed to be the perfect mix!  I was looking for an opportunity to come here. Hotel and renting a car were both far too expensive. But, I have two friends, Guillaume Dessibourg and Yves Corminboeuf, who came to USA last year to ride cyclocross races. Yves gave me Ken Getchell’s [SpectaCross] email address. I wrote him last spring and he forwarded my message to contacts.  Dave Berson wrote me back that he would be happy to host me because he did a bit the same years ago when he came in Europe to race and was hosted in a German family. He had a great time and wanted to give a chance to somebody to do the same! I finished high school in June, trained full time since then and came here for the first part of my season. Being here is a very good way to prepare the second part of the season, because the level is high enough and the weather is nicer than in Europe. I think that I will be fit for the UCI World Cup events, the Swiss National Championship, and the World Championship later this year.

JK: Has living in the US taken a serious adjustment?

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A fifth place finish for Schrez in Southampton adds to his lead in the MAC Series. ©Anthony Skorochod

Scherz: No, living here doesn’t change a lot… My cyclist life is the same: Training, resting, eating!

JK: Yep, that sounds like the boring, Monkish life of a cyclist.  Do they make you do manual labor, like brick laying or leaf raking?

Scherz: No, in fact it’s really cool because Dave doesn’t expect me to do much around the house. I just try to help to do what I would have to do at home- cook, wash dishes, play with and take care of the kids, wash my clothes… Nothing special, in fact.  I’m free to train, I have free time to try to be a good cyclist and it’s cool! Just one goal in each day- to be faster on the bike! So cool!

JK: Do they let you out of the house or are they training you like Ivan Drago in Rocky IV?

Scherz: I’m not considered an adult here, but in Switerzland I am! So I need to be free! I can go out as I want. I am still working with my coach in Switzerland and receive my plans via email. It’s nice having a host family that rides. Dave and I do some of my workouts together and he works well in the Pit for me!

JK: Has your training regimen changed after a few months living in our car-crazy culture?

Scherz: Yes it did! Because of the traffic lights, the truck-sized cars and because half of the drivers are texting or using cell phones when they drive here, I don’t do any of my interval training on the road, as I would do in Switzerland. I do it on the trainer, or on a public park with my cyclocross bike.  It wasn’t just the traffic that changes my training, as I have two races the most of the weekends, I train less than I did before I came here. My season is long and I have to be really fit in the end of January so I have to make sure I am getting enough recovery during the week.

JK: Have you had any serious altercations with jerky drivers?

Scherz: How did you know that? Yes, I had one altercation! I punched the trunk of a driver who was doing a crazy maneuver in the middle of a busy street. He didn’t appreciate it, changed his direction and tried to follow me but I fled. I have heard stories of drivers with guns in the USA so I decided to get away.  What I did was stupid, but I was upset because it wasn’t the first time I had bad drivers making a big mess on the road, nearly running me over.  I’m sorry to say that:  You are really nice people in US, but bad drivers! And I understand why more and more people do cyclocross here, because the road is too dangerous! So take care and enjoy the cross!

JK: You’re the current MAC (Mid-Atlantic Cyclocross Series) leader, after coming on strong in the middle of the season to dominate the circuit.  How is the local competition?

Scherz: I like the races here. Always a family-friendly, nice atmosphere, the courses are nice, most of the riders are happy to see me- I have fun in the MAC races. Oh, and that thing with the dollars given by the spectators during the race… you won’t see that in Europe, but it’s fun.

JK: Are the courses similar to the terrain you are used to riding in Europe?

Scherz: The courses are pretty similar to European ones, but the Swiss courses are known to be particularly technical and not really fast. The courses I have seen here are more like the ones I rode in Belgium, France, and Italy.

JK: What has been your favorite course so far and why?

Scherz: I really enjoyed the HPCX course, because it was muddy and slick, but still fast! And the Fair Hill CX course was really fun too, going through some stables and horse-show fields- It was fun!  But maybe I am biased since I won those two races… Providence, Granogue, and Wissahickon were good courses too, technical, but still fast.

JK: You and Trebon have been dueling a bit this season. Any feedback from the Kona camp on your early season bump n’ grind?

Scherz: Yeah… No. I wouldn’t agree that I have been dueling with Trebon, but my first “contact” with him was a body-check in a downhill in Granogue, which I did not on purpose while I was passing him. He yelled, loudly, in protest but when I spoke with him after the race he was ok and very nice about it.

JK: Any other serious rivalries this season?

Scherz: No, no big rivalries. We are all rivals in the race, which is good but no… The guys are nice here and I have good camaraderie with them. Oh yeah… Maybe one thing-  I took the lead after the start in the first Providence race and one of the top Cannondale riders passed me.  Then another rider tried to, but I didn’t let him pass me and I let a small gap open between us and the leader. This is racing, right? No. The second guy came to tell me after the race that it’s not the way we do it here! I had a lot of fun when I heard that. Anyway, this guy could be a good rival, but I don’t remember who he was.

JK: We talked a bit about changes in your training, what about your diet?

Scherz: When you ride two races each weekend and train all week, the question is not about too much of something, but about not enough! I have to eat as much as I can, mostly good things, if possible.

JK: Are you able to fuel as well (or better) than you normally do in Europe?

