What a difference a few weeks make for US Cyclocross National Champion, 17/18, Cody Kaiser.
“It feels pretty good. Right now, it’s just another USGP but I’m sure it will change once I get the jersey on.” replied the laid-back California Giant/Specialized rider when I asked him what he was feeling when he put on the Stars & Stripes during the podium ceremony after his victory.
He was right. In his first race in January at the Surf City Cross in Northern California, in front of family and friends Kaiser was able to wear his new skinsuit, just delivered by his team manager Anthony Gallino. Even though it wasn’t a junior race, the promoter and the other US National Champion present, Tim Johnson (Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com), both gave their permission.
“It didn’t feel any different until I got the goodie bag from Anthony, when we went up and asked Tim and the promoter if we could wear it. “ said Kaiser about wearing his Stars & Stripes skinsuit. “It wasn’t racing a junior race but Tim was like ‘hey totally cool’ and so I put it on for the first time, that was pretty big and the lining up with it and while racing, looking down at the sleeves, ‘wow the stars are looking good’.”
That feeling got even better the past two weeks as he raced in two World Cups in Europe.
“It is a pretty cool feeling. Lining up over here and having my name called then hearing USA is really cool. It makes me proud to be representing our country and even cooler to know that I am the best in the country. It is almost indescribable.” explained Kaiser after the Hoogerheide World Cup on Sunday.
Kaiser is enjoying it as much as he can as next Sunday will be his last time wearing this Stars & Stripes, his final cross race as a Jr 17/18.
“It’s cool that no matter where I go, what team I’m on I’ll always be able to wear the read, while and blue on the band, that will be pretty cool.”
All because of Cody. Raised in the Sacramento area Kaiser was introduced to bikes by two family friends, one who owned a bike and the other worked with Oakley. The then ten-year old Kaiser hung around the shop and the passion was born.
“The guys would take Cody for rides with them and he just thought they were all cool, it became a cool thing and then it became his whole life, his love.” said dad Bruce Kaiser.
One year later, he was racing mountain bikes, and then another year after that, cross was added to the mix.
That in itself brought a big change to the family.
“Cody started riding bikes and when he was ten years old, he started racing a little bit and I really couldn’t have a ten year old go out training by himself so I would go ride with him. And then he wanted to do a little bit of racing so I’d go race with him and realized how hard it was so I thought I’d better ride a lot more and I had a lot more fun.” said Bruce who was a golf professional when Cody started racing.
Dad put away his clubs and now owns and runs a bike shop, Kinetic Cycles. “Riding a bike was a lot more fun than playing a 6-hour round of golf, so with that said I am now in the bike business and not in the golf business, I don’t play golf anymore. We just ride a bunch, it was all because of Cody.”
Kaiser didn’t light up the scene when he started racing mountain bikes.
“I started out racing in a t-shirt and running shorts and was finishing towards the back in the beginners category for mountain biking. I started to go a little bit more seriously, started to race the beginner junior and then that’s when I started to move up.”
“When he was 11, 12, 13, he would always get lapped and it was frustrating but he never gave up, he was always hanging in there and he would keep on going.” said Bruce.
But he kept at it and got better. Bruce continued “It was about two years ago when he started to grow and mature a little bit, then all of sudden the muscles started getting there and the speed started getting there and he started being pretty competitive in the elite fields in the Bay Area.”
In 2007, in his first US Cross National Championships, he finished 7th in the 15/16 category while riding for Team Spine.
Riding for CalGiant, he ventured to his first USGP races in 2008 which were “an eye-opening experience”. From that combined with a fourth place finish at Nationals 17/18, Kaiser “took away from that [season] that I needed to step up my game.”
Stepping it up. In 2009, Kaiser won five of the eight USGP Jr 17/18 races before claiming the National title.
One change that he brought to his game was a new training regimen focused more on cross and a switch in coaches. “I picked up a local friend who has been racing cross for a long time and it’s more about the grassroots type training and it just seems to work a little bit better for me since I don’t like to train with numbers.”
