by Justin Morgan
When Don Myrah returned to competitive cyclocross racing in 2007, the appearance of a rider with four Elite National Championships under his belt would surely rate a mention in the cycling media, even if his initial comeback results found him finishing nearly dead last. “I must have only trained for two or three weeks. That first race I suffered badly but had fun,” he admits during a recent phone conversation. But he stuck with it and remembers that “…each week got a little better.” He would find a course more to his liking just a few months later that season, earning a respectable 12th place at McLaren Park in San Francisco.
Why return to racing after so many years away? Myrah stopped bike racing cold-turkey in the late 90’s to pursue a degree in construction management and would eventually start a family and then his own construction business. But his children had never seen their father race – only heard the stories of their once-famous father. And so Myrah reached deep into the garage and pulled out his early 90’s aluminum lugged and bonded Guerciotti cyclocross bike, complete with bar-con shifters and Dura Ace 8 speed components, and with just a set of replacement tires, he dragged that old bike and his kids to the races to show them that their father could still race a bike.
The second year back after a decade on the couch would see Myrah make the move from just finishing races to cracking the top 10 more than once, closing out the Bay Area Super Prestige series with a fifth place finish at the series finals and then winning the region’s last race of the year at Fort Ord in January, 2009. When Myrah traces the arc that took him from road racing junior to World Champion mountain biker (a title earned in Big Bear, CA in 1989 – the last year before UCI sanctioning) and eventually back to the cyclocross, he states it plainly. “‘Cross has always been good to me.”
So when this living legend utterly rolled over the competition in the Masters’ race at the opening round of the Bay Area Super Prestige series at McLaren Park two months ago, it was hardly a revelation. However, the sight of Myrah working over the Elite field, a little more than an hour after winning the Masters’ race in dominant fashion, was anything but expected. “I wish I felt that good everyday,” Myrah says. Maybe that course was seriously to his liking, or perhaps he made better equipment selections for the day, but everyone paying attention took note. The former Olympian from Oakland, California was enjoying his best fitness in a decade and was faster then he had been in a long, long time. Maybe faster than ever.
It might be hard to imagine that a rider with Myrah’s list of accomplishments could be getting faster. But Myrah, who has always been self-coached, says that as a young athlete he often overtrained and didn’t understand the importance of recovery. While he may have been one of the most dominant American ‘crossers at Nationals (taking four wins in five years from 1989-1993), his three trips to the World Championships were never as successful as he had dreamed. Myrah says he wishes he’d had a coach back then. “I didn’t know how to prepare,” he admitted, adding that the competitors at the World Championships were training “much differently than what we were doing back here in the States.” A two-year battle to make the 1996 Olympic mountain bike team seems to emphasize the point. “By the time you made the team, there was no way you could hold the peak,” Myrah recalls. “I should have had a better race. I was leading the NORBA series, but I showed up [to the Olympics] tired.”
Myrah is hoping to share his experiences with a new generation of cyclocross champions. “I’m really interested in that. I am dipping my toe in the water helping to coach my son’s soccer team.” When I press him about his plans for the future he quickly responds. “The plan is to win Nationals,” he states confidently. But he doesn’t make it sound easy. “I’m looking for a fierce battle,” he tells me.
“There are definitely some quality riders,” he adds as he runs through a list of the riders he expects to animate the race in his Master’s 40 to 44 year-old age group on Saturday, “I’m counting on my natural ability and experience to carry it, but it’s going to be a dog fight.”
One race is never enough for Myrah however, and the 44-year-old will line up for the Elite Men’s race as well as the race’s only four-time winner. With only Planet Bike’s Jonathan Page able to match Myrah’s four-win record, will the cyclocross legend get the recognition he deserves?
Now that his kids have seen him race and win, perhaps he already has.