The COVID-19 pandemic has left our cyclocross scene rather quiet. In addition to most American races, and even some UCI Cyclocross World Cup locations, being canceled, we’ve been hearing less from some of our favorite racers.
That’s why Yash Shahani of Cyclocross Magazine reached out to 2019 Cyclocross Nationals champion Gage Hecht, to kick-off a check-in with some of the top North American racers.
For those unfamiliar with this cyclocross superstar, here’s a quick rundown on some of his greatest accomplishments.
Hecht’s success began early into his life. When he was just nine years old, he started racing and dominating the junior Colorado Cyclocross and Road Series. Just one year later, he began racing in Cyclocross Nationals. In his very first event, he swept most of the competition and snagged a second-place podium spot. His success continued all through his Junior years, with him landing podiums at most major races that he partook in. In the past two years, Hecht has exceeded all expectations and won Elite Men’s Cyclocross Nationals in 2020 despite still being in the U23 category.
So what’s he been doing since the pandemic hit? Read the full interview below to find out.
Yash Shahani: It’s been a while, and it’s an interesting time. How have you been handling the pandemic?
Gage Hecht: It’s been kind of tricky because there’s not been a lot of racing this year. And so there’s definitely a lot of added stress about making sure you’re doing the right things to make sure you’ll get to get into programs you want to get on to in the future. So that’s been a little bit weird. But in a way, it’s been kind of nice, because I haven’t had a break from racing since I was nine years old, really. So it’s kind of allowed me to do things that I’ve neglected doing since I was that old. So I’ve gotten the opportunity to hang out with friends. I actually got to go move up to Grand Junction for a month this summer and hang out with an old teammate and that was a really good experience. And it’s allowed me to spend more time with close friends that I have in the areas that I live.
“So I’ve gotten the opportunity to hang out with friends. I actually got to go move up to Grand Junction for a month this summer and hang out with an old teammate and that was a really good experience. And it’s allowed me to spend more time with close friends that I have in the areas that I live.” -Hecht
YS: You’re the national champion in your second year. Having had the experience cool a bit, how does it feel having that title?
GH: It’s crazy. I still kind of forget about it sometimes just because it just seems so crazy that I won. But yeah, I’m super excited to get to wear the jersey this year for whatever racing there is. So yeah, I’m super proud to have won it and it’s a pretty cool experience.
YS: Did you ever think you would get to this point when you’re starting on in cycling?
GH: You know, I always dreamed of it. And I think the closer in time that I got to there, the harder I realized that this kind of victory was going to be just because, you know, you’re nine years old and you just think, “oh well, as long as I keep progressing like this, eventually, someday, probably I’ll win it.” But I think kind of growing up humbled me and racing harder and harder races over the years humbled me. And you know, at Nationals, Steven and Curtis just really tore up the race and did an amazing job. And I think that gave me some perspective—this is not a guaranteed thing at any stage of the game so I really got to work for it. So yeah, I guess I knew that I had a chance of getting it at some point in my career, but I didn’t think it would be this soon.
YS: How do you find it staying in Europe?
GH: I love being in Europe. I’ve been going over there since I was 15 with the USA cycling to do selection camps are there. And you know, the first few times it’s a little, little scary and unnerving. But since I started going there, I really made a home over there. And being over there just feels familiar at this point and I really enjoy it. I really look forward to hopefully getting a race over there since racing is completely different. We have some really strong riders here in the United States but I think when you go over there, they step it up a whole nother level and the dynamics completely different. So whenever you go there, you kind of have to reteach yourself how to ride the races and it takes a couple of races to get back into it. But it’s really cool because it’s a good way to challenge yourself and in a way that you can’t exactly do here in America. Even though the competition is super strong, it’s just not the same.
YS: Nationals got some press in mainstream media because of the ESPN course tape incident. Have you had an opportunity to talk to Kerry Werner following Nationals? And if you did, how did that conversation go?
GH: Yeah, we texted a little bit after the race if I remember right. I know he’s pretty bummed about it but I don’t think there were any hard feelings towards me. And I made sure to apologize because had I not made that mistake, the race probably would have turned out a little differently. But I think we both came to an understanding of it. As long as there’s not any foul play, I think we’re all good. After all, you never really know what’s going to happen.
“As long as there’s not any foul play, I think we’re all good. After all, you never really know what’s going to happen.” -Hecht
YS: Usually by summer, you’d be racing a road calendar, which you cited as being important to your buildup in cyclocross. What’s keeping you busy and what’s keeping you fit?
GH: I’ve been trying to keep myself busy and one of those things I do is just going out for a jog. In the past I went for a more structured run but this is going to give me a chance to just go and get a nice easy jog around the neighborhood and exercise and do hikes or whatever.
YS: What’s the plan for this cyclocross season and will you be racing for the same team?
GH: I can’t really share so much on the team part but the goal is to try to race as similarly as we did last season. And I’m still trying to finish at school here. And, you know, hopefully, I’ll finish that up in the spring so that I can put a little bit more commitment into riding cyclocross and I can be over in Europe more.
But for this year, it’s going to be just getting ready for Nationals and being ready to stand if it happens. Of course, there’s a lot of changes that can happen. If there are big spikes again and racing gets canceled, we’ll figure out new ways to kind of enjoy the cyclocross season. And depending on what happens in Europe, there could be some changes made there too. Going to these races and racing is great and all but it’s not nearly as important as making sure that we get through the virus safely. [Ed Note: Since the interview, UCI has confirmed that Cyclocross Nationals will not be happening this year. In addition, five of the Cyclocross World Cup’s destinations have been canceled. Due to the changes, Gage Hecht does not plan on attending any European races until January of 2021 at the earliest. This is susceptible to change.]
“Going to these races and racing is great and all but it’s not nearly as important as making sure that we get through the virus safely.” -Hecht
YS: How do you like racing with your road teammate Lance Haidet in cyclocross?
GH: It’s a lot of fun Lance and I have really different riding styles but they complement each other a lot. He has some really amazing bike handling skills and is willing to put himself in some places that I’m not willing to do. But on the other hand, he tends to ride a steady race versus I maybe play more risky during the race. I think that between the two of us, it was really nice being able to play the race from two different standpoints and knowing that most likely one of those ways of playing the race is going to get to come out with a decent result that day. You could have more cards on the table ready to play.
YS: You mentioned your education earlier. We haven’t really heard too much about that so could you go a bit more into it?
GH: Right now I’m studying aviation and aerospace science at the Metropolitan State University of Denver. It’s just a school in downtown Denver, which isn’t too far from where I live so I drive down there whenever I have classes. But this year, luckily, only one of my classes is on campus. But yeah, I’ve been doing that since high school since I got some early college stuff [in]. So I was actually spending [time in] college courses in high school. I think once I decide that, with cycling, [I can’t] make it any more or I’m not having fun with it, I can move on and do something else with my life.
YS: We know that you have a pilot license. So how much flying have you been doing?
GH: Unfortunately, not as much as I’d like. I had that head injury last year at the beginning of the road season too. Now, they don’t want people flying with some sort of medical issue that would cause a safety issue on board so I definitely don’t want to bash them for the decision they made but it’s been kind of a bummer to be out of the skies as much as I have been. So hopefully, here in the next couple of months, we’ll start that back up to and we should kind of resume things as they were pre 2019.
YS: Thank you!