After a tough start to the season, Brad Huff of the Jelly Belly Team seems to be back on track, racking up wins at the Superweek crit in Racine and the Chicago Criterium last Sunday. Just in time for crit season as the 30-year old ramps up for Downer’s Grove in two weekends where he hopes to win, once again, the USA Pro Crit title. And finish up the North American season in September with the Tour of Missouri, a very important race for the Missouri-native Huff.
But before that, he’s going to compete with his team in the big money Alexian Brothers Tour of Elk Grove this weekend.
I caught up with Brad just as he was landing in Chicago on Thursday morning.
You’ve had some good weeks lately.
Huff: I had knock’em, sock’em great couple of weeks in a row.
You’ve seemed to have up and downs this past year.
Huff: Yes. Long story short, I pretty much overtrained myself this spring, right after Tour of California or leading into Tour of California and I also had a gut issue, a GI-tract issue, that really slowed me down also. I had to get some tests done to get that figured out. Now I think I’m on top of it, I’ve been training well and really paying attention to my recovery, try to not to overdue it. I think that the proof has been showing that I’m trying to come out of my hole since mid-may on.
You’re no spring chicken, well not that you’re old but you’ve been doing this a while, what brought on the overtraining?
Huff: Just I was really healthy, for one of first times, just injury-wise and health-wise and I just really attempted to maximize that, to gain the biggest stimulus that I could and I guess I kept going a little bit too much. I was very eager. The end of the season last year went really well for me, it finished really well and I had high aspirations for this year so I just really put my head down and trained super hard, I did well and then a little too well, I over-cooked it.
How hard is it mentally, the over-cooking?
Huff: It was a big struggle because I didn’t realize, I was like ‘geez what am I doing? What am I doing wrong? I’m training great, I’m racing horrible’ and then just everything fell out. Luckily I have great friends and Team Jelly Belly is super supportive of me and they are really understanding, it just helped me climb back out of the hole, hopefully it continues. I talked to a couple of other pretty high-level pros in the ranks, talking about my situation and they said how they’ve done something similar in the past, how you really have to be careful once you go into that, into the overtraining in the early part of the season, you have to be careful for the rest of the year so that’s my plan. It’s doing okay, I won’t complain, I’ve done some great races, been with some great friends, it’s definitely helped.
When did it start to turnaround this year?
Huff: I started to feel that it was turning around in May, like it was coming back. Now every week is built upon each of them and doing the right races and the right stimulus so I think it’s all coming back.
How much of a confidence boost was the big prime win on Saturday and the win on Sunday?
Huff: It didn’t really help me build my confidence. I won on Thursday night in Racine, and then just the way I was able to ride and having my great friend [Garmin-Slipstream’s Mike] Friedman there, just made it all work out really well. So it’s not so much that winning that prime on Saturday helped boost my confidence, it just helped show me that I’m staying on track.
The race on Sunday [Chicago Crit] was perfect timing on your attack.
Huff: I had to be really patient because I was pretty tired from the whole week of racing and training in Milwaukee so I definitely had to back it down and pretty much just sit in and try to hold on to the group. It was a fast paced race, it was like a field sprint every lap so you really had to hold your position and pay attention to others all around you. People being aggressive when they shouldn’t be aggressive, fighting for positions that were not even there so you just have to ride really smart to make it to the finish and have enough punch in the end.
Where would you put yourself form-wise?
Huff: I’m really hoping that these next two weekends or three weekends, that I gain some more leading into Downers and that also coming at full gas by Tour of Missouri. But I’m definitely riding well which was just shown by the way I’ve been riding. You know, it’s kind of crazy about this sport, your form can come and go, one weekend you’re fine, the next weekend, you’re slow again. I’m not trying to look too far ahead, I’m doing my best to race each weekend to my best.
Tell me about the Tour of Elk Grove. It’s going to be my first time.
Huff: It’s going to be an aggressive race because there’s a lot of money on the line, a lot of guys want to perform well. It’s an interesting race, the Elk Grove community really puts in on very well, they are very supportive of the riders. I don’t know what the format is for the road race this year, I don’t know if we’re going to do a lot of circuits … Last year, it was really interesting, we went over to another community and then came back over to Elk Grove, we’ll see what they do this year.
This year, it’s 10 laps all in Elk Grove. You’ve got a time-trial, a road race and a crit, is it typically the best time-trialist that wins?
Huff: Not really. Last year, David Veilleux won and Tom Zirbel rode the best time-trial. There are a lot of time bonus sprints at the finish so if you can maximize that you can definitely take the overall but you still have to ride a good time-trial to be in position. I think I would have been third overall last year but they time-gapped me on one of the field sprints so it bumped me out of the top three by the final day – which is kind of frustrating, but hey that’s bike racing.
Is Jelly Belly fielding a full team?
Huff: Yes we are. I don’t know how good, how strong we are going to be because half of our team just got back from Qinghai Lake, they’re not going to be as fresh as you would think, they’re still going be trying to get rid of China in their gut. Several of the guys got full on diarrhea, vomiting, one of the guys actually had to be taken to the hospital.
Yeah, I’ve been to China and I did pray to the porcelain God there.
Huff: You’re lucky you didn’t….
Yeah I was. Is Downers the biggest personal goal for you of the year?
Huff: Just about my biggest goal. I really ride well on that course and things usually come together real well for me so I’ll just ride it like I have every year, to win.
So how do you win that one though?
Huff: Ooof. That race is a crap shoot [more] than any race we do all year, and so you have to ride it smart and save your bullets. The final five laps are very fast and very aggressive and you just have to have enough reserves to be able to go with the move.
Who do you think is your biggest competition at Downers? I assume [defending champion Rock Racing’s Rahsaan] Bahati.
Huff: Yeah, for sure Rahsaan. He’s riding criteriums really well all year, then others…. I can’t specifically say one person. The American scene is so strong these days that every team is capable of fielding a winner, you have OUCH with John Murphy and Karl Menzies, Kelly with their full train with Veilleux and Candelario… yeah we’ll just see what happens.
You can keep up Brad Huff via his blog.