by Molly Hurford
Danny Summerhill is a little young to be considered a cyclocross legend, but as one of the few Americans to ever make a World Championship podium, he does have that legendary air about him, especially since it seemed like he was hanging up his cyclocross bike forever, trading it in for a road bike and a chance to make it as a pro roadie. However, this season, we started spotting the two-time U23 National Champion in and around the cyclocross scene: a local race here, a USGP there, and before we could register what was happening, he was making it onto the podium at the USGP in Louisville on Day 1.
Summerhill and I have been planning an interview for a long time. Six months, to be precise. But it wasn’t until the USGP in Bend when we finally got a chance to sit down and really talk about everything that’s been happening in his cycling career, from a new team to a new attitude about racing.
Cyclocross Magazine: You’ve been having a good season! We didn’t expect to see much of you; were you expecting to take racing cyclocross seriously?
Danny Summerhill: Honestly? The less stress, and the less pressure I put on myself and focus on just racing, the better off I’ve been this season. So not having that stress is really what’s been making my season so good this time around. Because it’s just fun. There’s no pressure, I’m not putting nearly as much pressure on myself as I have done in the past, and I think not having that to deal with is yielding much better results.
CXM: So how have you been training?
DS: I go out. If the weather’s not good, I won’t train. If it is, I make it happen and try not to stress the days I don’t get the proper training done. I’m coaching myself, which is strange. With our road team parting ways, I’ve been giving myself my own training direction. So if I don’t want to listen to the coach on a certain day, I say, ‘Hey, self. I’m not going to do that.’
CXM: What about diet?
DS: Oh man. Diet … being a road racer, it’s always been more of an issue. But the wintertime works well for me because cyclocross racing is such an intense full gas thing that your metabolism will go just as crazy after a two-hour cyclocross workout as a six-hour road ride. So I tend to lose more weight in the winter, which is convenient. A lot of people get the hibernation pounds but mine is kind of reverse. I need to do more ’cross before the road season starts so I can come in nice and lean. That’s the plan.
CXM: Speaking of the road season – new team!
DS: Yes. UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling Team. Some really cool people; obviously, the Keoughs, who you know.
CXM: Yeah – a lot of new ’cross guys on UHC!
DS: Well, a whole lot of Keoughs! That’s true about the ’cross guys, it’s funny you say that. We’ve got myself, Brad White, Chris Jones, obviously the Keoughs were born and bred in the mud – not literally – so hopefully we’ll be dialed for bike handling this year.
CXM: The Keoughs are on different UHC squads – do you know which you’ll be on?
DS: I’ll probably be on the elder Keough’s team, so I’ll tentatively be doing a lot of European stuff with Jake. I’m really excited about it, just because I raced most of last season over there with my old team and carrying that knowledge is what I want to do. I’m really happy. I just saw what my road season will look like and it’s really awesome.
CXM: What about Nationals and Worlds? I’ve glanced at the UHC schedule and you’ll theoretically be gone!
DS: That’s a really good question. This team and management are second to none. They’ve taken Chris Jones’ and my cyclocross ambitions into mind.
CXM: And you have training camp right before and during Nationals!
DS: That’s a really good question too. If Chris gets to do it, hopefully I’ll get to do it, but being the new guy, I want to do exactly what they want me to do. [Ed. Note: Summerhill will be racing Nationals.]
CXM: So talk to me about the new team – you showed up at Louisville for the USGP in your UHC team kit instead of your Garmin-Chipotle kit.
DS: Well, I make a big point of UHC being so awesome. I’m barely on the team yet and they’re already super supportive. And like I’ve said before, any and all good press I can get for the team is what I want to do. They’re so cool already.
CXM: OK, on to the questions I had written six months ago when we first started talking about this interview! You’ve been second at Worlds. Do you think cyclocross is your calling, or is road your focus from now on?
