The United States last hosted the World Championships at Colorado Springs, Colorado in 1986, an historic event we are currently celebrating with a photo exhibition at the Rapha Cycle Club New York. The 1986 championships appealed to an burgeoning American audience thirsty for road racing antics. Three years after that the United States had its very own international stage race, the Tour de Trump. The inaugural event, billed in 1989 by its namesake Donald Trump as, « bigger than anything they got in Europe, » once again brought the greatest names in professional cycling to American streets. Trump would only last two seasons as the title sponsor, and from 1991-1996 the race was known as the Tour DuPont. Richmond enjoyed an unbroken eight-year streak through both sponsors as a host city, welcoming names such as Eric Vanderaerden, Gianni Bugno, Laurent Fignon, Greg LeMond, Andy Hampsten, Davis Phinney, Lance Armstrong and even John Tomac. And then there was the infamous starring role of the pugilistic Michel Zanoli… my goodness, what a crazy finish in downtown Richmond. The city, no doubt, has the racing heritage to justify its selection to host such a prestigious international race.
History is a commodity easily found in Richmond. The origins of the United States were whispered on these old cobbled streets, cobbles upon which Patrick Henry strode to St John’s Church in 1775 and declared, « Give me liberty, or give me death » – an important marker during the war of independence. But Richmond has a modern aspect to it as well. An interesting feature of the race parcours is where cobbled history meets with contemporary tarmac, the city’s original 1737 layout blending into more modern infrastructure. These junctures will awaken riders several times per lap, with the most crowded and raucous location being Libby Hill where resides a Confederate Military monument (Richmond was also the Confederate capital during the Civil War).
Racers will approach the hill as they roll southeast from downtown along a fast, flat route next to a canal system surveyed and planned by the one and only George Washington. Two switchbacks will lift them from the waterfront towards Libby Hill, the second of which turns from contemporary blacktop to colonial cobblestone along a rough, ragged gap. It will be imperative to be on the inside of this tight, right turn in order to make the most of the uphill left shortly thereafter. The heart of the Libby Hill climb has the look of a high frequency wavelength, with a very important ‘feature’ – a modern, concrete gutter along the right hand side. Riders who make it here first will have a fast, smooth ride to the top.
The park here has been designated an official event « Fan Zone » and I anticipate my fellow Americans (and hopefully a few overseas visitors too) to make a show of great pride here. The Surrounding Church Hill neighborhood is also home to numerous cafes and shops, many of which are already emblazoned with signs and posters signaling the 2015 event.
For nine days in September the region will be populated with eager fans and enthusiastic businesses. Count Rapha among both. Rapha will have a big presence in Richmond, leading rides, hosting events, and presenting the world’s greatest riders from then and now. Reports and reaction from the Rapha North America office will be here on the blog and we sincerely hope you will follow along and join us in celebrating this historic event. From Libby Hill on one end, through downtown, and out to the sweeping 180-degree turn in the shadow of the Robert E. Lee monument on the city’s most renowned road, Monument Avenue, Richmond is ready.
For more information on the 2015 Road Cycling World Championships, please visit http://richmond2015.com/]]>
A small number of special edition Rapha Condor JLT jersey and t-shirts remain available. With specially commissioned graphics and embroidery to celebrate the riders, sponsors and staff that played a part in the team’s successes in the last nine years.
See the collection »
The not-succinctly named Tour du Loir et Cher E Provost is part of the Europe Tour and, in words of one former pro, one of the hardest races that no one ever hears about. The race is ripped apart by winds and small rollers, punishing any naivety or lack of race craft – but it’s rarely televised, and this spectacle of European road racing remains largely unknown. If you ever get the chance to watch a stage, on the start line you’ll spot skinny neo-pros wanting to prove they’re the next big thing standing shoulder-to-shoulder with battle scarred veterans out to show they can still cut it.
Graham Briggs took the victory with a mixture of brute force and cunning, becoming its first British winner. Briggs attacked early on the third of the six stages, driving the break to the line to take the stage and the leader’s jersey. Briggs and the squad defended the jersey to the end of the week, fending off attacks from the well-drilled French and Dutch teams.
With their distinctive kit and undeniable style, Rapha Condor JLT are sometimes referred to as the men in black – this nickname flatters some of the development squad, who are barely out of their teens.
Much of he squad that travelled with Tom Southam to race in Japan and Korea fit into this bracket, including 20-year-olds Tom Moses and Hugh Carthy, and the relatively aged Richard Handley, 23. Despite their youth and being thousands of miles from home, Rapha Condor JLT cleaned up.
Handley won the second stage and wore the leader’s jersey in Japan, while Carthy took the King of the Mountains and Young Rider jerseys, followed by the overall title in Korea. These results helped deal Carthy’s move to Caja Rural, the Spanish Pro Continental team.
For the past few seasons, Rapha Condor JLT has been operating as essentially two squads. The powerfully built riders – some of whom moonlight for GB and Ireland on the track – work as a criterium and circuit race squad, while the leaner types find themselves with a schedule of international stage races and hilly one-day races. Of course, the squad is small and the riders multi-talented, so they have the chance to both focus on their strengths and occasionally dabble with a new type of riding.
The criterium riders get to experience the bread and butter of UK riding – tight-corner crits, rowdy circuit races, and the Tour Series – racing against a peloton stacked with specialists. Over two days in late May, Rapha Condor JLT managed to win three races – Felix English, Elliot Porter and Graham Briggs all out-sprinted their competitors, showing the damage that can be done with a powerful turn of speed.
How did the project come about?
Robin Mather – It was a combination of things we’d been thinking about separately that all fell into place. I’d been thinking about making cargo bikes, then Nick said to me one day he wanted to give printing courses to schoolkids. But it’s logistically difficult to get school kids out of school, so he asked if it would be possible to put a printing press on a bicycle. We figured out it probably was, and if we did it, it would be a good idea to go on some kind of journey.
Nick Hand – I have a friend called Cally Calloman who did a talk in Bristol, and showed a little film about a knife-grinder who rode his bicycle from Scotland to Cornwall every year for about 40 years. It would take him a whole year, and people would know when he’d pass through their village – for example, if you lived in Gloucestershire he’d come through your village in about March. You’d keep all your blunt knives waiting for him, and quite often you’d give him a bit of money and feed him. Then he’d just go on his way. It intrigued me, this idea of journeymen cycling who made a living on their bikes. I was a little bit inspired by that, carrying out a trade on a bike.
So it was a craft-inspired thing. But did you also think about it as an art project, an adventure…?
NH – I’ve always been interested in doing bike tours, but seeing how much you can push it, what else you can fit in to it, and it’s always kind of worked.
Also, because of the Tour de France in Britain, cycling seems to be all about going fast these days. Even cycling home from work there’s always someone trying to race you. I kind of don’t mind, but it’s nice to show a different kind of cycling.
