The Euro Experience – A Conversation with Zach McDonald
by Jamie Mack
Cyclocross Magazine has had the pleasure of talking to a few of the younger racers that attended EuroCrossCamp this year. As the camp winds down, I spoke with one of the camp veteran’s, Zach McDonald, almost a year after we last interviewed him after his break-out performance at the 2009 Roubaix World Cup. At 19 years of age, McDonald has been known to ‘cross fans for a couple of years now; he’s already been through the camp three times, twice as a junior and this year as a U23.
In 2008, Zach swept through the Junior races at the Mercer and Portland USGP’s and then capped the season by claiming the US Junior National Title in Kansas City. McDonald used the camp, as he had the previous year, for experience and as a strength-building warm-up on the way to the World Championships.
2009 saw similar success throughout the year. Local wins and podiums at USGP’s and other races indicated that McDonald was adapting well to the new surroundings after stepping up to U23. Unfortunately, an early mechanical would take away McDonald’s chances at the U23 national title, but a strong showing in the Collegiate race put another national championship jersey on McDonald’s back.
As he has the past two years, McDonald again made the trip across the Atlantic to the house in Izegem, Belgium that serves as the USA Cycling base in Europe. I caught up with McDonald at the tail end of his stay, just before he left for an extended training trip to Mallorca, Spain with Troy Wells, to see how the camp was treating him.
CXM – So, how does it feel being at the camp this year as a U23?
ZM – Overall it’s pretty nice. We race later than the juniors, so I have the luxury of getting up later on race days, which is quite nice since I am usually a late sleeper. The racing is definitely harder, but the experience from my last two years at the camp have definitely helped out with that.
CXM – That’s right, this is your third year at the camp. Does it feel different being here as a U23?
ZM – The experience turned out to be pretty similar. I’m used to the program at the house, and now I’m also getting used to the courses now that I’ve been on most of them three times. The results have been a little rough compared to last year’s, but I wasn’t expecting to be super high up in the races anyway. So I have been able to take them in stride without getting worked up over them. For me this year is more about focusing on the experience than the results. I’ve had good races and bad races and everyone will have both and I really don’t think there is a need for me to get worked up or disappointed in a bad outing.
CXM – So it’s been a learning experience this year. Does most of the camp revolve around keeping it serious, or is there a more relaxed “cross” atmosphere?
ZM – There is definitely time for both at camp. I think that too many racers take their racing a little too seriously, and it allows them to get worked up and stressed. If I’m not having fun on my bike I don’t want to be riding it. I seem to have a reputation to let loose on some training rides and course pre-rides and that’s what keeps it fun for me. I’m not advocating against being serious on a bike, just being balanced and still having fun.
CXM – So, back to the serious side of that balance. How’s the racing been this year? Using this as a warm-up for Worlds?
ZM – The experience has been quite enjoyable. It’s a warm-up for Worlds due to the overall gain of experience and the fact that it allows me to keep racing at a high level instead of having to try to get the same efforts out of training.
CXM – Having been through the program as a junior and now as a U23, do you plan to continue on to the next level as an Elite?
ZM – I still have 3 more years as a U23 rider, but I guess that is the goal.
CXM – You’re a bit unique at the camp having been there for two years as a junior prior to this season. Looking at where you were during those years, any thoughts on this year’s Junior class?
ZM – The Juniors this year seem like a solid bunch, and I feel that their experience here will help them quite a bit in the future. Unfortunately we (the U23′s) were unable to watch any of the junior racing so I feel a bit out of touch with their speed. I would say that it’s generally a pretty good idea to keep an eye on anyone who attends EuroCrossCamp.
With the results that the EuroCrossCamp riders have been putting up this year, there are definitely some faces to keep an eye on in that bunch. And CXM is keeping tabs on some of the riders we, and hopefully you, have been following. Look for more articles and interviews with these US riders as they prepare to take on the world in Tabor.
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