DS: If I were to ever focus on it, it would be like how Tim [Johnson] has done, where he’s raced professionally on the road over in Europe and raced for pro tour level teams and that’s first and foremost what I want to do. Obviously, I have a calling to cyclocross. I’m kind of good at it. It would seem fitting that I follow in their footsteps, making a name and living for myself on the road and on the dirt. But first I’d like to make it as a World Tour road racer, racing a major tour. That’s on my to-do list before I focus on ‘cross.
CXM: I love that my sidekick Joey is charming the women in the house right now.
DS: (laughing) Good people here. Bend is my favorite of all places ever to race. I stayed in this host house four years ago for Cascade, the road race. Then we had road and ’cross nationals here, and then USGP. And every time, I’ve stayed with this group of people. They’re like my extended family.
CXM: Nice. Moving to another topic, what are your thoughts on disc brakes in cyclocross?
DS: Oh man. I’ll answer that in two ways. Ibis, my cyclocross bike sponsor, has made one of the best bikes I’ve ever ridden and it’s a disc brake bike. However, with disc brakes being adopted, it’s a whole new weight ration that we’re all dabbling in. My Ibis cantilever bike is 15 pounds, it’s really light. That’s insane. And so, all these disc brake bikes are a pound or two heavier than what we’re used to. So for me, I’ve had a lot of these really good races lately, but I’m starting on one bike and finishing on the other, just because I’m getting a little bit tired throughout the race on the heavier bike. You could call me a roadie in that sense…
CXM: I was going to just say do a few more pushups or something!
DS: Exactly! A lot of the real ’cross racers, I don’t hear them complaining. It’s just been me. But it’s changed racing for me and how much more aggressive I can race. I mean, I used to be putting my brakes on meters before the turn, and now I’m putting them on in the turn. It’s revolutionized the way racing is done because we can do it faster and more efficiently, but at the same time, some people would argue that it’s not the classic European style. In cyclocross, you shouldn’t be using your brakes!
CXM: OK, Mr. Classic-style. How did you get into cyclocross to begin with?
DS: My mom.
CXM: She raced, yeah?
DS: Yeah, we were a little mother-son duo. I started out racing mountain bikes when I was nine. I eventually moved to road racing when I was 11, and also around that time I started going from MTB racing to dual slalom and downhill racing, which was costly and nerve-wracking for my mom. So she got me out of that pretty quickly after I broke my 10th bicycle.
CXM: I thought you were going to say you broke a bone!
DS: No, I was a resilient little tyke. She’s got a video of me doing this downhill rock garden and because I was so young, they didn’t make full-suspension bikes for people that small, and I ended up going over the handlebars and I have all my dirt bike gear on. It looks like I should have broken my neck. It was bad. Needless to say, I didn’t stick around that sport too long, which for my health is probably a good thing. Then I went back to road and MTBing. I just couldn’t justify my mom spending money on a road bike that I was going to ride in the dirt, I didn’t think that made sense. I thought it was silly. Why would you run in the dirt with a bicycle? That just seems counter-productive! So for the longest time, I couldn’t get into cyclocross. I was good at it with a mountain bike but that was a limiting factor. Finally, I broke down and said, ‘OK, mom, I’ll let you buy me one.’ I felt bad about her buying me an expensive bicycle that I didn’t want! So eventually I got one and went to my first Nationals in California, and to me it was ungodly, torrential rain. It was inches and inches of rain. It was my first Nationals experience. I think I ended up on the podium and I was fairly hooked from there. Growing up with a dirt bike track in the backyard, I think that’s where the handling came from. And having a road background, as far as the engine, pays off. With the handling, that pays off in cyclocross. So, to answer your question in a very long-winded way, my mom got me into cyclocross. I’ll try to keep answers shorter!
CXM: Your mom raced, right?
DS: Yeah, a few times.
CXM: Will she race again?
DS: I hope so. She’s raced Nationals before and she loves it. She’ll be around again. I don’t know when or where, but it’ll happen.
CXM: Nice. Proudest cyclocross moment?