RM – I’ve done quite a few bike tours, certainly, but none that involved printing or art projects!
NH – I suppose the fundraising through Kickstarter almost formulated the concept for us, as you have to offer things to people. That’s how we decided to send postcards to people from stops along the route. People loved that old-fashioned idea of receiving a postcard, because nobody writes postcards or letters any more. A lot of people said how nice it was to look forward to getting home and seeing if there was a postcard on the mat.
As far as the artists went, I had a list of around 15 artists who said they’d like to be involved. They all had different agendas – some wanted to come along and meet us somewhere, but some had to drop out because they couldn’t travel or were ill. One came and did a linocut just outside of Paris, where we were sat, Robin and I, drinking beer, and she was cutting the lino. Some of the lino we just carried with us the whole time. We stayed with a group of anarchist printers we’d met in Bristol for a day on their commune. One day I got a train into Paris, went into a little bookshop to pick up a lino that a friend had cut and left there. It ended up being an odd mixture of things, and it was quite full on!
RM – The schedule turned out to be pretty tight and we were spending more time than we’d planned actually riding. Often we got to the campsite when it was a getting dark, and set up and print at night, with head torches.
How did the actual riding and touring go?
RM – We spent the first two days riding from CentreSpace in Bristol down to Poole, stopping in Frome overnight. Then the ferry over to Cherbourg, down passing very close to Bayeux and cutting south of Paris. We avoided as many of the larger towns as we could.
NH – We did 830 miles to Mainz in 19 days. There were a couple of short days where we did 20 or so kilometres, like the day I went to Paris. We did it all in kilometres but now I’ve converted it into miles… We generally did between 60 and 120 kilometres a day. Cycling a really heavy bike is not something you do very often and it’s a whole other thing. I always think it’s the equivalent of driving a really big lorry instead of a car.
RM – You just have to take it really steady, it’s not like a normal bike where you can sprint up a couple of hills and carry on for a few more hours. If you sprint up a couple of hills on a touring bike you’re done, really. You have to approach it steadily and accept it’s going to take hours and hours, but it’s still pretty remarkable the kind of distances you can cover.
NH – You find a lot out about yourself. You realise very quickly your own strengths and weaknesses. Like I have to keep eating. If I don’t find somewhere to eat I get really low. Robin bore the brunt of that a couple of times.
RM – Nick doesn’t like Nutella, it turns out!
Tell us a bit about how you designed the bike.
RM – As I said, the idea for a cargo bike of some kind had been stewing for a while. I’ve ridden the long bikes like the Surly Big Dummy, the things with really long chain stays and the load on the back, and they’re amazing, really useful, but they’re also big and quite ungainly to store. And I’ve ridden the Dutch Bakfiets-style with all the load at the front. Again they’re useful, but difficult to handle when you get off and structurally not that efficient. They have a long beam and the front wheel stuck way out in front, and a fancy linkage for the steering. I wanted to find something that was a better compromise. It seemed to me that putting a bit of load on the front and some on the back, and using smaller wheels would shorten it a lot. It’s about the same length as a normal bike, compact and a bit more usable. I stumbled on a way of joining the dots structurally, arranging the tubes in a way that was pleasing and quite efficient. It’s quite nice to ride without any weight on it, and not too terrible, I think, to ride without.
NH – It’s really nice to ride. There were a lot of times when it just felt like I was out on a Sunday ride and I just forgot. Out on those plains of northern France, there’s nothing nicer and the weight doesn’t mean a thing because you get up a head of steam. It was amazing. Very comfortable. It has drops, too, so it felt like my normal bike.
RM – We took the riding position directly from one of Nick’s existing bikes, it has pretty much the same position.
For me, I realised a few months out that I would end up carrying a lot – camping and cooking gear, as well as some of Nick’s stuff – and that I didn’t have a bike that I would be comfortable carrying all of that on. So a few weeks out I thought maybe I should do something about it. I made myself what is basically a mountain bike, with a rigid fork and loads of rack mounts brazed on, and built it up with bits I had knocking around. It was a bit of a rush job but I’m actually very happy with it. All my touring has been on mountain bikes or mountain-bike variants, starting with an old Kona in the 1990s. So it’s very similar to an old Kona.
NH – It was a little bit in the shadow of the print bike, because that was so striking, but Robin’s a bit modest. He built it in a few days! And he didn’t have time to get it painted, so he put something on it to seal the paint work.
RM – It was a mixture of oil and varnish, which was partially effective but not really.
NH – It changed colour a little during the ride, but it looked beautiful. It still does.
RM – I’m super happy with it. The other thing is it represented, for me, a bit of a shift away from finely finished show bike-type things to something that was utilitarian and quite tough. Which I didn’t mind getting a bit scratched or knocked around. Just something to do a job, and it really succeeded at that.
What about the printing element?
NH – The printing press is called an Adana. They were designed in the ‘50s for people to print at home, they’re called hobby presses. They’re tabletop presses and they’re not super heavy…
RM – It weighs about 15kg. Crucially, the printing element didn’t involve any testing or dry runs.
NH – No it didn’t, no! It’s a really basic thing, actually. The whole thing you can see how it works, it’s all on the surface. We carried all the cards, ink, a little tray of type.
As for the printing, there were things we hadn’t appreciated. The postcards were beautiful. Some worked really well, some were hard to print. And the days were drawing in. One day I said, why don’t we print early in the morning rather than late at night. We were right by a river, and it was misty and damp and cold. But the inks just reacted really badly. The waterproof ink got really runny and wouldn’t print, then the oil-based ink got sticky and blotchy because of the cold. It was a bit of a disaster.
RM – But you managed to print.
NH – So it was all about solving little problems. I mean, who would have guessed that would have been a problem.
RM – Or trying to manoeuvre around a tent with 60 postcards drying.
NH – We went through several different methods of drying the cards. We pegged them up, and then I was in a stationery shop and I found little ring binders that were 2” wide, which were perfect for resting postcards in.
How about the museum at the end?
NH – We had arranged something with a German cycling group…
RM – It was the German Bicycle Advocacy Association…
NH – And the woman was in Mainz, where we were going, so she arranged something with the Gutenberg Museum. The woman said they were really looking forward to meeting us, there’ll be a reception and they’ll get some presses out. I was almost expecting an oompah band or something.
RM – There was going to be bunting.
NH – Yeah, there was going to be bunting! But as we got nearer we started getting emails saying they would all be at the Frankfurt book fair until the Sunday. Then it was the Monday, and eventually it was the Tuesday. So it kind of petered out. But in the end I thought, it was all about the journey. It was about printing on the way. It was about the community of people that supported the project.
