Mike Kluge’s company, Focus Bikes, is our title partner this year with the Rapha-Focus Cyclocross Team comprised of Christopher Jones and Zach McDonald. Both have only been racing Cyclocross for four years and both expect to be atop the sport this season and for many to come.
Chris is 31, Zach is 19. Chris is a professional engineer, Zach is a freshman at the University of Washington who is studying to be an aeronautical engineer. Chris is a surfer turned roadie that has quickly moved up the road ranks within U.S. racing to become a leader on Team Type 1. Zach is a downhill mountain biker who boasts a US Junior National Championship to his palmares. In 2009 Chris with the fifth ranked American overall and was second at CrossVegas.
In 2009 Zach won the Division-1 Collegiate National Champ and completed his fourth European campaign at the US cyclocross house in Belgium.
The two riders met on August 23rd for the first time where they got a look at their new Focus Mares and started to get feel for one another during a morning workout captured by friend and photographer, Dan Sharp. After plates of tacos from PorQueNo? we sat down on office rooftop to figure out how they got here and where they’re going:
Who are you and how did you get into cycling?
Chris Jones, now living in Auburn, California.
Self-proclaimed ‘surf-bum’ who was talked into cycling in 2003 by my uncle who was getting into triathlon. Started commuting a bit, then became a pro. In 2007 I was talked into racing cross by northeast presence and Cycle-Smart founder, Adam Myerson. Liked it. Continued. Became the 5th best US pro in 2009.
Zach McDonald of Bainbridge Island, Washington (near Seattle).
As the name would lead you to believe, Bainbridge Island is an island, and not a ton of things to do. Quiet, beautiful road led to road riding as a junior. I was looking for something to do in the winter and couldn’t find any downhill races anywhere nearby. Mountain biking lead to road racing which led me to cyclocross. Junior National Champion in my second year racing. Was 3rd at Roubaix World Cup as a Junior that same season.
Where does your heart lie in racing?
I always say I am a pro roadie with a cyclocross habit. Comes down to that you can’t make the money in cross, if you could I would probably do that because it’s where I have the most fun. I have fresh legs really because this is only my fourth season as any kind of professional. I raced amateur for three years before turning pro, but I’m still pretty fresh into it compared to most guys who come up as juniors.
How soon did you realize you were better than good?
Never thought of myself as anything special or ‘good’. I started racing at 13 on the road, with a bit of success but mostly I was just having fun and riding my bike 3-4 days a week. I was playing tennis mostly and staying in overall shape that way but then my coach made me Then I won Nats the next year. Geoff Proctor got me over to the US Cross House in Europe and started to give me focus.
Do you, did you have any cycling heroes?
I don’t have any real heroes, but I look up to guys who can really handle a bike. It’s a style thing. There isn’t anyone in particular, but I’m impressed by downhillers who are so smooth and effortless. I don’t expect it, but when I find a roadie who can actually handle their bike. I don’t really want to be like anybody, I want to find my own way.
When I was first getting into cycling I really liked Chechu Rubiera. He was also a civil engineer and I was pretty excited to see someone I could really relate to as far as education. I’ve raced against him few times the past couple of years and have had fun talking with him. When I was still an amateur in San Diego there was this guy named Ben Brooks who was a local pro, total badass that I’d look to. We became teammates later on.
You have to look to the Europeans, right? Who do you like?
Stybar and Sven Nys. I just like the way they ride. They race straight up and are just the strongest, smartest, and most complete. Those guys go full-gas all the time.
Why is racing cyclocross so fun?
It’s such a short race and is super intense. There is no opportunity for any mistakes. You make just one and it can cost you the race. The crowds really make it fun. They’re right in your face. Compared to the road where you might not see anyone until the finishing circuit, cross is so much more intense and exciting. There’s such a community there and so much more of a connection that it’s better for racers and for fans.
It’s the atmosphere. There are actually fans there watching and cheering, not at all boring like road racing. For me, it’s a perfect blend of off-road and road, the more technical, the more corners the better.
Do you do any specific ‘cross workouts?
I do about 10-12 hours of training each week, compared to 25-35 hours during road season. Motor-pacing is key because you’re forced to do so much of a higher intensity and do a shorter workouts. I practice starts, mostly for the clipping in part of the start so I don’t lose ten spots because I can’t get my cleat into the pedal. As a ‘roadie’ I’m always looking at improving my technical and handling skills and I just work on that at the park near my house.
I can beat anyone in the first ten feet, but have a record of dying after that first corner. I can’t tap into so I end up dropping back and have to diesel my was back up. I need to keep working on giving up so much ground. Aside from that I help coach our local Wednesday night cross clinic and that’s about all the dirt I see until race day.
Do you have any mantras or sayings?
“When it doubt air it out”. It started out as more of a joke, but actually holds truth. The other is “have fun on your bike”. I catch shit sometimes because I like to talk throughout a race and am usually cracking jokes just before the start, but for me this has to keep it fun or would hang it up. Some people take it way too seriously. It’s bike racing. We are getting paid to be outside to ride bikes on glorified circle, so it can only be taken so seriously. This is our job and it’s awesome.
“Seize the day”. Probably came from already having the experience of working in a cubicle side so to be racing bikes professionally is incredible. I am racing as much as I can because I love it and because I know it’s not forever so I want to make the most of it all.
Some people are very ‘dedicated’ to routine or superstition on race day, how do you approach it?
Not too picky really. I’m not on any hard time schedule that I have to worry about. I like to eat oatmeal in the morning. Oatmeal is great because you can take it with you anywhere when you’re traveling. I do have a bit of a routine about packing since I travel so much, so it provides peace of mind to have a system that I follow.
I like to not have a set plan so if something goes wrong it doesn’t matter. I will usually eat some muffins, or oatmeal on raceway, but I’m not dependent on anything, because once you depend on something it can play with your head if you don’t have it.
Favorite place riding/racing has taken you?
I have been home for only five days in the past six weeks, so for me home is the best place in the world to ride. Being home is nice. I live in an area of with beautiful roads surrounded by mountains and lakes.
I’ll tell you my least favorite place ever to ride- Cozumel Mexico. We raced the Vuelta de Mexico this year, worst roads, most amount of dogs. Just terrible.
Coolest place I’ve ridden was Mallorca when I went earlier this year with Troy Wells. I’m definitely going back. I also always wanted to got to Australia and was pretty happy to get to see Sydney when I was there for Mountain Bike Worlds.
What is your ideal podiums at Nationals this December?
Can Zach race Elites? If so, he’d be on there. (note: Zach can, but would have to race twice that day, so will likely race U23). I’d like to see Ryan Trebon and Tim Johnson, or Trebon and Todd Wells. Really I want to beat the best guys on their best day and know that I was just better.
I like racing with Danny Summerhill, so he’d be on there. Chance Noble is someone else I’d like to see there. Not sure what he’s doing with ‘cross this year but he’s such a strong kid and I was stoked by his second place at Nats last year.
I don’t really have one but seems like most race organizers play ‘Eye of Tiger’ before every race. I hate that song. Please don’t play that. Anything else but that.
I can’t do this. My music changes daily. If you make me chose today it’d be Beta-trax out of LA. He’d probably have some sweet electronic remix of some top-40 song that’d be cool.