Being a professional athlete requires making a plan and sticking to it. Training, sleeping, eating, racing; they all require planning and discipline to achieve success. Rarely do the world’s best let something change their plans.
Last month, Stephen Hyde of Cannondale p/b Cyclocrossworld.com learned one of his exceptions: an invite to go train with the World Champion in Spain.
How did the Stars-and-Stripes end up training in sunny Spain with the rainbow stripes? Hyde and Wout Van Aert were chatting via messenger after the Zeven/Flandriencross weekend at the end of November and the conversation went something like this:
Wout: BRB, going to Calpe, Spain.
Hyde: Oh man, that sounds amazing!
Wout: Yeah? Wanna go with me then?
Hyde: (Three seconds later) [Standing at Wout’s door shouldering his Cannondale SuperX]
Hyde and Van Aert spent seven days rooming and training together in hills surrounding Calpe. For both, it was a good chance to take a step away from racing and get a good mid-season block of volume training before the last push toward their respective Nationals and Worlds.
The Spanish trip seems to have paid off for both, with Van Aert winning at Namur and Hyde finishing an impressive 11th.
We have gotten several inquiries along the lines of “What’s up with Hyde training with Wout?” So we reached out to Hyde to ask him about the experience.
Interview: Stephen Hyde on Training with Wout van Aert in Spain
Cyclocross Magazine: How did the trip to Spain with Wout come about? Did he ask you? In another story, I read you had other plans?
Stephen Hyde: Yeah, we were chatting via messenger about the upcoming races and what our plans were going to be. I had just come off some bad races in the first few weeks of Euro racing and wasn’t really looking forward to the next weekend’s racing, to be honest.
He mentioned going to Calpe to train instead of racing the Mol weekend. My response was “Oh man, that sounds amazing!” He said, “Yeah? Wanna go with me then?”
It took me about three seconds to cancel my race plans and start planning that trip. It’s pretty easy to fly once you’re actually in Europe, so hopping on a cheap flight from Eindhoven to see the sun was a no-brainer. I really needed the reset to get back on a comfortable track.
CXM: How have you built friendships with the Euros like Wout? At races? Pre-rides? Training?
SH: For me, it’s not that hard. I am just going to be myself and crack jokes and ask questions. If you don’t want to talk to me, that’s fine. But that doesn’t stop me from trying anyway. I certainly don’t force anyone to be my friend.
There are some good guys and gals racing all over the world. SO many riders get a weird rep as a loner or as unapproachable. I think it’s up you to make relationships and not wait for others. It’s a lonely world waiting for everyone to come to you.
CXM: How long were you in Spain with Wout and the other guys? What kind of training were you doing?
SH: Wout and I shared a room for seven days. Usually, the hotel we stayed at is home base for any number of World Tour teams in early season prep. This time, we missed most of the camps by a week. Or at least I did. He ended up staying another week once I left in order to keep training. Some of the Lotto Soudal guys were there for some pre-camp prep. A lot of the younger riders will show up before the camp to be prepared to handle the training in full swing. Mostly to get the nerves out of their system.
We did some long days. Getting some much-needed volume in the legs and getting charged back up. There are a lot of climbs in that area of Spain so we did some efforts accordingly. Lots of the stuff you don’t normally get when riding in the flat country with limited ride times.
CXM: What did you learn from training with him? Were there any, “Oh, this is what a World Champ does” moments?
SH: Plenty, for sure. I am an all eyes and ears kinda guy. I talk a lot, but I also listen more than most realize.
I was able to gain some insights on what it takes to make a high volume training block work in the middle of the race season. Mostly, I look for variations that I can put into my own program that blend well with the work capacity I have and the things I know work well for me personally.
The reality is there is no one size fits all training program, even among the world’s best. You will never get two riders to train the same and both get all the same benefits. So seeing what works well for others, trying it, analyzing it and either integrating it or not is the key.
CXM: It seems both of you really benefitted from the break, have you found that to be the case since you’ve returned to Belgium?
