A Year of Change: Interview with Masters World Champion Russell Stevenson
CXM: Favorite thing to do after a race?
RS: East and drink a beer with friends. After that I’d put the legs up and turn on some Sunday Night Football so I can try to stay in touch with the rest of America.
CXM: Advice for people just getting into the sport?
RS: Give ’cross a chance and jump in head first with a smile. It’s rare but some people never get to that relaxed, happy, fun place. For whatever reason they are set back or can never get over their own hump. I’ve seen that scenario when people set too hefty a goal initially. If you’re new, just ride, have fun, bring your family out and share that post-race beer with your fellow competitor. Sometimes people get too worked up over what they aren’t achieving, only to miss what they already have. Or maybe it’s the course’s fault… Ha! I hear that one all the time. For the most part though, people who try ’cross end up falling in love. Those who miss that, the ones who gripe or complain about whatever that weekend didn’t do for them never really game themselves a legit chance. I’ve seen all different types of athletes come into this sport and dig it right off the bat, even the serious competitive types. What’s cool is that laser beam focus can loosen up, even for those A-types, after a circus race though mud puddles. Funny how that works…
CXM: Where would you like to see the sport go?
RS: Into schools. I’d love to see what we can do with the current interscholastic programs if ’cross were introduced. It’s more accessible and easier to control than a road or mountain bike race course: All you need is a park and some bodies.
CXM: What’s unique about racing in Colorado?
RS: The terrain, the weather and the racers themselves. Colorado, specifically Boulder, is unique. Of course, there’s altitude, and that will make you better. But the competition is high, the fields are deep and people really put effort and pride into their sport. There’s a lot of history in Colorado coming from Colorado Springs, to Aspen, to Loveland. Cycling has a strong culture throughout the state. Let’s not forget the sun! Everyday you can almost bank on sun or some form of mixed sun and broken clouds, even in the winter. When it’s cold, it’s rarely that bad if the sun is out. Even snow days are doable in Colorado. Coming from the damp Northwest, that was a treat. All through last January, as we trained for Worlds, we had snow on the ground. We had to deal with it. I was a part of a tight group of dedicated dudes and that made it happen, even at zero dark thirty if needed. That’s going to be hard to replicate.
CXM: Is ’cross your main focus?
RS: Yes and no. I love bikes, love to race, ride, whatever. I came from road and mountain bike, so naturally ’cross fits. I sort of make it a focus now being a working dad. I just don’t have the time to put together those big training loads anymore. A weekend for me is typically a day with the family blended with a short ride and a race. Weekdays are just too busy to get more than one or two good workouts in. If you stay fit and consistent into the ’cross season you can get away with that schedule but to elevate for say, Nationals, you’ll need to do more. I focus on ’cross mostly because I can be successful with very little time into it.
CXM: How do you balance training and work and family?
RS: Easy: Don’t train! That’s the hardest part for sure but honestly these days I’m happy to get one good hard training day in during the week, a handful of short easy rides and, of course, the racing. It’s enough for now, but to elevate I’ll need to make more time to ride somehow. Unfortunately for me, ’cross season is typically the business season for selling custom clothing so I’m slammed this time of year. I’m also very lucky to have a supportive partner that understands how important ’cross is for me. I can more or less do whatever I need to do if it works within our system and it’s been planned. Being home and having more family near us now certainly helps ease those tight time constraints. In fact, I think we’re having an adult date night this weekend! I’ve more or less accepted the new systems that is, ride less.
CXM: Best pre-race song to listen to?
RS: I never really did the pre-race music thing, it doesn’t do much for me. I like to just focus on the race, on the course, the lines, the speed and on myself. It’s a game of chess within yourself every time you suit up. How am I going to ride, how are my legs, who’s going to be the guy today, how will I do… You just have to master all that stuff and get to the race itself. I’m most at peace after the gun goes off, everything becomes much more quiet… My own music you could say. But I suppose if I had to chose a playlist in the car on the way to the race it would be nearly anything Chris Cornell sings, any song from Black Sabbath’s Sabotage, add in some Common, Deltron 3030, Missy Eliot then mix in some Justin Timberlake. Yes, I just said Justin Timberlake.
CXM: Little known fact about you?
RS: I was in a rock band with my mom once…
CXM: Most embarrassing bike moment?
RS: Oh, tough one. One time in ’05 or ’06? I thought I had won an NRC crit in Portland. I jumped the field on the last lap and managed to out kick Greg Henderson and Mike Sayers in the sprint, celebrating at the line, only to find out Tyler Farrar and another Heathnet teammate were well up the road and I was third. Still good for me, but must have looked funny. I’ve shared a laugh with Henderson about that.
CXM: What’s your ideal course?
RS: I like courses that keep you sharp, on your toes, concentrating. I’d take fast over slow and dry over mud. I’m not made of power like some, but I appreciate a hard course with features and good flow. I guess I prefer courses more to the mountain bike side of the spectrum, but I have speed too and do well on more roadie type tracks… So it really depends. If I’m having fun, I usually do well, even in tractor-pull-type mud bogs.
CXM: Best training advice you’ve gotten? Best training advice you’ve given?
RS: Relax and have fun. When I was young, I was never great at the technical stuff coming from mostly road racing as a kid. I was bad at flowing through lines, letting the bike wonder, staying lose. Once I figured how to relax the mind, body, shoulders, things came together. Same deal for people I’ve worked with. I regularly teach people how to crash. To crash you have do two things: be pushing yourself and not be afraid. Typically, if you can show a beginner that crashing isn’t the end of their day, they’ll learn to push it, go harder, find the line and dance on it. If you’re tense and rigid, you’ll never be able to get there. Part of that relaxation comes, of course, with experience and confidence. I like to try and accelerate that process for people with the crashing thing. And a relaxed person is usually a happy person having fun… Add in some mud and water for good measure and how can you be tense?
CXM:Masters Worlds and Nats are pretty close this year—which title will you aim for? Will you do both but focus on one?
RS: You know, I’m not sure yet. If I have to pick one, I’d probably pick Boulder. But Worlds is what it is and that sure would be a fun trip. I haven’t decided yet. As it sits now, that’s a long few weeks of travel. Boulder is a much easier commitment for sure. That’s going to be a crazy week. [Ed. note: Stevenson has since decided to only go to Boulder.]
CXM: Nationals is a hometown race for you this year—how does that impact the race? Are you psyched?
RS: Adopted hometown, that is! I hail from Seattle and actually have moved back. The racing in Boulder will be stellar. Be prepared for craziness, adrenaline and total laser focus from the Colorado natives. I won’t be surprised if Colorado racers take half of the National medals this year. Valmont is an excellent course no matter what mother nature will throw at it. I hope it’s cold, a little wet, maybe some snow in places, but not covered. Riding there is just fun, people will dig it and the promoters will go all out with the expo and venue. Should be a really great weekend. I hope the altitude doesn’t scare folks off.
CXM: See you in Boulder. Thank you.
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