During my quest to learn about cyclocross one name often popped up in conversations, a man that was and still is instrumental in building up the cross scene in the US, Adam Myerson.
“Adam Myerson was probably the first person that told me ‘hey man you have to start doing this in the winter and start training with it’.” said Jeremy Powers (Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com)
Former teammate Chris Jones (Champion Systems) also named Myerson as the person that got him into racing cross. “He talked me into it, he set everything up with bikes, the equipment and the team, I had no idea what I was doing, he took me around to show me the basics.”
I knew the 37-year old mostly from the NRC circuit, as a pro racer on the Mt Khakis team and a crit specialist. But Myerson wears so many other hats in addition to road racer: cross racer, president and head coach of Cycle-Smart and a race organizer. On its 19th edition this year, his Cycle-Smart International race is the oldest UCI cross race in North America. But that’s not all, he is on the management committee of the International Association of Cyclo-Cross Organizers (AIOC-Cross), the President of the New England Championship Cyclo-Cross Series, and until recently he was a member of the UCI Cyclo-Cross Commission.
Phew. Intimidating isn’t it? I’ll be honest and say that I was a bit, but that was before we started to talk. Last Friday, Myerson took time out of his busy schedule to answer my questions. Here is part one of our conversation where we learn about his background and how closely his journey was tied to the growth of cross.
How many years have you been racing? Is it 19 years?
No, no, 19 years that’s how long I’ve been putting my cyclocross race on, 23 years of racing. I started when I was sixteen, I got my USCF cycling license for my sixteenth birthday and I’m 37 right now.
Did you start on road or where you doing cross that early? When did you start doing cross?
I started on the road, this was the late 80s, like ’86 or ’87. I started on the road, completely oblivious to cyclocross even though I lived in the South Shore of Massachusetts which at that point was, if not the most popular place in the country for cross, one of the top two or three places. I lived just fifteen miles from Frank and Mark McCormack, Bill Sykes and the Mass Bay Road Club and the place where they were having Cyclocross Nationals, Plymouth High School. They were having Cyclocross Nationals there the first year that I raced and I had no idea that it existed, I didn’t go, I didn’t hear about it, I was such a newbie that I didn’t even know. The second year I raced is when I started racing cyclocross, it was because I had gotten involved in the Mass Bay Road Club which was again the same club as Mark and Frank McCormack, Tom Stevens. Basically all the Massachusetts, New England, East Coast cross culture originated in this cycling club that happened to be the club that I fell into.
Once you started, obviously you fell in love with it because you’ve been doing since then.
Totally. It was one of those things that even though as a junior I really loved to train, I loved to race bur it took me a little bit because I came from the punk skate boarding background that didn’t value competition very much. I didn’t care if I was any better than anybody else, that wasn’t a value that I had but I guess I pretty quickly learned to enjoy what I could get out of competition and pushing myself so I’d go to sleep on Sunday night and just couldn’t wait for next Saturday morning, I loved racing and I did all the training races that I could. So the idea of racing year round, like ‘why would I stop racing if there were races to do’.
And you’re still doing that.
Right, exactly, for better or for worse, I can’t stay away. Cyclocross was a way to continue to compete year round and it was so much fun. And it was also sort of positive peer pressure, everybody raced cross in the community that I was in and you were lame if you didn’t.
That was a long time ago. How much as the cross scene changed in the US since you started?
So dramatically. I struggle with this sometimes because people who come into the sport now through no fault of their own and I don’t blame these folks one bit; I view the sport through this twenty-five year old lens and things that are happening today and changes that we’re making today, I still view them through the lens of the experience of having been there when there were only thirty of us showing up for the races and we all raced in the same category. There was one race and it was Elite Men and Women and Juniors and Masters, we all started together and there was thirty of us. So to have started in that environment and there were only six races, the whole cyclocross season in New England didn’t even start until October and there were only six weekends of racing.
To have seen it grow from that to the point where we actually have a National Series where I think the first big thing was when we had the Super Cup and we got to race big races more than just at Nationals. It used to be that the only time we saw someone from another region was at Nationals, you raced all your local series and local races and then you went to Nationals and all of sudden there were these fast guys, twice, three-time as many fast guys that you were used to racing against. The Super Cup gave us a real opportunity to race nationally. At that point what you did, and I did the same thing, when you got to the point where you were one of the best guys in your region, you didn’t go on the national circuit because there wasn’t one, you went to Europe if you wanted to get to the next level.