That said, the Gutenberg museum is amazing. They have two 42-line Bibles, which are the first books printed using moveable type, printed in 1450. They’re the most valuable books in the world. And what Gutenberg did then was astonishing. He changed the world forever. As much as Apple or anything in the last 50 years. It’s definitely on an equivalent level.
RM – I’ve done some touring where there hasn’t been a defined destination, and it’s been nice, but aimless and slightly unsatisfying. The bike tours I’ve done where we’ve chosen the destination – and it can be slightly arbitrary – you get more of a structure and a sense of your progress within that story you are. It was really important for us to go somewhere.
What will happen with the printing bike now?
NH – The idea is to take the bike into schools. Schools don’t have budgets really to come here, and it’s cheaper for me to go there. I love the idea that kids will see you can do all sorts of things on bikes. You can cycle to school, do a paper round, deliver stuff, go off on holiday, go racing, but also it can do a job. Also what I’ve found with letterpresses is that the kids who struggle a bit – and I was a bit dyslexic as a kid – is that when you put type together, its very tactile, you feel the letters, you put words together in a different way. I love the way kids compose letterpress type. Kids love it. It’s a mechanical, magical thing.
See Robin’s Continental Bike »]]>
Courage. We all suffer. Keep going.
Those are the closing thoughts of Graeme Fife’s essay on the battle faced by every cyclist, that between the mind and the body. Graeme’s was one of the earliest articles on the Rapha website and is fundamental to the Rapha mantra: ‘Glory through suffering.’ This idea of suffering has been interpreted, internalized and celebrated by cyclists who recognize that moment where pain, pleasure and satisfaction come together to transform the rider. We revel in the suffering because we seek the glory that accompanies achievement.
Perspective is a wonderful thing.
In Spring 2014, we met Justin McLean, a rider from Melbourne, Australia, who shared a story that resonated with us as cyclists, as parents, as human beings. His is a story all too familiar. Justin’s life received a jolt on 5th September 5, 2013, with the diagnosis of an aggressive form of bowel cancer. The 40-year-old father of three reacted brazenly, the way that any otherwise healthy athlete would: “Fuck this, I’m going to live.” Justin saw no other option, there were too many people who counted on him, people whom he loved too much to leave early. He had no ‘plan b’.
One way or another, it is reckoned that one-in-two people will be affected by cancer. With Justin’s ethos captured perfectly by a hashtag, #noplanb, his battle for survival started to gain momentum, with the help of his friends and through the support of his family and the people at PWC, where Justin is a Strategic Partner. When we met Justin, he was in the middle of his second round of chemotherapy and his story was still taking shape — with the bike firmly at its centre. On one of his darker days, Justin’s best friend, Adam Davis, loaned him a Watt Bike and made him another very special gift – a striking portrait of the Passo dello Stelvio, by the photographer Jered Gruber.
Adam gave Justin the expletive-filled advice only a best friend can, and the two came up with a plan – to celebrate the end of Justin’s chemotherapy treatment with a trip to Corsica to ride with friends. With Corsica as the carrot, Justin started putting in time on the bike during his treatments. Five minutes, five miles, whatever his body would allow. That moment, that photograph, that dark day, he made a pact to not merely survive cancer, but to live and to thrive.
And in some ways that was just the beginning of the story. Surprised at the fragmented and often alienating nature of the treatment process, in 2014, Justin founded Thrivor, an organisation that serves as an advocate for the needs of cancer patients, their family and caregivers. By bringing together health professionals, corporate sponsors and influential individuals, Thrivor is working with partners around the world to ensure the care pathway is of the highest possible standard. As a proud supporter of Thrivor, Rapha is producing a special edition cycling cap, due for release in February 2015. To be informed when the cap is available, please enter your details in the form below.
Learn more about Justin and his story at www.thrivor.com »
100% of the proceeds from the limited edition Rapha cap will go towards Thrivor. Be a part of the change.
Enter your details below:
Mark Twight made his name as a daring and pioneering climber in the 1980s and ‘90s. Part of a new wave of mountaineers who relied on physical fitness and minimal equipment to climb quickly and efficiently, he was part of a movement known as ‘extreme alpinism’. Twight’s CV away from the rock face is diverse; he has, among other things, conducted research into extreme weather clothing for both the US military and the Patagonia apparel company. Having retired from a sport notable for its extreme physical challenges, Twight recently turned his attention to cycling and is a keen amateur road racer. He is also the founder of Gym Jones, a personal training company whose uncompromising regimes have conditioned the physiques of Russell Crowe, Henry Cavill, and countless other red-carpet regulars. On a recent visit to London, Twight dropped by Imperial Works, Rapha’s London HQ, to shed some light on what cycling and alpinism have in common.
Road racing and mountaineering are similar in that they breed characters. Laurent Fignon, for example, was quite mercurial; Bernard Hinault, on the other hand, was such a strong personality. I think cycling and climbing have a lot in common because the quality of effort changes people in a similar way. They are both sports that lend themselves to storytelling. They are about how people felt at the time, what the conditions were like. Something like Joe Simpson’s Touching the Void is very personal, and Tim Krabbe’s The Rider has achieved something to that effect.
In 2010, I came over to the UK at the end of October to do a seminar, and managed to go out riding with Ben Saunders [the polar explorer] and Yanto Barker. He’s a pro [for Team Raleigh] and he’s also one of the most enthusiastic riders I’ve ever met. And it was an eye-opening experience.
I asked them what they did during the winter to train and they said: “Keep riding.” But in Utah, where I live now, everyone has these systems they set up in their garages, with fans, turbos or rollers, computers, flatscreen TVs, almost to the point of absurdity. What these guys were essentially saying was, “I refuse to ride inside”. They just kitted themselves out carefully and properly.
I was amazed it had never occurred to me before, given I’ve never felt colder in my life than when I was on a bike. In an early-season race in Utah, in 2009, I finished with really bad hypothermia, to the point I couldn’t function. That would never happen climbing in the mountains; you can’t let yourself get that cold because there’s no way back. With riding there’s a way out, generally speaking. I’ve got to the start line of races and decided against it at times. Which is less shameful than sitting up and pulling off after the race has begun.
In the mountains, you can tell who’s proficient by what they are wearing; people inching along in down jackets, they’re not moving well enough to generate their own heat. But then you’ll see guys in functional, stretch clothing, running in the mountains. And it’s the same on the bike. I spent a winter in Vancouver, and cycling culture there is really evolved, with dedicated bike paths and on-road routes that run parallel to the main road arteries. That was where I noticed people sheltered against the weather on their bikes. Some put a barrier between themselves and the weather, with heavy jackets and so on. Others were ‘racing’ to work, in much lighter and more efficient clothing.
