“Why can’t I?” That’s the question that Joseph Schmalz asked himself last year when his KCCX/Verge teammate Chris Wallace went to EuroCrossCamp.
The 19-year old made it happen. Along with his two bikes, three sets of wheels and warm clothes, he made his way to Belgium to race for the first time in Europe as part of the eighteen riders that were selected for Geoff Proctor‘s program. Wallace is also returning, but that’s another story.
It’s about learning. “The main goal is to experience racing in Europe at the highest level with my peers, that should be quite an experience to see the best guys in cross race. To see what the experience will be like racing with the best cross racers in the world.”
Schmalz also wants to experience the preparation that takes place at the house where the main focus is training and racing as opposed to the American cross scene where a racer is traveling every weekend to get to a race.
“Being in a place where having people working with you that that’s their job to help you be the best athlete that you can be.”
Before Schmaltz could make his way to Europe, he had to race all the four USGP events, another first for him. He came out strong in the first weekend, the Planet Bike Cup in Madison where he finished second and third in the U23 standings. Almost a repeat performance at the second weekend, the Derby City Cup in Louisville where he finished third on the first day and then fourth on Sunday after crashing.
“I came out of the gates pretty good because I had pretty good road form that I didn’t want to waste basically, and my name was pretty unknown in the cross scene. Usually that’s a pretty good way to throw myself in there, and I used the first GP as a break out race, to get my name out there and it worked.” said Schmalz about his early cross season.
At that point he was no longer an unknown to the other riders. “I remember the podium after the first GP, Chance [Noble] was kind of like who is this guy and the same with [eventual overal U23 winner] David [Hackworthy]. David and I had actually met earlier on the road and I told him that I was doing the whole cross thing but Chance had no idea who I was, so that was cool.”
The last events of the USGP series did not go as well. “I went to Trenton and just legs didn’t show up,” said Schmalz. “I just felt like crap the whole weekend. I don’t know what the deal was I just couldn’t pedal.” He placed fifth and twelfth in the U23 category at the Mercer Cup.
He crashed hard and hit his knee on the Saturday race in Portland, and did not start on Sunday to rest and recover before the upcoming US Cross Nationals. where he finished seventeenth in the U23 race.
Forever? “Pretty much.” that’s how long Schmalz has been on a bike.
“My grandpa got me into it because he owns a bike shop, he used to race motocross and then hurt himself and decided he shouldn’t do that anymore.” smiled Schmalz. “He started to ride his bike and then bought the bike shop, started riding more and then started racing so he got me into it and I did my first race when I was nine.”
Schmalz started racing cross in 2006 when urged by KCCX/Verge Team Manager Bill Marshall, which at the beginning was simply a way to keep in shape over the winter.
“I was kind of good at it, it’s progressed slowly each year and this is my first year really, with Bill’s help of traveling to all the USGPs and quite a few more UCI races.”
So far, dry fast courses seem to match his skills.
“Probably faster and a punchy course where there’s lot of accelerations out of the corners, that’s probably my best type. I can ride in the mud but I definitely say that there are guys better than me in the mud, “ laughed Schmalz, “but I like riding in the mud, it’s fun.”
But he’s not worried about the nasty conditions in Europe. “I’ve ridden in all of it, I’ll just throw myself in, you have to learn somehow.” shrugged Schmalz.
Overall Schmalz has definitely seen a progression this year and is ready to test himself in Europe.
Like many, his concerns relate to the level of the field. “It’s hard to tell because I have no clue on what it’s going to be like. How much faster everyone is going to be? You can hang midpack here but I know that everyone is so much faster there.”
He then added with a laugh, “Just not getting my face kicked in would be biggest thing.”
How far does he want to take cycling? “I would love to make it my job. It’s always awesome to get paid to do what you love and have fun doing it, you can’t ask for much more than that.”
Schmalz finished 40th in his first race in Europe, the U23 non-World Cup race in Kalmthout.
We’ll catch up with Schmalz when he returns to Kansas to get his impressions on his fist time racing in Europe.