by Andrew Yee
One might think that if you’re a cyclocross pro, especially if you’re a three-time Elite Cyclocross National Champion, you have the coaching, monitoring equipment and training partners to make preparation for a big event like the World Championships a scientific process possible from the comforts of your hometown. After all, didn’t Matt Kelly sit on a trainer in the basement of his Wisconsin home for a month to prepare for the 1999 Junior World Championships? It worked for Kelly, who returned with the United States’ first and only rainbow jersey – but is that all one needs to do?
While that approach did well by Kelly, it’s not the plan of choice for many. With the allure of warmer weather, a relaxed vibe and a chance to return to one of the most storied cyclocross regions in the country, 2009 National Champion Tim Johnson drove the 253 miles from his winter home base in Santa Barbara, Calif. to get in some January racing at the Surf City Cyclocross Series Finale in Aptos in Santa Cruz County.
“I was just looking for racing to do in January, and to take a chance to ride on dirt and race with some guys,” Johnson told Cyclocross Magazine. I would much rather race than train, so every chance I have to get out and mix it up, I like it.”
Out in Colorado, Meredith Miller, the Elite Women’s silver medalist at Nats, has been anxious to get some time back on the ‘cross bike after being socked in by snow in her Fort Collins home. She hasn’t just been sitting on the couch – the Worlds team rider has spent a lot of time on her cross country skis, but with her first-ever cyclocross trip to Europe quickly approaching and without a single minute on her ‘cross bike since Nationals, Miller found a chance to get in a warm-weather race too good to pass up. The Cal Giant Berry Farms rider hopped on a flight sans bikes and flew the 1000 miles from Aspen to Monterey to get a taste of the region’s famed “jungle cross” and spend 24 hours with her sponsor.
“I got off my skis yesterday, changed in the parking lot as you would at a bike race, went straight to the airport, flew into Monterey last night, race today, and fly out tomorrow morning,” Miller said. Despite the trouble of travel, Miller thought the trip was worthwhile, explaining, “I leave Thursday for Europe, and wanted one more day on the bike to get my legs back underneath me, and to remember how to get on and off my bike would be a good thing before I go over to Europe and do a World Cup.”
The attendance of the two undoubtedly brought out some additional fans and racers, some who dusted off the ‘cross bikes to add in an extra day of racing and see some of the top racers in the country. Two notable names who did just that were twin brothers Ben and Andy Jacques-Maynes. The two former National Champions, now Bissell teammates on the road, came out specifically to help Johnson prepare for Worlds. “I wanted to help Timmy get a workout,” Andy Jacques-Maynes explained. After catching the swine flu mid-season, Jacques-Maynes hung it up early for the year despite earlier hopes of doing all the NACT and USGP races. But he brought the ‘cross bike out once more to help Johnson push the pace. “I’ve raced over in Belgium before and know how hard it is to get good racing in before heading over there, so I thought I’d come out and help him.”
Miller and Johnson weren’t the only two using the race as prep for Worlds. Miller’s junior teammate, 2009 National Champion Cody Kaiser made the modest 150 mile drive from Sacramento to show off his new kit and get some racing in. Kaiser skipped EuroCrossCamp this year and instead stayed in California to prepare on his own for Worlds. Given the snow in Belgium, he was pretty happy with his decision and has been logging his training hours with a bunch of solo rides. And while he’s excited for the Europe trip, the length of the season is having its effect. “I’m excited about the trip, but I’m also looking forward to just riding mountain bikes with my buddies,” he said. But have no fear that he’s leaving cyclocross for fat tires. “Cyclocross is definitely the focus – cyclocross, mountain biking, then road is the order of priority,” he told Cyclocross Magazine.
Brems Delays Miller Time
Just because there were some high-profile racers in town, the top local talent was not about to just lay down. Webcor’s Karen Brems, a former world time trial champion, the 2009 Bay Area Super Prestige series winner and Masters 45-49 bronze medalist at the 2009 Nats, showed the strength of Norcal cyclocross by grabbing an early lead with Miller in tow., Behind, Katrina Baumsteiger (Team Rambuski Law) and Stella Carey (HRS / RockLobster) gave chase. Just one lap in, Miller had seen enough of the course and Brem’s rear wheel. She took to the front and quickly had a big gap. But Miller wasn’t content to leave it at that. “It’s training, so I tried to stay on it as much as I could,” Miller said. “I just kept working on the skills, tried a few different things here and there.” Miller would win by two minutes over Brems, with Baumsteiger a minute further in arrears.
It wasn’t all smooth sailing for Miller, however, and she laughed a bit when asked about her equipment. She raced the entire race on a borrowed steed-Josie Jacques-Mayne’s National Championship-winning Specialized Tricross. The two racers are nearly identical in size -Miller didn’t even need to adjust the saddle height.
All-Pro Men’s Podium
Just as in the women’s race, the race favorite was content to follow wheels on the first lap as Cal Giant’s Justin Robinson, sliver medalist in the Masters 35+ race in Bend, took to the front to set the early fast pace. Johnson sat second wheel with the Jacques-Maynes brothers, Former National Champion Don Myrah, Kaiser and a stacked HRS / RockLobster team following.
Andy Jacques-Maynes, riding white Dugast file treads, took a hard fall in some loose gravel and the gap to Johnson and Robinson broke open. While Robinson would come back, Ben Jacques-Maynes set out to help Johnson stay motivated. It must have worked. Jacques-Maynes didn’t connect but kept Johnson on the gas. Andy would eventually pass Myrah (BuyCell/Ibis) and then brother Ben for second and the podium was set. Dave Wyandt would lead a team of seven HRS / RockLobster teammates in for fourth, with Myrah finishing in fifth, an impressive ride after winning the Masters A race two hours earlier.
Johnson would win by 1:40 over Andy Jacques-Maynes, and while he admitted by the end he wasn’t going full-tilt, he was going as hard as he could on certain sections of the course. “It’s hard to train for ‘cross without doing ‘cross, and so if I’m going to make the drive, I’m going to do it as hard as I can.” he explained.
The National Champion had praise for the scene and course. “It was a cool course, it was a lot of fun, a lot more up and down than I expected…I can’t believe all these people are here, and it’s January! We have 1500 people show up to a race weekend in New England…but then it just stops. I’ve never been able to race in January.”
Late Season, Warm Weather Cross – The Start of a Trend?
When asked whether it was worth the flights for the race, Miller said, “Absolutely! It’s always worth a flight to come to California, and when you can do ‘cross on top of it, it’s an added bonus!” With some cycling industry members working on adding some warm weather, late season UCI ‘cross racing to the calendar, perhaps many more top pros will follow Miller’s flight pattern in the near future.
With such talent making it a normally small, regional race, does it validate the arguments for a January Nats or a longer season? Johnson thought a longer season would help. “If they did a double race weekend here, that would help out a lot, at least we’d have a destination race. Or if we could throw the last USGP in January…” (There was another Bay Area race the day before, but two hours north in Santa Rosa.)
Do we need and extended UCI season? While UCI races certainly will attract some point-hungry racers, Johnson feels that UCI points are “not very important, [we need] just a chance to race, a chance to get out. The sponsors want the exposure and we want the racing.” With racing still continuing in Norcal for several more weeks in January, and two-day festivals such as last weekend’s Miami Cyclocross and this weekend’s Lonestar Cyclocross Festival in Austin available, perhaps the opportunities are already there. You just need to know where to look.