When you’re outdoors, it’s possible to create your own climate. The clothing system that is described in my book, Extreme Alpinism, was developed from my work for the military and for Patagonia. It is based on the concept that, whatever I do, I’m going to get wet. I can’t escape the elements. If I develop a system that is constantly self-drying based on the amount of effort I’m putting out, then it doesn’t matter if I get wet because I will remain warm. The same considerations apply in the design of cycling apparel.
I was exposed to the mountains from a very early age. I was born in the era when guys like Steve Roper, Wayne Merry, Warren Harding, Yvon Chouinard (Patagonia’s founder) and Royal Robbins, all north American climbing legends, were actively climbing in Yosemite National Park. My father was a park ranger in Yosemite and I spent my first years there. Later, we moved to Mt Rainier National Park, in Washington State, but my dad was essentially a cop and my great shame, as a climber, is that my dad kicked Steve Roper out of Camp 4 (the infamous bohemian climbing camp in Yosemite) for staying too long. As with cycling, there are sites of power, and for many in the Pacific Northwest, Yosemite was it. But it was never Yosemite for me. For me it was the Alps. The first time I went was in 1984, and then each year after that I would stay a little longer; in 1988, I arrived with two duffel bags and stayed for five years.
At that time, in the early, to mid-Eighties, the best climbers in the world were in Chamonix. Just as the best cycle racers in the world were racing in Europe at that time, so the draw was the same for climbers. If you want to get better at your craft, you have to go to where it’s happening, and being done by the best guys. I was never going to get that staying in the Cascades, in a somewhat insular climbing culture. I mean, guys would travel to the Himalyas infrequently or go to Alaska, but I needed to be in the environment and the culture to be shaped by it – so I went to the Alps.
I was of modest talent before I arrived there but that environment was a catapult, the terrain and the pressure-cooker atmosphere. That period was so intense, crazy really. The Alps weren’t getting any taller and technical standards were well in hand, so guys began ‘linking’ classic routes back-to-back, in long marathon pushes, called enchainments. The Mont Blanc Massif is well set up for that, where often the descent off one mountain puts you at the base of another. There were guys doing incredible things in the mountains, guys like Eric Escoffier, Christophe Profit, Jean-Marc Boivin (who was also flying hang-gliders or skiing from the tops of peaks), Erhard Loretan, and Patrick Gabarrou.
There were many guys in sub-disciplines of extreme skiing, snowboarding, BASE jumping and paragliding as well, and it was mind-boggling what they were imagining, and then doing. The head-to-head competition pushed these guys to incredible levels. Of course, a lot of them died in that era.
And to go there completely open, I just got carried away in the culture. I love it there, still. I speak fluent French and go there as often as I can. I like the culture less in Paris, but I worked there for a few months in 2012. I took my bike over, did some evening ‘club’ rides around the Hippodrome and out into the Vallée de Chevreuse, where all those great racers from the city trained.
I visited the Himalayas seven different times. I failed to climb there more than I actually climbed to the top of anything. It’s difficult even to survive there. There was one trip I did, and probably one of the greatest climbing adventures I’ve had, where we were 13,000ft up the Rupal Face of Nanga Parbat and dropped two ropes, our lifeline, during the night. I personally dropped a tent that same night. With the weather and the fatigue, we were up against it. But the following day we were saved by finding equipment that had been left for a Japanese team who’d disappeared four years earlier. A powerful thing itself.
There are a lot of lessons to be learned, it’s a craft and you can go incredibly deep. But it can also teach you how to approach other things in life. The pathway to master things, from ‘apprentice’ to ‘journeyman’ to ‘master’. The titles actually get in the way but it allowed me to know how to get better riding my bike, because I’d done it with climbing. Seeing the value of going as deep as possible and making the commitment, that suits my personality. I used to want everyone to be like that, but in my maturity I’ve realised that you can go far on simple enthusiasm. So there are people who will never get out of the local climbing gym, but they still love being in there doing it. It can be enough.
Near the apex of my climbing career we were trying to climb things non-stop, substituting speed for logistics and protection, tuning into the mountain environment itself. The men who started that movement were a Polish climber called Voytek Kurtyka, one of the great climbing ‘mystics’, Pierre-Alain Steiner, Englishman Alex MacIntyre was along for the ride too. The concept was most brilliantly expressed by Erhard Loretan and Jean Troillet with their 43-hour round trip on Everest in 1986. Kurtyka called it ‘night naked climbing’. In the Himalayas, these guys would put on their high-altitude climbing suits, one would take a stove, the other some fuel, another a pan and some Bouillon cubes. They would start climbing at night, stop during the day, melt enough snow to hydrate and then keep going.
And we realised this was the ultimate expression of climbing in the mountains. Because you are essentially naked up there, you can go for 24 hours or more non-stop – you have to. To do so relied largely on fitness, for which there was no formal training in that era. And so we were the first alpinists to use artificial means to train, the weight room and so forth. Fitness was a controllable thing in an uncontrollable environment. And it is true away from the mountains as well. The more fit I become, the more opportunities I have and the bigger my map becomes.
In June 2000, I was part of a team that climbed the Slovak Direct, a famous climb on Mount Denali [at 6,168m, the highest peak in North America]. It was 60 hours non-stop, and my philosophy changed; I decided I wasn’t willing to take the next necessary step, to apply what we had learned to higher mountains. If they don’t get killed, [alpine] climbers eventually grow up. But it’s difficult to transition from those strong mountain experiences into normal life. I think you see the same with bike racing. But as a climber, the riding and racing is a good outlet for me. I’ve taken my mind and body to quite extreme places, and to fill that void has not been simple or easy.
It was my philosophical relationship with climbing and the mountains that allowed me to make the transition, to reintegrate. But it wasn’t easy to learn to race a bike. With climbing I always had to keep something in my back pocket, whereas with racing I can go all out and pull over if I blow up – regardless of how embarrassing it is.
There’s always more in the tank, even if it’s brain matter. The mind is primary. It’s the muscle I’m interested in training now in my work [with Gym Jones]. If you can get right in your head, everything else will follow naturally. You need to un-f**k your own head. Because we all sabotage our minds, in some way, whether consciously or unconsciously.
There were guys in the mountains who were fitter and more technically gifted than me, but I was more willing. My relationship to risk and consequence was different. And that was all in my head. And that’s what I train into people now – you can go beyond what or where you thought you could.]]>
For those that choose the latter, the experience can be both harrowing and enlivening. The first winter that I trained through, I wound up on a four-hour team ride in balmy temperatures of 9F (-12C). The night before the ride, one of the guys questioned meeting up in the morning — he wasn’t convinced that he could handle those temperatures. The ride leader — not insignificantly, an ex-Marine — shot down those apprehensions. Non-participation was not an option. In his mind, these were the type of rides that made everything else on a bike seem doable. As the least experienced and slowest member of this group, I figured there was no way I’d be able to live it down if I didn’t show up. That Sunday morning, covered in every layer of Roubaix fabric I could find, I rolled out at 7am to meet up.