But there was such a big jump between our regional races and going to Europe. In ’96 I was leading the New England series and that was the winter that I went to Europe for the first time. And I went to the same place in Switzerland that Paul Curley had gone to, that Mark McCormack had gone to, so many guys before me, I went to the same town, stayed with the same family, there was a little bit of a pipeline but I got killed. I got absolutely creamed over there but I was at the top of the game in New England, there was no middle. I think that’s where I started getting more involved, I was already organizing my race, but I realized that we needed to build the middle in American and that became a goal of mine. I wanted an NRC, I saw what they were doing in Switzerland and realized it would be really easy to do that here, that there could be a UCI race every weekend in New England that would create a pro circuit in America. And we needed a National, like a World Cup style National series but we also needed, just like on the road, we needed a pro race every weekend, we needed a pro circuit. And yeah, I guess that’s where the transition really started.
That was ’96. Did you continue going to Europe most winters after that?
No, no not most winters. The first time I went was 96-97, and I was number 6 for the Worlds team that year, I didn’t get to race Worlds, number 6 out of 5.
Yeah. I came back and won Collegiate Nationals that year and finally finished college, I got married and retired. I’d been racing on the road full-time for eight or nine years, I was making enough money to keep racing but I wasn’t really prospering, I was turning 27, at that point you still have it in your head that people retired when they were 30 or 32. So I thought ‘I’m going to be 27, this is as good as I’m going to get and I’m not making enough to make the sacrifices that I need to to get better and I’m married now, I’m done with college maybe it’s time for me to get a job now’.
Oh yes, the time to get serious.
Yeah, so funny when I think about it now. It was exactly ten years ago, ten years ago is when I retired. I started a cycling club, I started my coaching business, I started organizing more races and I just raced locally. Then my results suffered, I was terrible, I went from being one of the first guys behind Mark and Frank McCormack and leading the local series, racing in Europe, winning the Collegiate Nationals, I went from that to trying not to get lapped, struggling to finish on the lead lap because I was so involved in organizing things and not worrying about my own results anymore, trying to be a husband so racing became my hobby for the next couple of years. It was really tough for me.
I did go back to Europe, one more time for the whole winter almost as an ‘okay why not’, not because I was trying to make a comeback but because I had a friend in Germany who came over here to race for the winter and said you have to come back, and ‘oh why not’. My wife was okay with it and I went and spent six weeks after the US season racing World Cups and things like that and once again, I didn’t make the Worlds team. It wasn’t really my goal and I wasn’t at the same level that I’d been at before but it was fun and I got to, I guess, gain more experience. Again, I thought that was as far as I was going to go with it until I turned pro on the road again and it kind of snuck up on me and everything changed from that point.
I did not know this, how long were you retired?
I took one whole winter off, didn’t ride my bike for months, I started cross country skiing and playing other sports. This was 1998 I guess or maybe 1999, I can’t remember. I started just doing local races and training like a normal person with a job. I rode eight hours a week if I was lucky and I raced on the weekend for fun and I did that for one year just on the local club that I started. And then what started happening was that I started getting offers to run teams, to manage teams, people recognized that I had a lot of experience and that I was still active. So I guess it was ’99 that I was local, retired from racing full-time and just racing local as a hobby. So in 2000, I was hired to race on a team that I’d been on before, Breakaway Courier Systems, to come back and create an under-23 team for them and be rider-manager. Still not a ton of travel but it was enough money that I could start training more again and racing some NRC races with these young guys. I did that one year with Breakaway in 2000, and then three years on GS-Mengoni, same program but we moved it over. So for three years, I filled this job as rider-manager of a developmental team where I still had my coaching business, I stayed home all winter, I didn’t go away and train or anything like that, but I was trying to be serious about being as in shape as I could.
What happened was, I guess half-assingly I was doing well enough, that in 2003, there was a new pro team that had come up, it was based in Pennsylvaniaa, SportsBook, it was going to be all neo-pros and they came to me and said ‘we want you to do the same job that you’ve been doing but we want you to turn pro and we want you to do it for this pro team’. I was thirty at that point, I’d been married for three or four years, I still had a huge chip on shoulder from not having actually turned pro even though I was on these high-level amateur teams getting paid good money… there were no contacts in the 90s, the sport was doing so bad, I wasn’t good enough to be a pro and there was nowhere to go unless you were the best. I made a choice early on that I’d rather the best that I could be clean and get what I got and being able to live with myself, instead of ‘doing what I had to’ to get to that level, I wasn’t interested.