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Scherz leads the Elite Men's field off the pavement in Southampton. ©Anthony Skorochod

Scherz: I fuel here really well, mainly thanks to all of the high calorie foods in the US! You have big boxes and big meals! So I enjoy that, because it’s easier for me to have enough calories!!!  But seriously, it’s a problem that there are so many manufactured foods in the US and it’s a bit of a problem for me to find the right nutrition. It’s even difficult to find normal yogurt as all are low or fat-free special mixes, the same goes for cheese, ham, biscuits etc.. And you have the most calories-rich and the most zero-calorie foods.  I really prefer more natural foods like those found in Europe, but it’s ok because my host family eats very well, buys a lot of fruits and vegetables, and look fit. Thanks to them, I have been able to find the right food but I can imagine it is difficult for many people to find good food.

JK: Does your host family maintain a similar diet to yours or do they live on SPAM and Velveeta?

Scherz: We definitely take more time to cook and prepare our food in Europe, it’s very important to us. So it’s different… But in both, people take care of what they eat. In Europe we like organic local not chemical fresh food. We eat everything, but in normal quantities too. I think that here you are more yo-yoing between the extra diet and the extra fat. It’s more dangerous because you are faster in the wrong way, but it could work too.

JK: Have you been over to Tony Luke’s yet?

Scherz: It’s one of those famous Philly’s sandwich places isn’t it? I tried it, but I’m more into the French crunchy “baguette” bread with ham (no honey-ham please!), real Swiss (no low-fat Swiss cheese- it doesn’t exist!) or Italian cheese, fresh slices of tomatoes, butter and Dijon mustard.  I should try a real American McDonald’s before I leave too, right?

JK: Uh, no. Stay away from that.  This past weekend (USGP Mercer Cup) featured two completely different weather systems on the same course, with Saturday a bit chilly and raining, while Sunday was bone dry and in the upper 60s. Even though your results were almost exactly the same:  How did the big weather change affect your race?

Scherz: The rain or temperature weren’t the big deal. I think what made the race really hard, and which maybe effected more than the other riders, I don’t know why, was the really high humidity.  I had difficulty breathing and I was felling so bad, I think (and I hope) just because of that.

JK: Which of the two courses favored your riding style?

Scherz: I think I am good in the technical sections, so the conditions on Sunday were better for me because the course was faster than tricky.  On Saturday, it was so slow that not technical at all. But on both days there were some stinking, power needing parts, and that’s usually where I do well.

JK: Did you lay down some additional pressure on Summerhill in the final lap or was he just fading fast (It looked like you shifted your weight on the bike and starting pounding)?

Scherz: You think so? I don’t know… I was trying to go as fast I could, and I think he did the same. But as I told you previously, I was feeling really bad, and in fact I was totally out of it on the last three laps, but the last lap is always easier because it’s the last! You keep thinking “one to go, one to go “and you give all you have. Maybe that’s why.  But I wanted to finish before him because I just discovered Saturday night, on the Internet, who he was and the great result he did two years ago in the UCI World Championship. And isn’t he is on the Garmin team, or something like that? I think that he had some mechanical problems, which helped me- I don’t know.  Anyway it was cool to win the U23 category and nice to beat him.

JK: Yes, it was obvious to those of us working in the Pit that you had started to dig deep and Summerhill was unable to counter that final attack.  Our expensive research department informed us you will be spending the next two weekends in the NYC region, with Whitmore’s Landscaping Super Cross Cup Weekend followed by Staten CX the following weekend and both courses are sandy and wind-swept, with rain or snow a possibility. Any race predictions?

Scherz: I like sand and have experience from doing a lot of sandy races in Belgium last year. I also like snowy and muddy conditions, so I think that I’ll like Whitmore’s! The only thing I don’t like is when I have to pit my dirty bike, because I don’t have the same two bikes here in the US. I have one beautiful, light carbon SCOTT Addict CX and one old and heavy Alan which we are borrowing from a nice friend of my host Dave [Berson]. So it’s not really easy to change the bike style during the race, but I do my best and grateful to have the second bike!

JK: Will you head home and go on to race more UCI events in Europe?

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Scherz leads Ryan Trebon over the barriers. ©Anthony Skorochod

Scherz: Yep, I have a lot of really good races left in Europe. I will ride a UCI C1 race the weekend I come back to Wetzikon, Switzerland. After that, I’m going to race a UCI World Cup in Zolder at Christmas and the Swiss Championship on the 10th of January. After that I’ll probably do the UCI World Cup in Roubaix and then World Championship in Tabor on January 30th. Maybe after that, if I’m still fit and motivated, I’ll try to do the last races in Belgium in February.

JK: Have you secured a slot on the Swiss U23 team yet?

Scherz Yes, I am confident about that because I have a really good UCI ranking after spending some time here in the US, and I have had contact with the coach, who considers my results as being really good. So I have no official confirmation (because they will be given just before the important event) but it’s not a big problem.

JK: Have you made plans to return next season?

Scherz: Next season is a big question for me. I don’t know if will be able, but if I find a good team to get me to my professional cyclist dream, I’ll maybe come back here, because I have great time.

JK: Are you bringing reinforcements to take the Mid-Atlantic by force?

Scherz: I have friend who would be interested to do the same as me, so maybe, if they can and if we find any host family for them, we will come!

JK: Well, we hope to see a crew of you crazy Swiss guys next year. Valentin, thanks for your time and good luck this weekend. Eat some Nutella for me.

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