We rode amidst the slush and ice and wind. And it was brutal. And amazing. Our faces were numb and windburned, and when our eyes watered the tears froze. Our water bottles froze in less than 30 minutes. Our bikes looked like they’d been powder-coated with confectioner’s sugar—though in fact it was a thick casing of road salt. Riding in the winter is a different beast than even the longest, most arduous of rides in the summer. You dress differently, you handle your bike differently, you have to psych yourself up to just kit up and get out on your bike. Yet, when you’re riding together, surrounded by harsh unforgiving temperatures and road conditions, there’s something intangible about the shared mindset and motivations that bind and drive a group to stick it out and suffer those elements together. There’s also a type of solitary focus that you achieve, breathing in the cold air and staring at the wheel you’re following—mentally trying to block out that your hands are so cold that they no longer even hurt, but are simply numb.
Hours after this ride ended, when my face and hands returned to their normal shade again, I had to admit that there was a peculiar afterglow that accompanies riding in the depths of winter. Your lungs have a fresh, cool, clean sting that you just don’t get on an 80F (27C) day. There’s a sense of accomplishment that your body has been pushed not just to its internal physical limit, but has been subjected to conditions and elements that punished and battered it from every external dimension as well—and regardless, you managed to meet those elements and thrive.
The course was a classic – grueling physically and mentally, with some genuinely head-scratching off-camber sections. The first corner alone was a sign of the organisers’ sadistic treachery, forcing the riders into flying over a concrete lip onto a steep hillside, trying to control two-wheel slides at sprinting speeds. This set the tone for the lap, which knitted together running, ruts and elevation changes into a dramatic and demanding lap.
Two (unnamed) doyennes of the cross peloton asked for the course to be widened at key points to allow for better (and less deadly) line selection. The American Gavin Haley (Red Zone Elite) made the most of these new lines, smoothly pedaling through the junior race when many of his adversaries had to run. Alfie Moses (Paul Milnes Cycles) defended his National Trophy leader’s jersey with a strong second place despite flinging himself over the bars in spectacular fashion within a minute of the starter’s gun.
As the women lined up for the start, theirs faces seemed equally split between stressed anticipation and beaming joviality. The season so far has felt like the Sanne Cant (Enertherm-BKCP) show with occasional guest appearances from the rest of the peloton, but on Saturday her spotlight was shared equally with Katie Compton (Trek). The duo spent most of the race in each other’s company, putting in a series of flawless laps. Their eventual sprint, which Cant nicked with a near-perfect bike throw, was as exiting a finish as any this year.
The men’s race had an undeniable element of slapstick, with riders suffering at the mercy of the well-churned course. Every few minutes, some rider could be spotted lifting himself out of the mud, trying to figure out which way they were meant to be facing. Sven Nys (Trek) suffered a couple of early set backs that left him mixing it with domestic pros as the rear of the race – yet he managed to work his way back up to fifth. A note to the TV production crew: there should be a camera dedicated to chronicling Nys’s journey through every race. We simply miss too much of his genius in the throng.
Ian Field (Hargroves) had a spectacular afternoon, putting on an accomplished performance and earning twelfth. Francis Mourey (FDJ.fr) once again bolstered his credentials as a superlative rider of the mud, and Rapha’s Jeremy Powers showed that you can still put on a good show when you’re having a bad day by riding up (yes, up) the stairs every lap. After the third time round, the crowd was his.
Still, the day belonged to teammates Kevin Pauwels and Klaas Vantornout (Sunweb-Napoleon Games). Their contrast in style was a show in itself: Vantornout is loping and rangy, seemingly at ease during even the most intense efforts; Pauwels is more compact and sprightly, attacking the runs with high foot speed and a sense of urgency.
They dispatched the others in their group more through attrition than attacks, and repeated the finish of the women’s race with their two-up sprint – although many might argue that Compton put up more of a fight than Vantornout, who seemed a bit too ready to concede the win to his teammate and leader of the World Cup standings.
Jeremy Powers said of the course, “it’s intense – you do 500 watts for two minutes, then run 4-minute mile pace up a hill while carrying your bike, try not to crash in a technical section, then go back to doing 500 watts. It’s incredible.”
Kevin and Sukeun were not only racers, but students of all things Euro Pro. Chun managed City Cycles, a downtown Manhattan bike shop at the epicenter of bike racing in NYC. Chun was also a DJ, and the shop attracted all manner of cool characters, including Keith Haring, who famously created the artwork that became the shop’s logo.
In those days before the Internet, Kevin and his photographer friends would bring back the latest cycling jerseys, magazines and newspapers from Europe while on assignment, so the lure of seeing their heroes in person on US soil was too great to resist. The duo packed up a Volkswagen and headed west. Kevin–of course–brought a camera, and the never-before-seen images from that week will be part of a photo exhibition in the Rapha Cycle Club NYC in December.
Exhibition details »
Our NYC Cycle Club Manager Mike Spriggs sat down with Kevin over a few beers at CCNYC to get the details of the trip.
MS: Tell me how this trip came about.
KH: My best friend, Sukeun, was an adventurer. He would always just say, “let’s do this,” to some thing or another. There had been a World Championship road race in Montreal in 1974, but apart from that the European pros just didn’t come to North America. We didn’t want to miss the chance. Our only access to this level of racing was from watching World Cycling Productions VHS tapes, or buying La Gazzetta or L’Equipe at a newsstand that had European publications.
Sukeun was able to get his sister’s VW Rabbit. The trip took 3 days, and was somewhat challenging (partly because the car broke down a lot). We did have the foresight to bring a Bridgestone folding bike, which on one occasion I had to ride to a nearby Sears to buy tools to work on the car.
MS: When you arrived in Colorado Springs, what was the scene like?
KH: Well, this is the crazy part. When we got there, the first thing we thought was, “let’s check out the course.” Without really knowing where we were going, we ended up on the course, which wasn’t marked or anything. We noticed a few riders up ahead, and as we got closer we realized it was Bernard Hinault out training with a group of guys. He was very relaxed, wearing his Ray-Ban aviator sunglasses and looking as cool as he does. One of the pictures in the show was captured at that very moment. We had a sunroof in the Rabbit, and I immediately popped my head through and grabbed a few pictures. I couldn’t believe it.
MS: Did you go specifically to take photos, or to watch the race, or both?
KH: I was a photo assistant and photographer at the time, so I always had a camera with me. I went to see the event first. I was never a sports photographer, but cycling was my thing. So I always took pictures around cycling anyway, but I was a fan at this for sure.
