Tim Johnson pre-Worlds. © Thomas Van Bracht
Tim Johnson had a rough ride at Worlds. Actually, if you ask him, he’ll tell you that what he regrets most is that he didn’t get to have a ride at Worlds—a race ending crash on the first lap hardly gives a racer time to get into a position he’d like to be in, after all. And that’s what happened to Johnson. A crash, and then shooting pain that left him convinced his arm was broken, and hunting for the nearest hospital.
Luckily, the arm wasn’t broken, so it was full speed ahead for the next adventure. A quick stop at home in Massachusetts to pick up fellow racer and wife Lyne Bessette and the two were in the air again, this time heading to Tokyo for their ’cross race this weekend, where both Johnson and Bessette will take to the start line—if Johnson’s arm cooperates, anyway.
And that’s where we caught up with him. Between flights to Tokyo during a layover in Denver, the sounds of a busy airport around as we chatted about his arm (not great), his race prospects (also not great), the year as a whole (great), and his plans for the year ahead (definitely great).
“Four and a half hours down, only nine to go,” he opened. “I booked my tickets separately because I wasn’t sure if I was going to Tokyo or not. But I am. And I’m not even sure if I’m going to be able to race.”
The reason he isn’t sure about racing is because last week, he had to drop out of Worlds one lap in. He explained, “Right at the end of the first lap, on the rutted section, I went in, like I had done a million times, and instead of making it through unscathed, I shot out of the rut and into the fence. I hit the metal fence, and it just hurt like hell.”
And as for the state of his arm right now? “It still really hurts. Right when it happened, I was really focused on the pain that was coming from my forearm but it turns out that wasn’t what was really bothering me, so now, my shoulder picked up the slack. I can sleep, but not very well; I can make a fist, but not very strongly.”
So why is he heading to Tokyo? Wife Lyne Bessette is racing, and his mechanic for the race, Chandler Delinks, is also coming, along with his wife, and they have plans to stay a few days after the race as well. “I wasn’t going to miss this thing. And I’m ready to race,” he says. “But I’m taking it day by day. Hopefully I can make it.”
“Racing in downtown Tokyo is totally nuts,” he said wistfully. “Where it happens is a popular place for families on weekends, they go and hang around. The genesis of the race is classic—the organizer had never seen ’cross until he went to Cross Vegas, and said, holy crap, I want to do this at home!”
Getting away from the weekend at hand, we chatted about his season overall. He’s been happy with the way it’s turned out, barring the Worlds accident. “I wasn’t sure what the season was going to bring when I started, and I think I had a fresh approach again after kind of putting it all into performance leading up through Louisville Worlds. I realized how much fun I was having and how fortunate I was to be in this position, and it made things so much simpler.”
“We had a good year. We won a lot of races, and if we didn’t win, we were close. I wish that Nationals had gone a little better but I was very soundly beaten by Jeremy [Powers] and Ryan [Trebon] too [Johnson got third]. I’m racing next year again and we have a really fun program.”
“Besides ending my season the way I did the other day and that sucking so much, we had a really fun year and a really fun group. My mind is scrambled because right now I have so much going on in the spring and the summer, I have so many schedule conflicts I need to figure out. It’s tough to make a good choice when I have two or three things on the same weekend that mean a lot to me and that I really want to do.”
Johnson isn’t just about racing these days, he’s been heavily focused on cycling advocacy for a few years now, with his well-known Ride on Washington. This year, the agenda shifts slightly as the crew heads to Chicago at the end of May instead. “We want to highlight the great things that they’re doing for bikes in Chicago. They have bike share, new lanes, programs, SRAM is helping to create a metro bike park that will have a ’cross course, just awesome stuff.”
How does he balance it all? Get ready for some emotional sharing… “I definitely think it’s more dialed now. It’s not perfect, and I don’t think it will be, but it’s the best work ever. I get to choose how to work, and the best part is to be able to have these opportunities and chances and be able to share them with Lyne now. I’ve been able to realize that being at home and with her has been a lot of the reason why any of this has worked out in the first place, and it’s been pretty awesome.”