So I talked it over with my wife, she recognized that it was something that I had pursued for a decade, there was no way that I couldn’t take the opportunity. It seems funny that once I stopped chasing it and that I was no thirty that I was finally going to turn pro.
So I did.
And you did it.
And that’s when my career kind of restarted I would say. It took a couple of years, I didn’t know how long I was going to be a pro for, I figured it was going to be a one or two year thing. If you’ve even seen the Transitions 1 movie, it’s not great, they did a documentary of the whole cross season and half of it are the other guys trying to win Nationals and half of it is me about to slit my wrists because I can’t get out of my own way, and realizing ‘oh yeah this is it’. I’ve had my couple of years as a pro, I can’t handle the stress of running my coaching business, organizing all these races, being married and trying to race cross at the same time. In this documentary, you see that I’m miserable, I’m complaining, I’m whining, I can’t watch it. Instead what happened is that I got divorced, I thought I was going to retire but instead I got another contract,mout of the blue in January after I had decided to quit and it was for good money; it was the best money that I’d ever been offered, it was for another new team, and I was like ‘I can’t afford not to take this offer’. That was on Nerac, that would be the third year that I was a pro so I took the offer from Nerac, re-committed to racing and stayed married for another year. And I suppose this later part of my career is that part of my career that you’d be more familiar with.
I’ve been separated three full years, divorced now, and going away for the winter and being a real pro. So my results have started to come back up and reflect that. I still haven’t been as successful in the cross season as I’ve been in the criterium season which bums me out a little bit but I think it’s basically because when cross comes around I still have this administrative work if you know what I mean, responsible for everything.
You’re still putting on a race, that must be a lot of work. I can’t imagine how much work that is.
Yeah, it’s not a lot of physical labor even when I organize my own race. I have a great staff, I do very little course setup. I don’t have to do a lot of physical work but the stress of managing staff and having the buck stops at you, that keeps you up at night even if you have people you trust and they’re doing a great job, you still sweat the little things and it causes anxiety. I think that is my biggest limiter in the cross season.
I’m under a lot more stress, I manage a lot more anxiety and it affects my recovery and it affects my performance. I go to Tuscon in January and February, I live alone, I put my relationship on hold, I put my friendships on hold and I train thirty-five hours a week for two months and so I reap the benefit of that all summer long and that shows in the US Crits Series and stuff like that where I’m able to perform at the highest level. I should be able to do that in the cross season too, I think I have one of the best drivers out there, technique-wise I know that I’m one of the best guys, I should be able to ride at that same level and I haven’t been able to.
Could it be also that you have a long road season behind you at that point?
It could but so does Timmy and so does Jeremy. But I do think that the difference is, even though we all have long road seasons, because I end up having to, and I enjoy it, but having to focus on the USA Crits Series. You saw those guys, they got to pull up in their road season way earlier than I did and I had to be peaking in August.
The biggest criteriums of the year, it starts in Chicago and goes through Vegas, and so for the second half of the season my goal was to peak for that period and hope that I could hold on to it into the cross season. Those guys didn’t have to race the crit after CrossVegas and I did, and in the sense the crit was more important to my road season and to my job than CrossVegas was. Those guys did Tour of Missouri, gained a ton of fitness from it and then tapered into the start of the cross season. By that time I was already creeping, exhausted from the travel and all the racing that I did.
I would love to be able to prepare more specifically for the cross season and see if I couldn’t come into it with that same type of form that I have during August or May. The two times of the year that I go really well are May for the crits in the early season and then I ride that off during the summer. Then I do a big training block in July and I’m flying again in August and try to take that into cross season. Usually, I have a third peak which is right about now, I’m able to coast off of it for awhile and then I’m able to freshen up, I did some training the past ten days to try and build up for the last part of the season. Usually I go well at Sterling and at Rhode Island and then usually at Nationals, I can get top 15 or something, that’s about the best that I pull off.
[Note: Myerson finished third overall in the 2009 USA Crits Series which was won by his teammate Mark Hekman in a battle fought until the end. His team Mt Khakis also won the overall team classification.]
Stay tuned for part two, where Myerson talks about the future.