Interview: Jesse Anthony on the comeback trail

Posted on 03. Nov, 2009 by in interviews

After stellar seasons coming up through the ranks in the cross world, racking up 7 US National titles as a junior and U23, expectations were high for Jesse Anthony (Jamis Bikes) this season. Some might be disappointed in seeing the results so far but not so for the 24-year old from Beverly, Massachussetts.

2009 was a tough for the third year pro who was sick or sidelined with mononucleosis for most of his road season with Team Type 1, and then had to start is cross season much slower than usual. On a quest for that elusive perfect fitness, his own personal expectations had to be readjusted but he is still aiming high for this cross season.

A concentrated Anthony at the start of Day 2 of USGP Derby City Cup

A concentrated Anthony at the start of Day 2 of USGP Derby City Cup

I chatted with Anthony prior to the start of the Day 2 of the USGP Derby City Cup in Louisville. The day before had been a good day as he found himself in the lead group, fighting it out with Tim Johnson, Jamey Driscoll and eventual winner Ryan Trebon. Though he got dropped with one and half laps to go, Anthony was pleased with his fourth place finish.

What happened this year?
I had mono all summer, I got mono in March and I was road racing with Team Type 1 at the time. I didn’t know what I had, I was sick for awhile, March, April and part of May. I was racing and I was super sick, I couldn’t get out of my own way, trying to train and it wasn’t working out, I just wasn’t doing well in the races. Finally in May, I found out I had mono, and oh that explains everything. So I shut it down, took three months off and started training again in August and when I say training again, well it was like riding an hour a day. Taking two days on and one day off of one hour to one and a half of riding, it was super mellow riding. Finally, in mid-August I was able to do a little bit of work but it just took forever for my body to recover and for me to be able to handle any real training. The whole thing just took a lot out of my body, I was not doing anything all summer, but I was not resting, I mean I was resting but my body wasn’t fresh coming into the season. It’s a lot of work for your body to get over something like that, there were no antibiotics or anything like that.

Was it your first time having mono?
First time having mono, it was .. you know I got to think a lot (chuckles). If you look on the bright side, I got to spend a lot of time with my friends and family, stayed home and didn’t travel for awhile so that was nice for those things but of course, I would have loved to be racing but now I’m back at it. Ever since the cross season has started, there’s been a lot of progress and I’ve been able to work harder and harder and I’ve been trying my best all the time. It’s awesome to see progress and to have a race like I did yesterday. I didn’t win but for me that was an amazing…

I’ve seen the progress since a month ago.
Yeah exactly, and I’ve been getting consistently better which is really, really encouraging. Sometimes when you are coming back from an injury or a sickness like that, you get a little better, a little worse, a little better but I haven’t had too many days where I’ve really not felt good. So I can feel that my body is getting stronger and stronger the whole time, it’s nice to get that consistent upswing.

Anthony in the lead group on Day 1 of Derby City Cup

Anthony in the lead group on Day 1 of Derby City Cup

Do you feel you’re back at one hundred percent?
I wouldn’t say that I’m one hundred percent right now, the fitness is getting better. I showed yesterday some legs, getting up there in the race and mixing it up a little bit. It’s really awesome, these guys are all on top of their game and it’s really hard racing so you have to be one hundred percent and you have to be totally committed. If you’re on your best form and you have the best day, then you can win a race. I’m getting there, I think it will still be a few more weeks until I can say that I’m one hundred percent or close to that fitness-wise but I’m definitely a lot stronger. If I had to rate my level right now, I’d say it’s somewhere around ninety percent.

So at this point, it’s just a question of getting fitter, there’s no lingering sickness?
No, for a while I was kind of worried of doing too much and getting sick again. I do still have to be careful about how much I train, a few weeks ago after Gloucester I got super excited that I was getting better and ‘oh I have to train really hard’ and I did a big week and I just tanked after that. It’s a little bit of modulation, a little bit of keeping tabs on everything and really reading how I’m feeling and how my body is doing.

Has it changed the way you approach training then?
Yeah, this year has been less is more really. I’ve been working with Gord Fraser, he’s a Carmichael Training System Coach, a great guy, he’s been helping me a lot, dialing a lot of stuff, week by week, day by day. I’ve been telling how I feel, he’s been kind of changing things up a bit, it’s been a few days of really concentrated intervals and then just racing and recovering. There’s not a whole lot of training involved when we travel, like Tim Johnson was saying in an interview the other day, travel on Friday and Monday, race on Saturday and Sunday so it leaves you three days in the week to do something, and some are recovery days and some are training days.

