Nathan Knowles of Batavia, Illinois is relatively new to cyclocross, but he has been mountain biking since he was eight, so he is quite familiar with riding off-road. The ASU Devo rider made his first trip to the Montana Cross Camp earlier this summer to add some cyclocross-specific skills to complement his fitness and bike-handling abilities.
Knowles first raced Nationals in 2016 at Asheville. At Hartford in 2017, he made an impressive move up the Junior 15-16 age group rankings and finished 9th in the snowy race. Knowles has had success in the Chicago Cross Cup, where he consistently finished in the top ten in the Cat 3 category last season, and at regional races such as the Trek CXC Cup and Jingle Cross. Knowles was also featured in last week’s story about Wisconsin’s season-opening relay race, where he won the co-ed relay with fellow ASU Devo rider Kathryn McDicken.
In the latest of our ever-growing series of Montana Cross Camp athlete interviews, Cyclocross Magazine sat down with Nathan and asked him about tackling the cyclocross learning curve and working with a coach to get faster. We also found out he learned the hard way that clear communication with your pit crew is essential.
Cyclocross Magazine Interview with Nathan Knowles at the 2017 Montana Cross Camp
Cyclocross Magazine: This is your first ever camp?
Nathan Knowles: Yes.
CXM: What motivated you to come?
NK: I kind of wanted to see what the competition would be like this year because I know some of the top athletes would be here. I started out mountain biking, so the beginning of this season has been mostly mountain, and I’m a little rusty. I wanted to brush up on my skills.
CXM: What did you learn? What’s the biggest takeaway?
NK: Honestly, I’ve grown a lot the last couple years, so running and carrying the bike has been a challenge for me. And dismounting and remounting. I started cyclocross two years ago, so I am new and I kind of learned everything on my own. I came to this camp so I could critique everything and actually have an actual understanding of how to do everything. How you’re actually supposed to do it right.
CXM: Can you give me an example of what you’re going to change up?
NK: For example, dismounting, I would usually hold onto the bars until the very last moment, but I just learned you’re supposed to grab the top tube. I never even knew that. That was cool to learn that.
CXM: Do you have a coach at home?
NK: Yeah, I do.
CXM: Are they experienced with ’cross?
NK: Yeah, Joe Maloney is my coach. He still is really big into ’cross. It’s one of his main disciplines.
CXM: Is he mostly studying your data remotely or do you guys spend a lot of time together?
NK: He actually lives in Washington, so we do a lot of stuff over the phone. I send him my data through Training Peaks and he’ll critique it and send training plans.
CXM: A lot of you guys have coaches and power meters. Are you training with a power meter?
NK: Yes I am.
CXM: So you’re doing your workouts with a power meter. You send him your data, and he gives you some feedback and he tailors and alters your workouts?
CXM: How do you avoid having that, let’s say, very scientific training from feeling like work?
NK: I find it’s easier to train hard and still have fun when you’re with other people in a group, or with one other person. So like when you’re doing intervals, even if you have a different workout, you can still meet up at different points and try to outsprint each other during the workout. It’s pretty fun.
CXM: Being pretty new to the sport, were you familiar with some of the stars here in the U23s and Tobin?
NK: I actually wasn’t. This is one of my first times meeting these, but they’re good guys and I am happy to meet them.
CXM: Do you have a big goal for the season?
NK: Last Nationals I placed ninth, and I thought that was a pretty good result out of a lot of riders. This year I am hoping for a pretty good result at Nationals, but I am also going to try to place well at the other races before Nationals. Like KMC and Louisville, try to get to those races that I didn’t last year.
CXM: Most of the training you do is it by yourself or with teammates?
NK: Most of my training is by myself. Actually, it’s maybe 50-50. 50 percent of the time I am by myself and 50 percent of the time I am with a group or one other person.
CXM: Being so new, you must feel confident you have a lot of potential and room to grow.
NK: I do, I do. Humbly, yeah.
CXM: Is cyclocross now your focus, or do you do other sports?
NK: When I first started cyclocross, it was more of a winter training thing for mountain biking, but now I am starting to enjoy it more, and I find more competition in it.
CXM: How long have you been mountain biking?
NK: Since I was around eight.
CXM: Are you going to incorporate some of the workouts you learned here into your training for the season?
NK: For sure, for sure. A lot of the running and some of the circuits we did I am going to try to incorporate into my gym time.
CXM: Last one, how would you describe Geoff Proctor?
NK: He is a really nice guy, and he’s easy to work with, I’ve found. He really takes the time to just like know you, and I feel like he actually pays attention to you. When you make a mistake, he will take the time and come out and tell you what you’re doing wrong.
CXM: Like the bike exchanges we did, right? He made you do push-ups?
NK: Yeah, I had to do push-ups.
CXM: For those who are listening to this interview, why did you have to do push-ups?
NK: When you go into the pits you’re supposed to put your hand up so your pit crew knows you’re coming. Before you dismount you’re supposed to tell them what’s wrong with the bike. You can say “Flat,” “Crash,” “Clean,” just a one-word exchange because you’re breathing really hard. I forgot to say that one word.
CXM: Thanks so much for your time.
NK: Yeah, thank you.