Absolutely. It was great for me to have a good mental reset and to hear that even the champ needs it too. It’s been a tough season for both of us. Me having a hard early transition filled with illness and poor results. Almost losing the US Cup was terrifying for me. There’s nothing you can do if you’ve been super sick and the racing is going on. You just have to recalculate your tactics and go full steam while trying to maintain your rest and focus. It’s a terrible place to be in, but everyone goes through it.
He has to face a storming Mathieu van der Poel while also making the call to go full gas into the road season. The training and racing changes you have to make in order to shift focus from one season to another is pretty extreme. It’s hard to tell from the outside. No one knows whats really going on outside the tape. It’s a struggle to find form when you need it now while also trying to make necessary changes in your training for later down the road. Balance is key and it’s not always clear to you when you’re not doing as well right here and now.
CXM: Highlight of the training trip? Good stories about Wout? You’re always good for good stories!
SH: For me, the highlights have been getting to know someone whom I admire so greatly. Seeing how far one can get even when they’re so young. It blows my mind to see such a well-adjusted and strong young person. Having a lot of success at such an early age can really ruin people and set them up for failure down the line. Seeing how he keeps his family close and doesn’t let the limelight blind him from where he really is in the world is enough for me to still be a fan.
There’s really something special about learning about someone while both being in your elements. When people like us get on the bike and out the door, even if it’s a brand new place, it’s like we get on the same plane. You’re all of a sudden thinking the same things, shifting at the same time and breathing the same way. Pedal stroke for pedal stroke, you’re experiencing the same scenes, temperatures and smells.
It really can smother any pretense and makes for some great and genuine conversations. Sometimes it just takes a little to make a real personal connection, that’s what I love about this sport.
CXM: Bigger picture, what does it mean to you that you have Euros reaching out to you like that?
SH: It’s great for me. It makes me feel more a part of it all. I don’t feel like such an outsider anymore. I don’t feel like I am a guest or that I am stepping into the wrong locker room. This is important for my psychology going into the races. It’s an acceptance that I don’t think people understand the importance of. For me, it’s a validity I have been working toward that means more than a result.
CXM: You seem to enjoy Europe more than most U.S. riders? What are your thoughts about joining a Euro team or doing what Compton is doing this year?
SH: I don’t like being here. It’s also important to me that I have my friends and family around, but at this point, I am so used to being away that it works. I couldn’t do this forever the way that I am doing it.
As for the Euro team? I think it would be a great adventure. However, I can’t see myself being any happier than with the team I am with.
The most important thing for me and my career is I feel like I made choices that helped me as much as they helped the people around me succeed. Not that I don’t think I can be of benefit to another team. But I feel so indebted to Stu and Cannondale. They are my people. I genuinely feel like I am in good hands and that no decisions are made on my behalf that do not help me as an athlete and a person.
I am plenty happy growing with Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com. Perhaps we will make some changes to allow for more growth overseas. We will see.
CXM: Nats are coming up soon. What are you hoping to get from this last block of racing in Europe before defending your title?
SH: I have always had pride and confidence in my coaches and my ability to gradually increase my fitness throughout the year instead of blasting my best results early. It’s a very hard game to play when the season is so long. I am patient and believe in the good work we are doing.
I would like nothing more than to come away with another title. I also totally understand how hard it is to do that. I am over here racing and constantly readjusting while there are no other male riders here doing the same. I am the odd duck out right now. Everyone I am fighting against at Nats is at home training and prepping. So, let’s hope for my sake that this is the right all for me!
CXM: Finally, I gotta ask … thoughts on Wout’s taste in music? Any common ground? What do the Euros listen to?
SH: Man, tune into the Belgian radio stations some time. It’s all weird euro pop. Not my jams.
Look for Hyde jamming out during the Kerstperiode races in Belgium starting with World Cup Zolder on Tuesday. He will be back in the U.S. to defend his Stars-and-Stripes jersey in Reno on Sunday, January 13.