A pro since 2002, and a familiar figure in the US racing scene, BMC’s Jackson Stewart has been having a good start to the year, winning a stage at Redlands and helping his teammate Jeff Louder win the overall and then going over to Europe to race the Queen, Paris-Roubaix.
I caught up with the 28-year old after his win in his hometown, the SugarCRM Cat’s Hill Classic after he had to leave the Tour of the Gila due to a UCI-rule rarely enforced. Next race is the Tour of Picardie in France, starting tomorrow.
Tell me about the experience of racing at Paris-Roubaix.
It was phenomenal. I was told by the team that I was a reserve for Roubaix and it’s been a dream to do that race ever since I was a junior so I wanted to do it and they kind of told me if you ride well, we’ll see what happens. And I went into Redlands and I got that stage which obviously really helped me out and it turned out that they worked it out – I don’t know if other guys were sick or what not or if it was just my Redlands result – but they said ‘you’re going’. It was phenomenal having them call you and tell you that, a dream come true. And then we went, you know this team does everything perfectly, it makes you grateful to work for them because they really work hard for you. [We] get over there, we were there early, everything was working and the legs were feeling good, we got to do recon on it and I’d just started to come down with something the night before and it was just of those things where I was just getting sick on the day off, so I raced through it pretty hard but mecanicals are what pretty much what slammed us. I had to give my bike to Tony, Tony was our go to guy, he’d done it five times and now six, we really thought he was going to do well and he just had too many problems and ended up not doing well and I had to give up my bike and Louder has to give up his bike, another guy had a double flat at the same time.
The mechanicals happened all in the same sector right?
All in the same sector, basically the four of us were out, well Tony was out later, it was a big disaster. But it was a dream come true, I did half of it and got to go watch the rest of it. It was sector 20.
So was is what you expected?
For me, I’d watched it and watched it, and I used to do cyclocross and I always dreamt of that race, I always thought that that was my strength and going there I realized that I got to get a lot stronger (laughs) but then going there and re-coning it, it was ‘man these are much harder that they look on tv’, the cobbles are serious cobbles, we trained on them pretty hard but then in the race, they’re actually better than I thought because we trained for them so hard and the race, we would race for the cobbles in the race and then hold your speed, especially early on so they weren’t that bad, I was able to move up, I liked them, I liked that race, it was good.
I know that [teammate] Brent [Bookwalter] talked about really feeling the race in his hands.
Just training it a couple of days before, you could just feel it in your hands, in your wrists, we had the forks and other stuff on there but we hadn’t our bars all set up and man you could really feel it but by race day everything has healed up. Brent was an animal, he went the whole six and a half hours and finished it. Him and Moos were hurting the next couple of days but it’s worth it, those guys finished the first Roubaix so that’s great.
Good start of the year for you.
The good thing about this year is that the team is so much stronger that, it’s just a different group of guys, everyone is on the same page, everyone is dedicated and you share the workload, your workload is distributed so much more equally than I’ve ever seen on any team that I’ve been on and it’s really cool to see that. We have a lot of guys and we have a lot of really strong guys. At Redlands we showed that, at Gila, everywhere the guys are really performing. Today in Romandie, Mattias was eighth which is phenomenal so it raises the bar for me but then also the workload enables everyone to do better, it’s good.
Okay let’s talk about Gila and the enforcement of the UCI rule (that forced 5 BMC riders including Stewart to leave the race).
For me, it wasn’t that big of a deal. When they called up into that meeting which was the day before, I was like ‘this isn’t right, this is before we’ve even gone riding and they’re calling us into a meeting’ and he starts it off with we’ve just gotten off the phone with the bosses and I’m thinking ‘oh oh I’m just thinking recession time’, I’m thinking the worst, I’m thinking big time, big problems and then they told us that and they told us who they’d pick and for that race. Garcia was going really well and he wanted … for me, I was there to work for the guys and it wasn’t a personal goal of mine, it was just to be there for the team, it was a disappointment and I hope they get all that situated. They have to, if they aren’t, they’re going to lose us, I don’t know what we’re going to do… we’d have to adjust, I think it’s going to be figured out.
After Roubaix, you went and raced at Battenkill.
