After racing eleven years on the road, current US National Road Champion Meredith Miller is on her second year of racing cyclocross and she’s loving it.
“With cross, it’s different skills, new races, new faces, a different scene. I was just loving it, really it’s just having a new challenge after racing on the road for such a long time, it’s just been so fun, and the crowds too.”
And you can tell that she’s loving it. She was loudly cheering on her teammates during the USGP Derby City Cup races in Louisville KY, moving from spot to spot along with her mother.
“My mom is here watching cross for the first time, watching the men’s finish, running back and forth to see different part of the course and yelling for them. It’s a nail biter watching the finish, it’s so fun. She likes it better than crits because it’s not as dangerous, and you can walk around and see different part of the course.”
Last year, Miller had planned to do local cross races in Colorado where she resides but it all changed in September 2009, while she was attending Interbike.
“I went to CrossVegas, I was just over the moon, I was like ‘oh my gosh this is the coolest thing on earth, why didn’t I start this years ago?’ She quickly joined the California Giant Strawberry/Specialized team to take on cross.
So what took her so long? “Honestly what kept from doing cross for so many years was the dismounting that scared the heck out of me.”
To learn new skills, she did four weeks of practice races at the New Belgium Brewery in Fort Collins and asked questions.
“The great thing about cross is that everybody is so helpful, willing to give you the time of day to tell you how you should do things and what equipment you should use, I just had a lot of people helping me out and being in Colorado I’ve been able to mountain bike a lot.”
This year, she started off her cross season later because for the first time in her road career she represented the United States at the World Championships which she called “a great experience”. Then, after less than one week at home, she turned around and raced cross in Providence.
“Honestly, I wasn’t quite sure how I was going to be for cross because I wasn’t sure if I was going to be tired or coming off long road races, that’s not necessarily the best training for cross. I’ve got the endurance but obviously we don’t have a ton of endurance out here, it’s all the high intensity anaerobic stuff, it’s going okay and I’m slowly building up my power.”
So much to learn. “Everything, everything can improve. The dismounts I’m getting more comfortable with but it’s still a matter of getting higher speeds, being able to get off closer to the barriers instead of taking too many steps before and between and remounting faster and sand. Sand is kicking my butt, I get swallowed up in the sand. I’m learning how to let the weight off my front wheel and glide through the sand and the mud instead of actually trying to steer through it.”
Prior to our chat, Miller was discussing the course with her teammate Cody Kaiser, who had just won the USGP Elite Jr 17-18 race. They were talking lines for the mud, the sand and equipment choices.
“I’m lucky that I have a lot of teammates that are really good at this and have been doing for years, they’re a really great resource. I don’t have Josie [Jacques-Maynes] or Rachel [Lloyd] around this year, I’m the only female, with Justin [Robinson], Cody, Chance [Noble], they are all so helpful giving me tips of different lines to take, different tire pressures, different equipment and all that kind of stuff. A lot of it is just riding the mountain bike too when I can.”
If new skills weren’t enough, there’s also tire pressure and tire choices to be taken into account.
“I’m still learning tire choice because I haven’t been doing it that long and I haven’t ridden that many different tires to really know what the difference would be. And even though you have the right tires, it’s still a matter of tire pressure. There’s a lot to think about when you’re out pre-riding the course, you come back, fiddle with this, fiddle with that to make sure it’s set for the course conditions.”
What about Cross Worlds? “I would like to. Before I went over for Worlds, before I knew that my road season was going to be that long, my goal was to do some racing in Europe for cross, now I just have to play by ear, to see how I’m feeling, make sure I don’t get burned out. I had set that goal and I still want to go after it, we need some planning.”
Before the Cross World Championships, Miller is racing in the US including the National Championships in Bend. After a slew of fourth place finishes in UCI races, she wants to step on the podium and really she does need a podium finish to get to Worlds.
As for Nationals, “I like Bend” laughed Miller who won the road title in Bend, Oregon last year.
Miller will continue to race on the road with Team TIBCO next season and she thinks that her racing cross will improve her road racing.
“Of course, it’s going to improve my bike handling skills when it comes to crit, especially rainy crits or rainy races, hopefully I’ll have a bit more confidence when it comes to that kind of stuff, and then for me, it’s nice. I’ve been racing for so long, for me what gets tiring is the training in the winter, so this is training but I don’t really think of it that way.” laughed Miller. “It’s a good carry over as long as I balance it and don’t do too much.”