DS: I would say second at Worlds is a given. But I think in more recent years, just going from looking at these guys as my idols, as pictures on my wall, podiuming in a UCI big race against riders like Tim and Ryan are my most recent proudest moments. Every year, it’s been a step up, a step up. I used to be so pumped to get a UCI point, to now being pumped about getting in the top 10, maybe a top eight. And now, it’s like, ‘Shoot, I really want to win.’ It’s funny. I’m still probably little Danny to these guys, making silly mistakes. But now they are my peers. We go to work together, trudging throughout he mud and cold weather. So that is my proudest moment. Looking next to me and seeing these big guys next to me on the podium.
CXM: Best pre-race song to listen to?
DS: I’ve kind of stopped listening to my iPod recently. It varies so much. I don’t have a go-to playlist anymore. I used to. I was OCD about that. It was years ago.
CXM: What was on it?
DS: DMX was on there, Foo Fighters, it was a very eclectic mix. There might have been some Dixie Chicks. It was an hour and it was so dialed. But that’s what I was getting at with your first question! Why the season’s been going better for me is because I’m just going with the flow, where I used to think, ‘I’d better be on the trainer one hour before the race listening to this song or it’s done-zo.’ Now, I’ve been thinking, ‘Do I want to warm up today? I’ll let you know, I’ll feel it out.’ What other songs were on there? It was embarrassing. There was rap, there was country, there was everything.
CXM: Britney Spears?
DS: There might have been.
CXM: I feel like there was some Britney on your playlist.
DS: (Laughing) You can put that it was on my playlist, but next to it, you have to say I told you it was off the record. [Ed. Note: this was off the record.]
CXM: OK, you’re not taking this season super seriously. Are you still shaving your legs?
DS: Of course! Who do you think I am, Zach McDonald? He is an enigma. The one and only. That’s his trademark. He’s a phenomenal racer, and he doesn’t shave his legs. He’s showing us all that you can not shave your legs and still find your way onto a podium and win pro bike races, so more power to him.
CXM: Muttonchops are in this season. Mustaches were in last season. What’s your take?
DS: Being more of a roadie, we’ve got this crazy hairstyle going on that’s kind of bringing the 80s back.
CXM: I did notice that!
DS: Very New Kids on the Block.
CXM: All you need is a neon windbreaker!
DS: It’s taken the road scene by storm. Whoever started that, I don’t know. I’d like to think I had a hand in it.
CXM: Well, you’re owning it.
DS: You’re not even seeing all of it. You’re seeing it growing out. But in Europe where there was no one to impress, no girls to meet … I just went crazy with the hair. I went over the top with the Euro hairstyle. It was fun.
CXM: Speaking of ladies…
DS: I had a girlfriend for four years. I was a smart kid. I got a job working in a purse store so that I could meet girls.
CXM: You are a genius.
DS: I ended up meeting a girl out of it, for four years. But as far as the actual dating while racing, it’s difficult. Like we talked about earlier, the living situation and when I’m gone for weeks and months at a time, it’s a very strange world to introduce someone to and say, ‘Hey, you need to be OK with me being gone all the time, and when I am here, I’m going to probably be staying right here so you’re going to have to come to my house and watch TV with me while my feet are up, resting.’ It’s a strange lifestyle for some people to get used to. But I love meeting people, it’s part of what I do for a living. That’s how I get out and enjoy social life and stuff. It’s difficult to date.
CXM: What’s a little known fact that you’ve never divulged in an interview?
DS: I listen to Harry Potter every night. As white noise to fall asleep.
CXM: Do you like Harry Potter or just use it to go to sleep?
DS: A little bit of both. I have all seven books on my iPod. So for the last 10 years, I’ve listened to Harry Potter to go to bed. I’ve listened to all seven who knows how many times.
CXM: Most embarrassing cyclocross moment?
DS: Showing up to the airport last year in Bend, after the USGP after-party, without a shirt on. Because I didn’t know where it was. Went with a jacket, no shirt underneath. It’s a good thing we didn’t do this interview at a race. You would have gotten the boring, professional answers.
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