That’s tough. How do you handle that not just physically but mentally, it’s a drain.
And that’s the thing, racing is ninety-five percent mental and five percent physical. I’m super motivated right now, I want to get out there, I want to race that way I know I can, I want to get back to the top. I’ve done it for long enough right now that I don’t have to think about a lot of those things too much, it’s just natural for me to work hard and put the stressful situations in the back of my head but it doesn’t mean it all comes easily. It’s still a lot of work and sometimes I do have hard days and it’s not all fun and games but I can’t complain about anything at all, I love doing it, I’ve been motivated this year and to see progress, it makes me even more motivated.

Anthony finished 13th at CrossVegas

Anthony finished 13th at CrossVegas

You had many successful years coming up. How tough was it that this year you just couldn’t start as strong? Did you have to take a step back… you did say that you did a lot of thinking.
Yes, I had to lower my expectations but keep my goals high and keep my motivation high. The first race of the year was StarCrossed and I finished seventh and I had a great race and then I was like ‘wow that was amazing’. For what I’d been doing – that was late September – and for the training I’d been doing up until then, I couldn’t believe that I finished that high up, that was awesome.

And so that was like ‘if I keep working hard like I have been this is what will come out of it’. To be able to see the ‘if you do this, you get that’ kind of return, that is really motivating. As biker racers, we’re in variable conditions, there’s a lot of different things that come into the sport, we have to keep our heads up about everything, a lot of different things. Sometimes, things happen to us, you go through things where you don’t really understand it and it’s something new, something you haven’t quite tackled before. I had a broken wrist last year at the beginning of season, I kind of know the comeback thing a little bit. A lot of it is alright,  I know what this is like, I know what I’m going through right now so I get to focus on other things. That’s part of what being an experienced racer is all about. Guys like Tim Johnson and Todd Wells, who are in their early thirties, they’ve been racing for a long time and they know a lot of this stuff and I think that’s why they can be a little more consistent. You’ll see a lot of the young guys like Jamey Driscoll, Jeremy Powers, myself, we’re great sometimes, sometimes we’re not, and how does this happen? Experience is a lot, I’ve gotten a lot of good experiences this year and it’s been a big learning year, that’s for sure.

You said keep expectations low but your goals high, so what are your goals?
My biggest goal this year is to finish every race that I start, and so far that’s been successful, even if it hasn’t been near the front, finishing is finishing and that’s my biggest goal for this year. My second biggest goal is to win Nationals, which people might say that’s big talk, whatever. I want to win the National Championships, that’s what I want to do. If it happens, that will be amazing, if not, I can still have a great race and I’ll be happy with however I do as long as I give one hundred percent. That’s what I’m most focused about but I think if I am on my best form and I have a great day and I do everything right, I don’t see why I shouldn’t be able to win, I’m going to try to win. Third, I really want to win either a US Gran Prix or an NACT race, yesterday I finished fourth, it’s a little bit closer. I think that by the end of the year, there’s no reason I shouldn’t be able to pull off a win at one of these races and I’d absolutely love that because I haven’t won a big race like this, that would be huge for me.

Anthony finished 4th at Day 1 of USGP Derby City Cup

Anthony finished 4th at Day 1 of USGP Derby City Cup

Any plans of going to Europe afterwards?
I’m definitely thinking about that. I would love to go to Worlds again, it depends on how things pan out for early spring next year and how I feel after this cross season. Like I said, I had the summer off of racing but it wasn’t a truly refreshing rest, my body was still under a lot of stress, and mentally its been really hard to work so hard in the last month or so and seeing so little returns. Now I’m seeing more return for my work, to be training as hard as I am and racing as hard as I can and get fourteenth in a race, it’s tough for me anyway. As far as Worlds goes, I would to go again if the opportunity comes up. Obviously if I win Nationals, if I have a strong end to the season, I will probably try to go but it reamins to be seen. I think there’s plenty of time and I’ll keep it in my sights for now.

Do you plan a full road season again?
Yeah I haven’t found a road team yet but I’m looking.

That must be tough given your year and being sick.
Exactly, I didn’t much to prove anything last year. Any opportunities I get would be by someone’s good graces and I just hope that there’s someone out there who’s willing to stay behind me and know that what I’ve done in the past, I can do again or even more and we’ll see how it goes.

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