Our overseas corespondent John McComisky chats with the Scottish cyclocross champion about his season, what’s next, and if we’ll see him stateside anytime soon. We just wish we had a video too – talking cyclocross in a Scottish accent is something we haven’t heard yet!
by John McComisky
The cyclocross season may be well and truly put to bed until the fall, but over in Scotland, reigning Scottish Cyclocross Champion and UCI Elite Mountain bike racer Robert (Rab) Wardell has already stated turning his thoughts to spreading his wings in the world of ’cross in 2013.
Cyclocross Magazine caught up with him after the snow-bound first round of the British XC Championships, to gather his thoughts.
Cyclocross Magazine: First up, good to catch up with you again! You have had a really good season in various disciplines, including a dominant ride in the Scottish Cyclocross Championships in February, and you now reign supreme with an emphatic win at Scotland’s biggest open ’cross event “Dig In at the Dock.” You are now sorted out with a team and a ride for this year, tell us a little about the setup?
Rab Wardell: I’m riding for Trek UK this year with the support of Alpine Bikes. Through Trek, I’m being supplied the same bikes and clothing as the Trek Factory Racing team, and I have their support at mountain bike World Cups, which will a huge help. Just being able to watch and ride with guys and girls like Sam Schultz, Daniel McConnell, Emily Batty, Annie Last and the rest of the team will bring me on, I hope. My job is to represent Trek in the UK though, and I hope to podium at UK events, especially the British Championships.
The support of Alpine Bikes is really important for me to, as I have a base to keep bikes and equipment, get bikes fitted, repaired, serviced and set up: the new Trek Bicycles Store in Glasgow is something else! I also get support from Scottish Cycling through coaching and sports services and some support to get to the big races, as well as support from Glasgow Life, which is great.
I also run mountain bike coaching in Glasgow for Dirt School, and we are branching into ’cross clinics too. Hunter Fit UK ‘train like Rocky’ gym sessions are legendary now; HDS-Ltd are still helping me with funding and I have some other sponsors coming on board too, including Soigneur Chamois Cream and Embrocation from Michigan, so that’s really cool too. All the pieces of the jigsaw are coming together. It’s really great just now: it’s tough, but I’m making it work, which is a really rewarding challenge.
CXM: I always ask this question, but what switched you on to cyclocross?
RW: I really enjoy close, fast and technical racing. My favorite races in the summer are mountain bike cross country and tight, technical criteriums. To race ’cross in the winter just makes sense! I love observing the scene in Europe and the USA and how ’cross engages the participants and spectators. There’s also a romance surrounding the history and suffering in cyclocross. It just works.
CXM: Aside from racing in Scotland, you have now traveled further afield, taking in British Series races, your top placing just outside the top ten in the British Championships. How far up the roster do you think you could climb?
RW: The guys who are winning in the UK are great riders: Paul Oldham, Oli Beckingsale, Jody Crawforth and Nick Craig. I’m competitive with these guys in mountain biking and I don’t see why, if I commit to ’cross, I can’t do the same. Ian Field is our best rider at the moment and he’s gone full gas into the European scene, but I raced with him as a Junior and an U23 and I’ve been competitive with him too. I’d like to be fighting for the podium when I travel south, but there are a few things I need to sort. It’s partly equipment; wheels, tires, jet wash, pit crew.
The other part is knowledge and experience, especially when things get muddy. In England, ’cross has a long and rich history, but we’re very new to it in Scotland. I don’t know if we’ve ever had a professional cyclocross rider from Scotland. In the last few years we’ve had riders ride the World Championships and win British Championships medals in Youth, Junior and U23 categories. It shows that we’re making progress!
CXM: You have a full season of mountain bike racing internationally this year, but have you had any thoughts about racing abroad, or in fact in the United States?
RW: I really want to travel with cyclocross and the USA really appeals to me. I want to race in Belgium as well as the UK, but if I could get the opportunity to race in the USA, I would take it. I’d need to gather some more support to do so, and obviously to travel in the USA to races you’re talking air travel and some big distances, which all adds up. The USGP of Cyclocross looks like a great series of races and I’d love to be involved, maybe CrossVegas too! If there’s anyone in the States who’d like to support a Scottish Cyclocross Champion in 2013 then get in touch!
CXM: With the question of cyclocross in America, from what you have seen of it, how do you think it compares to the European scene?
RW: I can’t comment too strongly on this, as I haven’t experienced either scene first hand, but I think the USA has a more welcoming and participant-centered scene. In Europe, it seems there a clear roles between spectators and riders and very little cross-over. In the States, it appears more like it does in Scotland: you turn up, race then stick around to spectate, heckle and socialize. It also seems that all the riders get support in the races in the USA, whereas in Europe fans pick their favorites and that’s that. There’s still no doubt that the home of cyclocross is Belgium and that’s where the best riders and biggest races are. I think the USA has a slightly different take on cyclocross though, and I think it’s a style that suits me more as a person and as a rider too.
CXM: We wish you really well for the 2013 season and hope to see you racing at the highest level flying the flag for Scotland.