A Year of Change: Interview with Masters World Champion Russell Stevenson
Russell Stevenson has had quite an eventful year. He won his first National Championship in the 35-39 category in Verona, followed that up with a Masters World Championship win in Louisville, moved, switched teams and lost a client and dear friend. We caught up with Stevenson recently for a interview.
Cyclocross Magazine:You’re a Masters World Champ! How does it feel? Are you a local celeb at races now?
Russell Stevenson: Ha! Still feels good. But honestly it’s not a big deal. I don’t feel any different than I did this time last year. Sure, I get to wear stripes and can forever hold that feather, but it’s just a bike race, just a title, it doesn’t go much deeper than that. It certainly means more to others, I think. I have sponsors that are proud to support me, friends that love to talk me up and at races I’m regularly asked when I’m going to sport the stripes. I’m sure that, should I decide to head to Switzerland to defend the title, things will sink in as the reigning champ: Lining up overseas, trying to repeat, that’s pressure. Remember, I don’t really race Master’s events. I do a few a year at the UCI weekends, but I race Elite locally and can still win. I don’t have much of a shot at winning Elite UCI races anymore, those days have past me by, and I’ll never be invited to Elite Worlds, so in that respect I feel I’m exactly where I should be: The best of the rest. I can still ride to a good result at a UCI Elite race but I’m not fueled for those as much as I used to be. I’d consider myself a slight sandbagger if it weren’t for my job, raising a kid and training less than most commuters ride in a week. No Celebrity status in there! I will admit though, when I do put on that jersey it’s special, it feels good.
CXM: You’ve made some changes. Who are you racing for, and what are you riding this season? Disc brakes yet?
RS: This year, after leaving Boulder Cycle Sport and moving home to Seattle, I didn’t really have time or the energy to chase a team down so I just did my own thing deemed ‘Voler Custom CX’. Working for Voler as a rep it makes things easier. Maybe it will catch on and we’ll end up selling them, who knows? I was, however, able to retain all the great sponsors the BCS team had: Ridely Bikes, SRAM, Clement, FSA and ZIPP. It’s been such an honor to have some continuity with these brands.
I race on the Ridely X-Fire Disc in a 54, use SRAM Hydro R disc brakes, FSA and ZIPP parts all rolling on ZIPP 303 tubulars with Clement rubber. I’m also testing a Wolf Tooth 1X wide chainring meant to work much like SRAM’s XX1 with no chain guide. So far so good. I’ve stuck to 10 speeds this year mostly because I own a lot of other wheels and didn’t want to make the 11 speeds commitment. Pretty amazing machines really. The hydraulic brakes are a massive upgrade from mechanical and ZIPP wheels… You can’t beat that.
CXM: You were Amy Dombroski’s coach. How are you doing?
RS: I am doing OK, thanks for asking. Yes, losing Amy was and is a pretty hard situation to accept. People are killed every day in similar circumstances. We read about it, see it on the news, but it never sinks in until it happens to someone close to you. Honestly, I’m doing better than I thought with it. Of course, the shock and disbelieve was there: I struggled to comprehend it initially. But now that some time has passed, I’ve been to Boulder for her memorial, I’ve read and still read all the posts, praises, stories about her… All of that is therapy. Her sister-in-law left a message with us, “Never let go.” I won’t.
I step back and look at that whole time period, moving to Boulder, making life-long friends and teammates, becoming a father, meeting and coaching Amy, becoming close friends then moving home… and then, losing Amy. It’s like a chapter in life’s book opened then closed rather abruptly, as if to ask the question: What did you just read? Were you paying attention? What I take from that is a piece of Amy, a piece of the amazing Boulder community, the love and respect they all shared for her and for one another… It’s all very eye opening.
What Amy leaves behind, we all get to pay forward. Her heart, her compassion and generosity, her will to make things happen for herself, these are all character attributes we can inherit. She left a trail of happiness everywhere she went and for us now, we can use that, live like that and work to be better people each day. I think that’s called a paradigm shift, when things change and will never be the same again. That’s where I’m at: I’ll never be the same again. I’m becoming a better person for knowing Amy and I’m so thankful to have been a small part of her wonderful life. What she leaves with us will never really ever be gone. Knowing that certainly eases the short term pain of her loss.
CXM: How did you get into cyclocross in the first place?
RS: I was a roadie mountain bike kid, back in 1998, racing expert category, winning, cocky… All that. My friends Loren Hanson, Carter Honey, Jonny Sundt, Chris Pike and Dale Knapp told me to try this out so I put some drop bars strung with V-brake levers on my mountain bike and showed up to the Marymoor workout. It took me a few years to figure out how to be light and feathery on the skinny tires. I was a hard charger with no finesse. I had the motor but lacked game in all the other aspects of the sport. Fast forward to today and the Wednesday night Marymoor Park workout, where StarCrossed is, is still going bigger than ever. I help as much as I can with setup or as a coach, and there are easily 100 people there each night. It’s been a fun journey. Cross for me is as much about the social connection and fun time as it is about racing, remaining competitive or winning. I just really enjoy the atmosphere and I still get to ride with most of those good friends.
CXM: Best part of cyclocross for you?
RS: Suffering, you have to love suffering. I tell people all the time, “You’re racing yourself out there.” Often in ’cross, it’s about what you’re willing to endure and how you can find fun in midst of the pain. Master that and you’ll be successful. Of course there’s the wonderful people, the camaraderie, the atmosphere, It’s all just a lot of fun to participate in. Knowing you have all that to loo forward to makes the racing that much less painful for me. Staying fast and being able to win feels good too but some of my best race memories are of nasty wet muddy days where I went to my absolute limit and didn’t win. Those are gratifying, those days test your mental strength, leave a good taste in your mouth, make you harder.
CXM: Proudest cyclocross moment?
RS: Probably winning Worlds. [See our video interview with Russell Stevenson after his Louisville win here.] That opportunity doesn’t come around just every weekend and to seize that moment meant a lot. But there are other times, like ’04 Elite Nationals in Portland. I rode from the back to 16th in the nastiest, muddiest most horrible weather I’d ever seen. 30-something degrees, rain, snow, sleet, wind, mud, water… It was epic. 16th wasn’t much to write home about but it was for mew that day. Other radar results include three-time fifth place at StarCrossed. That race is always on the calendar whether I’m going good or not, I show up and give’r. The crowd energy there is always extra fuel.
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