I have to admit, I was a nervous being around all these riders. I didn’t have any credentials at all, and not a lot of film. I was shooting and running basically. Now that I look back, I think that I should have just shot like crazy. I was so close to these guys, I kept waiting to get kicked out of some “restricted area” but it never happened. I remember not seeing a lot of other photographers either. In some of the shots in the show, I was in the tent with the riders before the race. I guess they just assumed I was supposed to be there.
MS: What was the highlight of the event for you?
KH: The race is a bit of a blur. The highlight of the week might have been eating breakfast in a Denny’s next to Team Colombia. They were all there, Herrera and gang, sitting in their kits eating eggs and pancakes, and we were thinking to ourselves, “These guys are going to go out and do the World Road Race in an hour and they are eating the same breakfast as we are. This is crazy.”
That and the vivid memory of not only seeing Hinault out on the road when we arrived, but then seeing him later as he got back to the hotel. We jumped out of the car, and we witnessed him getting off his bike and handing it to his mechanic to be washed and serviced. It was one of those things you never forget, seeing a cycling hero doing all the things I had only read about but never seen. Even just watching a mechanic clean a bike was amazing to us.
MS: What was the course like? Did you guys ride at all while you where there?
KH: I remember one big climb, but besides that, it didn’t really make a huge impression. LeMond has gone on record saying it was “too easy” and that it was more about tactics than strength. Moreno Argentin was the winner, and he looked really strong.
I only rode that folding bike to Sears. I guess that doesn’t count!
MS: Do you plan on shooting the upcoming World Championships in Richmond, VA?
KH: If given the opportunity, yes!
Kevin Hatt is a photographer based in New York City. You can see his work here. His show WORLDS ’86 will be on display at the Rapha Cycle Club NYC, opening on December 9th. The photographs in the exhibition capture a unique moment in US cycling–as the sport was beginning to take off–and are all the more special in that very few images from that race have been seen.
City Cycles closed in 1988. Sukeun Chun is now the owner of Veloworx in Santa Monica, CA.
Photographer Kevin Hatt (right) with friend Sukeun Chun (middle).
Back then, so legend has it, Yatsugatake kept company with the likes of K2, in Pakistan, Kanchenjunga, on the Nepal-India border, and the goddess mother of all the snows herself, Mount Everest. It is a Yatsugatake that exists now only in legend, sent crumbling by a jealous rival, the deity Konohanasakuyahime, protector of Mount Fuji. Located on the shores of Lake Kawaguchi in the Chubu region, Fuji is modern Japan’s highest mountain – and tops out at a paltry 3,776m.
Geologists, for their part, like to point out there may be some truth to Yatsugatake’s claims, theoretically at least; the Yatsugatake range is considerably older that the geological formations around Mount Fuji, and millennia of erosion have done much to diminish its peaks. The highest in the Yatsugatake range still standing is Mount Aka, at 2,899m.
Despite their diminutive status – Japan does not have a single peak above 4,000m, nor one that is home to a single glacier – the mountains around Nobeyama have a heritage in alpinism, a sport once considered the preserve of westerners, which compares favourably with the rest of the world. The Japanese Alpine Club was founded in 1905, and while it lagged behind the British equivalent, whose inception came in 1857, by the best part of half a century, it was inaugurated only three years after the American Alpine Club, established in 1902.
Leading alpinists from around the world were first alerted to the possibilities for mountain sports in these parts thanks to the Reverend Walter Weston, a visiting English clergyman whose seminal work on a nearby range, Mountaineering and Exploration in the Japanese Alps, was first published in 1896. By 1910, the Japanese military had contracted the services of a leading Austrian climbing instructor, Theodor von Larch, who also lead ski-mountaineering excercises on the slopes of Mount Fuji. Today, Japanese teams can be found at the base camps of all the world’s 14 peaks that soar above 8,000m.
Yet for all the allure of such behemoths, fictional or otherwise, it would be unwise to underestimate the challenge posed by the mountains on Japan’s home soil. The Yatsugatake range that stands sentinel above Nobeyama is still high enough for an ice-climbing season that lasts from November to mid-April. There is also the small matter of contrasts, and the extent to which this exacerbates conditions.
The difference between the summer and winter seasons in the high mountains of Europe is much less marked than it is in Japan, where high terrain undergoes a complete transformation during the snowy season that lasts from late December to early April. In the mountains here, a single fall of snow may well exceed three metres, the sort of vast, uncompacted volume that provides ideal ordnance for avalanches. Temperatures of –20C are considered modest and blizzards are a constant threat. In more northerly reaches, conditions during the snowy season are so severe they are sometimes ranked the equal of the Himalayas during the monsoon season – a time when only the foolhardy venture out – and deaths in Japan’s own climbing season are sadly all too common.
Even at lower elevations, that more recent European import that marks out Nobeyama, the sport of cyclocross, is not insulated against extremes of weather. At 1,345m, the severity of a sea-level winter is amplified significantly. Nobeyama’s local train station, for instance, the highest in Japan, maintains a large, open-air pit and bench behind its main toilet block for when – not if – the flushing toilets freeze over. Throughout winter, a simple journey down Nobeyama’s main street can become quite the ordeal should a whiteout blizzard descend upon the town. The thick morning frosts are referred to as ‘diamond dust’, glinting upon the fields that are said to produce Japan’s sweetest cabbages, lettuces and corn.
In addition to the proximity of world-class mountaineering and cyclocross racing, Nobeyama is known for producing some of Japan’s most successful speed skaters, the thin, cold air not taxing the lungs but fortifying them; the Winter Games were held in Nagano in 1998, the same games where ski legend Herman Maier won both giant slalom and super-G gold medals. The town is also famous for its relationship with stars of another kind, and the Nobeyama Radio Observatory, part of the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan, has long stationed a radio telescope here.
The view from the heavens is a fitting leveller in some ways; from space, it is hard to see which mountains of the Earth possess the greater vertical prowess. So, whether you’re camped beneath a ridge in the teeth of an angry wind, grinding through the mud on a final bid for glory, or surrendering your dignity above a frozen pit as the morning train approaches, winter makes the mountains around Nobeyama as tough a place as any.
Pour la première fois, il a décidé cette saison de concentrer toute son attention sur les spécificités du circuit européen. Il a fait l’impasse sur la saison sur route, modifié en profondeur ses méthodes d’entraînement et adapté son planning de courses, dans l’espoir de réussir à triompher des parcours de cyclo-cross européens aussi brillamment qu’il a pu le faire aux États-Unis. Avant d’entamer sa quatrième saison aux côtés de Rapha, Powers a pris le temps de nous expliquer à quoi ressemblent les mois d’entraînement d’un expert du cyclo-cross américain, qui a abandonné tous ses repères habituels pour affronter la boue et les obstacles des courses de cross belges.
