At the 2015 Cyclocross National Championship, Scott Funston had a brilliant technical ride mixed in with well-executed runs to take a great win in the Junior Men 15-16 race. Although they were pressed by a delayed race and a condensed schedule, the Rad Racing NW defined grace under pressure, sending four of their riders to a top-ten finish. Their secret? Constantly pushing each other to the limits and sharing ideas about a course. Laurie O’Brien interviewed the members of the team to find out the thoughts of the Juniors as they work together for future seasons.
written by Laurie O’Brien and Jim Brown
When you strike iron against iron, the edges of both pieces become sharper, and the blades become more efficient in their ability to cut and slice. Jim Brown uses that metaphor to describe what is happening with his latest crop of junior riders at Rad Racing Northwest. With four of his riders–including 2015 National Champion Scott Funston–landing in the top ten in the 15-16 race this year, the analogy seems to be on point.
A core group including Funston, Calder Wood, Layton Meyers, Ben King, and Brayden Buchanan has been honing their skills and pushing each other toward the top of the podium for a couple of years now. Funston, in particular, has benefited from the depth of talent on his team. In Boulder in 2014, he earned a third place medal while teammate, Calder Wood, a relative newcomer to the sport, took the 13-14 title. It was Funston’s third nationals cyclocross podium after taking second twice in the 10-12 group.
“I think we all bring something a little different to the table and that’s what makes us better,” Funston said. He knows that Wood has more power, but he has a technical advantage over his teammate. Funston’s superior bike handling skills worked to his advantage in Austin. “We all have different strengths, so when we hit the sections that we’re good at we play to our strengths and force the other riders to push it to stay with us or get dropped.”
Wood, who earned a 5th place medal in Austin, agreed: “For me, Scott is the most important kid on the team during cyclocross season. I’m always aiming to beat him, and that takes a lot of work because he is an excellent rider.” Having Meyers, King, and Buchanan nipping at their heels keeps both of them sharp, too. “You know there is always someone trying to catch you. So you push even harder.”
Meyers and King were the other 15-16 riders who made the top 10 for Rad Racing this year, coming in 7th and 8th respectively. It was Meyers’ second nationals and his first time in the top 10. King earned a 5th place medal when he was 12 but hadn’t seen a nationals top 10 again until this year. Brown is convinced that Brayden Buchanan, the fifth member of the squad, would have been in the mix too, if he hadn’t been plagued with mechanical issues after an early crash.
While it’s usually Funston or Wood on the top step at local races, on any given Sunday, it’s a toss-up as to who will round out the podium.
Early last season, at Seattle’s Starcrossed, Funston won the men’s Cat 3 race while Buchanan bunny hopped barriers on his way to victory in the men’s Cat 4 race. At the Washington State Cyclocross Championships in December, Funston, Wood, Buchanan, King, and Meyers went 1-5 in that order, besting the rest of the field.
“Although we compete against each other, if someone wins, it’s a win for the whole team,” Meyers said. “It could be anyone’s race. That’s what makes us stronger as a team. As Jim (Brown) says, we are a marauding pack of gunslingers. I don’t think I would be as good if I were not with them. All of us push each other to the limits in the race or practice.”
Last May, Brown cemented those friendships by putting the five together on a 24-Hour Mountain Bike team. “Even though none of them were in high school yet, they won the junior division, and had more laps than the majority of the adult teams,” Brown said.
“We’re all good friends and love riding together every chance we get,” Buchanan said. “We push each other all season.”
In the spring and summer, all five spend the majority of their time on mountain bikes while also dabbling a bit on the road. Each has aspirations of taking their sport to the next level, and last summer, Wood, Funston, and King got the invite to Geoff Proctor’s USA Cycling Cyclocross Development Camp held in Montana. “That was the best week of my life,” says King, who also spent a week at a national level mountain bike camp during July. “It was super hard, but it really opened my eyes.”
“I learned a lot about what it takes to be successful in Europe and how to train for racing in Europe,” Funston said. “I really liked learning from the older kids and also getting to know some of the kids that I had heard about but never actually met.”
Based upon their results this year, the trio, plus Meyers hope to get a return invitation to the camp. The fact that all four were at the bottom of the age bracket this year should work in their favor. Their goal is to race is to race in Europe when they reach the 17-18 bracket.
But for now, the emphasis is on learning, racing and having fun. The whole team pre-rides races together. “We recon the course together and try different lines, side by side, to figure out the fastest route,” says Wood. “We aren’t afraid to present ideas and try them, even if they seem far-fetched.”
After they’ve finished racing, the informal debrief happens, including razzing each other about mishaps and figuring out where each can improve. “It brings you closer as teammates and friends,” says Wood.
The camaraderie is rubbing off on their younger teammates, too. Gideon Bender, another national caliber rider who raced 13-14 this year, will make the jump to 15-16 next season. When he’s not racing juniors, he competes in the men’s categories with his older teammates. He’s beaten a couple of them on occasion, too. He learns a lot just by spending time with his friends. There is also a slew of 10-12 year-olds, chomping at the bit to start racing against the big guys.
Mentoring younger riders has always been part of the program at Rad. Brown is particularly pleased that two of his former riders serve as coaches for his advanced racers. David Fleischhauer and Toby Swanson were among the original group of Rad Racers when the team formed in the late 90s. Swanson was the first to represent Rad on a USA Cycling World Championship Cyclocross Team in 2000. Since then, 10 additional riders, including Fleischhauer in 2003, have made the cut. Eight riders, including Wood and Funston, have earned national cyclocross age group titles.
And the iron striking iron will continue…