I wanted to do Battenkill, it’s supposed to be this great Roubaix style race which it was but there were no cobbles. It’s a great race, it’s just I think they have to get some rocks and put them in the dirt roads and make them cobbles (laughs). Anyways that whole trip was going to be awesome, I was going to do Roubaix and then GP Escault and come back to Battenkill all in two weeks, you’re not in Europe too long, everything was great and I got this bug in Europe so for Escault I was sick and I was out, I dropped out. But the time I got to Battenkill, I was just getting over it, I still had all that stuff in my head, oh it was disgusting but the guys were riding great and I was still able to ride just not on the top of my form, it’s awesome. And we’re winning a lot of races, guys like Nydam, it’s nice to see guys that you’ve worked with before in hard times, enjoying the good times. (Note that our conversation happened the day prior to Nydam’s crash at Gila).
The season started off a bit slow for the team but then the guys ramped it up.
We had the bad crash in California and I think early in Europe we weren’t getting on our feet but by Redlands, before Redlands, I think Merco went alright, it was going good, we were on our feet. Murietta was good, San Dimas was okay, Redlands was great and then from Redlands, they went over there, and they kind of had the good luck mojo and they went good at Le Sarthe, GP Escault and they’ve been going good ever since. We kind of had a bad start but I think it was just, I don’t know what it was just luck I guess, the guys were always going good. And now, we have that winning momentum, morale kind of thing, we’ve just got really good guys, it’s a great team.
Was that your first time racing in Europe?
I went a little bit last year, it was my first time on the road. I’d done some cross and I spent an amateur season in Italy for the whole year but Belgium is totally different. It was good. Last year was my start and I learned a lot, got basically pummeled every race, I think by the end of the year, I didn’t get a good result but I had a good ride, I was in the break all day at GP Flandrian and things were going good. By the end of the year I was picking up on it. This year, we had a bigger US schedule and we have more Europeans so my schedule turned to be more here which is great because getting smashed every week, it’s just different, I’m sure I could adapt if I was over there full time, it’s definitely a shock. So for the rest of the year, I have Philly, thankfully, and I think Beauce, actually I’m not one hundred percent on either of those, but tentatively that’s what I have and we just got into Dauphiné which is phenomenal especially given what’s going on with the Tour de Suisse, that’s a mess.
So this is your third year with the team, what’s your role on the team?
I got onto the team as kind of the go to guy, they expected a lot out of me. 2007 was horrible for me, I just couldn’t perform and so I changed to worker, that’s what I could do to help the team and then last year, we got better so I had to work. This year we’re better so I have to work.
But you pulled it out at Redlands.
Yeah which was a lot of luck but also a great team that pulled me around all day. Maybe they’ll give me another shot but if I mess it up one more time, they probably won’t. It’s been good.
So what did you do differently for this year then?
I did a lot of stuff in the off season, a lot of PT work. I was having a lot of issues the last couple of season, I’ve been working with Endurance Performance Training Center with Charlie Livermore and he just started working with me last year and so last year we learned a lot and this year, coaching is spot on so between those two things, it’s enabled me to go a little better.
Lets say you’re in October, what needs to happen this year for you to say it was a good year?
It’s phenomenal already, just doing Roubaix was huge for me and that was a career objective and now I want to go back and finish it and do better. That was great so my year is already great and we’re getting into the Dauphiné and these great races. I think for me I’d like to well, the races for me like Philly, just to be part of the team and win the races as a team is great for me, those are my goals just to keep struggling away, I don’t have any huge personal ambitions at the moment. I guess my huge ambition was Roubaix earlier in the year, I now have to re-focus on the best.
After you won the Redlands crit, Jeff Louder said something like ‘I knew he had it in him and I think he can do more’.
(Complete quote: “I’m really happy for him, I knew that he had it in it, I’m just glad to see him do it, because I know he can do it and he did it, it’s kind of the comeback of Jackson Stewart, he’s won some big races and I think he can do more. “)
Jeff really sparked… he was riding great which sparked it but he has a unique way of antagonizing you into performance, he had this little way of comments that twist into you, he’s not being mean, he’s just sticking you like ‘how are you feeling today?’, ‘I’m not, I don’t know’, and he’s like ‘what do you mean you don’t know, you’re good’. He doesn’t want to hear anything else, he puts the needed pressure on guys, he’s a good guy and I think he really fired it up and got the guys going.
Well you did it.
I’ll keep on trying.