En marge de votre carrière de coureur professionnel, vous avez créé votre propre équipe de développement, le « J.A.M Fund ». Comment a germé cette idée ?
« J.A.M » est un acronyme conçu autour de mon nom (Jeremy) et celui de mes partenaires sur ce projet, qui sont aussi mes deux meilleurs amis : Alec [Donahue] et Mukunda [Feldman]. Lorsque j’ai déménagé à Northampton pour la première fois, ce sont eux qui m’ont appris à devenir autonome et enseigné quelques notions de cuisine… Avec l’âge, la vie nous obligeant à devenir plus sérieux, nous avons cherché comment continuer à accomplir de belles choses ensemble. Alors nous avons mis sur pied une équipe de développement.
La communauté du cyclo-cross m’avait beaucoup apporté, et je lui devais énormément. Lorsque vous essayez d’arriver à quelque chose dans le milieu du cyclo-cross, certains obstacles apparemment insignifiants peuvent rapidement entraver vos ambitions. Par exemple, si personne ne met à votre disposition des jambières, des cuissards, ou même un cadre de vélo. Alors nous avons essayé de travailler sur cet aspect pour aider quelques coureurs régionaux. On a appelé ce projet le « Fund » parce qu’on était complètement fauchés ; on ne pouvait même pas prétendre créer une fondation. Impossible de faire reconnaître notre projet en tant qu’organisation à but non-lucratif, un statut que nous avons heureusement obtenu depuis.
Nous ne sommes pas sponsorisés par des entreprises, mais nous avons des partenariats avec certaines marques de l’industrie, et le Club de cyclisme de Northampton. Nous aidons financièrement quelques coureurs qui vivent à une ou deux heures de route. Certains d’entre eux sont entre-temps devenus des coureurs pros. On ne peut pas tout révolutionner, alors on fait ce que l’on peut avec nos petits moyens.
En Angleterre, il arrive souvent que de jeunes coureurs de cyclo-cross fassent deux superbes saisons , puis abandonnent subitement. Sans doute parce que la discipline n’a pas encore obtenu le soutien et la reconnaissance publique dont bénéficie le cyclisme sur route ?
C’est un phénomène assez courant aux États-Unis aussi, beaucoup d’athlètes ont des carrières fulgurantes, qui s’arrêtent aussi brutalement qu’elles ont commencé. Aucune raison de poursuivre une carrière si vous ne prenez aucun plaisir à ce que vous faites. Si ces coureurs épuisent aussi vite leur potentiel, c’est que la dimension du plaisir s’est éteinte beaucoup trop tôt. Comment convaincre de jeunes coureurs de passer pro ? Même si j’enseignais tout ce que je sais aux coureurs du J.A.M, j’ai la certitude qu’ils n’embrasseraient pas pour autant cette carrière. Même si je leur montrais les endroits où je m’entraîne, les trucs et astuces d’un bon régime alimentaire, ou leur présentait le coach qui me suit, ça ne suffirait pas. Il faut des années pour développer les principes d’une carrière pro. Alors nous, on essaie de créer un environnement propice à leur avènement.
Vous avez remporté l’année dernière votre premier championnat national, qui a été un vrai tournant dans votre carrière. Quel regard portez-vous sur la saison passée ?
J’ai réalisé de belles performances, mais j’aurais aimé en faire davantage en milieu de saison. J’ai réussi à retrouver la forme sur le tard, au moment des championnats nationaux. Quand je dis qu’en milieu de saison, je n’étais pas au top, c’est pour souligner l’importance de deux weekends fatidiques, durant lesquels plusieurs courses que j’aurais vraiment aimé gagner se déroulaient, et où je n’ai pas obtenu les résultats que j’espérais, même s’ils n’étaient pas foncièrement mauvais.
Quand vous êtes au top de votre forme, très peu de coureurs peuvent vous battre. Vivez-vous les choses différemment lors de vos courses européennes ?
Complètement. Avec mes compagnons de route américains, on est sur la même longueur d’ondes. On parcourt les mêmes distances, sur des terrains qui se ressemblent, etc. L’Europe est un continent qui me reste étranger, alors que c’est un territoire familier pour la grande majorité de mes concurrents. Les coureurs belges n’habitent qu’à quelques kilomètres de leurs lieux d’entraînement, et disposent de toutes les infrastructures nécessaires pour améliorer leur pratique. Les courses de cyclo-cross ont leur rubrique dans les journaux.Tous les jours. Je ne fais pas partie de ce groupe ; je ne participe pas au gala de fin d’année retransmis en direct à la télévision.
C’est quoi, ce gala ?
C’est un événement qui réunit tous les coureurs. Ensemble, ils réalisent des vidéos amusantes et se voient décerner des prix qui récompensent leurs performances de la saison – c’est comme une version spécial cyclo-cross de la cérémonie des Oscars, en un peu moins sérieux. Pour moi, participer à des courses en Europe, c’est un peu comme si j’avais le privilège de jouer en Ligue 1. On m’autorise à faire quelques matchs avec les plus grands, mais ensuite, je dois redescendre en Ligue 2. Je n’appartiens pas encore au club très fermé de cette compétition, mais j’espère que mes efforts me permettront un jour d’y entrer. Aux États-Unis, j’ai pratiquement tout vu et tout fait. Mes ambitions personnelles me poussent à participer aux Coupes du Monde, voir si je peux faire quelque chose.
Alors, quelles modifications avez-vous apporté à vos habitudes cette année ?
J’ai tout changé. Je ne fais plus de courses sur route, et j’avais l’habitude de voyager pour ces compétitions entre 50 à 60 jours par an, un sacrifice plutôt pesant. Maintenant, j’ai le temps de me concentrer sur mes joggings, ma condition physique et le foncier, j’ai le temps d’être beaucoup plus précis dans ma façon de m’entraîner. Tout ce temps supplémentaire a vraiment été bénéfique. Quand je me lève, je me sens plein d’énergie. J’avais l’habitude de rentrer chez moi après des courses qui me prenaient 10, 12 voire 20 jours en déplacement, et je me réveillais en réalisant à quel point ce rythme était brutal pour mon corps. Les courses sur route ne vous laissent pas le temps de récupérer, vous entrez dans une spirale et il devient vite impossible d’en sortir. Malgré ces efforts intensifs, je n’obtenais rien de plus en termes de forme physique. Tout est différent aujourd’hui, j’ai la chance de pouvoir enfourcher des VTT en compétition et de rouler avec mon vélo de cross tous les jours.
Quelle différence y a-t-il entre le Jeremy Powers de l’année dernière et le JPow d’aujourd’hui ?
Difficile à dire. Mais je me suis marié l’an passé, et notre chaîne de télévision en ligne, Behind the Barriers, commençait à peine à diffuser nos programmes. Aujourd’hui, mon parcours semble plus solide, plus sérieux, je me sens prêt à affronter comme il se doit l’année à venir. Je l’aborde sous une perspective différente.
Pour espérer faire des résultats corrects en Europe, il faut vraiment être prêt à faire des sacrifices encore plus importants. J’avais pris l’habitude de boire un verre avec mes amis le mercredi soir, mais c’est un plaisir que j’ai sacrifié cette année, afin de récupérer ce pourcentage infime qui peut faire toute la différence lors d’une Coupe du Monde. L’un de mes grands problèmes, c’est d’arriver à me reposer, à récupérer. Si je n’ai rien à faire, il m’est extrêmement difficile de me reposer. Rester allongé toute la journée, c’est bon pour un coureur cycliste, mais ça ne me vient pas naturellement. Afin de mieux gérer la compétition, j’ai arrêté de courir dans tous les sens comme un personnage de dessin animé.
Ce pourcentage infime, c’est celui qui vous sépare du niveau des meilleurs spécialistes de la discipline en Europe ?
Cette différence tient à beaucoup de choses. D’abord, il y a la question de la technique. J’ai beaucoup de progrès à faire dans ce domaine. Il ne s’agit pas d’améliorer ma puissance lors des ascensions, mais plutôt de revoir mon coup de pédale, ou la façon dont je prends un virage, et le choix de mes trajectoires, parce que les courses se déroulent de manière bien différente en Europe.
Ce doit être un sentiment étrange : vous êtes champion national, et néanmoins, vous êtes convaincu de la nécessité absolue d’améliorer vos techniques. Comment comptez-vous procéder ?
Aux États-Unis, les pistes offrent la possibilité de rouler rapidement, en serrant tous les virages à la perfection. J’étais plutôt doué à ce petit jeu. Mais en Europe, impossible d’utiliser cette technique. Les couloirs sont semés d’obstacles et il vous faut d’abord les franchir. L’autre difficulté, c’est le travail de vitesse. J’avais l’habitude de m’entraîner derrière une moto, de bosser l’accélération, deux techniques qui m’aident beaucoup sur les courses américaines. En Europe, le fonctionnement ressemble plus à celui d’un moteur « diesel » : les intervalles d’efforts intensifs durent 10 à 15 minutes, il faut donner tout ce que vous avez en respectant une cadence plutôt lente. Beaucoup de courses imposent des cadences peu soutenues, mais j’obtiens les meilleurs résultats dans une fourchette de 90 à 110 tours par minute. Dans les courses européennes, il y a souvent beaucoup de boue, ce qui ralentit nécessairement la vitesse des cyclistes, condamnés à rouler à une cadence de 60 à 65 tours par minute. Ce rythme ne me convient pas, mais je m’adapterai, je changerai mes habitudes.
Et puis, il y a la nature ultra-technique des pistes de cross européennes. L’année dernière, à la même époque, je ne m’étais entraîné que trois jours sur mon VTT. Cette année, à la même période, j’ai déjà quarante jours de préparation dans les jambes ! Cet entraînement m’aide à surmonter ces moments difficiles qui, lors d’une course, vous font douter de votre capacité à sauter l’obstacle, négocier un virage, ou vous font croire que le crash est inévitable. Ces obstacles sont inhérents à la discipline du cyclo-cross européen. Il me fallait revenir au bon vieux VTT pour renouer avec ces techniques qui récompensent la prise de risque. Si, à Namur, vous descendez une pente abrupte recouverte de boue à plus de 40 km/h, et que vous le faites proprement, le risque pris en vaut largement la chandelle. Mais si vous freinez, vous vous retrouvez immédiatement à la traîne.
Lors des grandes courses européennes, les meilleurs coureurs disposent de caravanes sponsorisées à leur nom, et d’un personnel abondant pour subvenir à leurs besoins. De quel soutien logistique et humain pensez-vous disposer cette année ?
La fédération américaine de cyclisme nous aidera à régler la question de l’hébergement. Elle enverra également sur place une équipe de coureurs, et nous partagerons les logements à disposition. Sinon, je pense faire un séjour dans la province de Flandre-Occidentale avec des personnes que je connais, et partir ensuite m’entraîner à Gérone, en Espagne.
Est-il difficile d’avoir à s’occuper de ce genre de détails ?
Oui, c’est à en devenir fou parfois. Mais ce type de « leçon de vie » ne m’apporte plus rien désormais ; je suis pro et c’est devenu un travail à part entière. J’irai faire ce que je dois faire, en essayant d’obtenir les résultats escomptés. On donnera tout ce qu’on a pour bien se classer, en espérant que nos efforts portent leurs fruits. Ni ma femme, ni mon chien, ni mes amis ne seront à mes côtés pour me soutenir à chaque instant, mais je pense que tout se déroulera à peu près normalement.
Quelles sont vos courses européennes préférées ?
La course de Diegem. Elle a lieu la nuit, pendant la période de Noël, et je me suis bien débrouillé quand je l’ai courue la dernière fois. J’aime bien Roubaix, aussi. Je me suis bien classé il y a deux ans. L’épreuve de Tábor est passionnante quand les pistes sont sèches. J’aime négocier les virages qui exigent un peu de punch de la part du coureur. Namur est à l’opposé de ce que je viens d’énoncer : la pente est très raide, ce qui ne joue pas en ma faveur. Je ne suis pas particulièrement mince, ni léger, et j’ai du mal à tenir mon rang lors de telles ascensions. Ensuite, il faut passer la descente en dévers ultra-technique, puis endurer une course à pied de deux minutes. Cette piste est un vrai défi pour moi, mais c’est exactement le genre d’épreuve qui m’aidera à vérifier la qualité des efforts fournis cette année. Je n’ai pas encore participé à la course de Rome, mais les gens me disent que je pourrais très bien m’y débrouiller. C’est une épreuve rapide, moins technique, avec des virages plus ouverts.
Vous semblez vivre une vie très agréable, ici, dans le Massachusetts. Est-ce qu’il vous sera difficile de quitter la région ?
Il y a un prix à payer pour tous ces déplacements loin de chez moi. J’ai compris une chose : partir ne me pose pas de problème tant que ma femme, Emily, est avec moi. Cette année, on s’est organisés pour qu’elle puisse me rejoindre le plus souvent possible. Il m’est toujours difficile de quitter mes amis, mes routes d’entraînement préférées, et mon chien – tous les repères sur lesquels repose ma vie quotidienne. J’ai toujours été nomade, c’est le style de vie typique d’un coureur pro, particulièrement sur un territoire aussi étendu que celui des États-Unis. Pourtant, si participer à l’étape d’une course en Californie me semble tout à fait naturel, aller en Europe n’a rien d’évident. C’est vraiment loin, et je ressens cette distance aussi bien physiquement que moralement.