For Gallino, the team impact was also a big help in Kaiser’s progression as he was able to learn from the Elite riders on the squad such as Andy Jacques-Maynes, Justin Robinson and Rachel Lloyd.
“Just the experience factor, being able to be on a team, being able to race and talk to everybody and get more and more input, it helps out that much more.” explained Gallino.
“In just over one year, he’s completely done a 180, he’s just got more experience, we expect big things from him in Europe and then next year moving up to U23.” said Gallino who remembers seeing Kaiser and another young cross rider Jeremy Ferguson at their first race. It was “at Coyote Point, a couple of years ago and ‘man these kids are both good’ and we talked to them both, we saw definite potential there.”
Through it all, Kaiser has had to balance high-school along with his training, racing and traveling with a lot of missed Fridays and Mondays on his way to and fro races.
“School wasn’t too open to letting me off the homework or anything so it’s really hard for me to miss school as much as I did traveling but it’s nice to get out of school at noon everyday, that opens up for training a lot.”
Kaiser is on an early period schedule which lets him out early and “opens up for training a lot. I had a normal training week probably 12 to 15 hours all week, just having a lot of fun riding my bike. I like to go hard for five minutes, then go a little bit harder and see how long you can hold it.”
The teenager has also had to make personal sacrifices. “My friends say ‘hey lets go out to the movies’ and I’m ‘no I really can’t’. It’s tough.” And for those checking, no fast food, “just good stuff nothing fake.”
Something else that he had to deal with in 2009 was pressure which Kaiser felt when he claimed the USGP lead after sweeping the first weekend in Madison. He successfully defended under constant attacks by the Eckmann brothers until he lost the jersey in muddy Mercer, the third in the four-event series.
“Having the jersey was a lot of pressure and it got the best of me, I cracked having that much pressure.” said Kaiser who finished sixth in the Sunday race in Mercer, New Jersey.
He came into the finale of the series in Portland ready. “When I was able to just ride, I knew that I had a lot of pluses that he didn’t so I just let him wear himself out almost and if he made a mistake, I was ready. That’s what happened in Portland, he made a mistake and I was gone.”
That last USGP race in Portland, Kaiser came out like a caged lion and powered away early to sweep the weekend.
“He read a few quotes here and there, just enough. Some guys blow that off, for some they take it a little bit the wrong way, that gives him that little chip and it showed there for sure, that second day nobody was going to catch him.” explained Gallino. “He’s so mellow, sometimes if he’s too mellow that hurts him, he needs a little chip on his shoulder, when he’s pissed off is when he rides the best.”
But that sixth place finish in Mercer cost him the overall as he finished second to Yannick Eckmann (Clif Bar Development). It also made Kaiser take a look back at how he handled the pressure.
“It wasn’t so much pressure from the people around me but pressure that I put on myself when racing, ‘wow I hold the jersey I have to be able to win this race’. I learned that I can’t put that much pressure on myself but I knew that if I had the jersey I’d be going to every race expecting to win. It was mostly put on by me, just having the jersey I realized that everyone was expecting me to win and it was tough.”
Worlds. The 18-year old is one week away from racing in his first ever Cyclocross World Championships in Tabor this weekend. As part of his preparation, he flew over to Europe ten days ago to race in two World Cups, starting with Roubaix where he finished 37th.
“Roubaix had a terrible start and took a slow, bad line, then got stuck behind a crash in the pit area and was chasing from the back, literally second to last. Didn’t feel that great, couldn’t go hard most likely because I flew in on Friday.”
Yesterday’s Hoogerheide brought frustration, and he had to settle for 41st. “Had an awesome second row start and was sitting in the top 20 then after the first corner, I crashed in a group of about 5 and was frustrated by mishaps in the pit all day. I felt great today, as good as I did at Nationals.” Kaiser told me after the race.
Given his last two starts, his hopes for Worlds are simple. “I am feeling good for Worlds but after these two races I am really hoping for the cleanest race I can have. The course looks like it’s my style so I am feeling confident.”
And then back to normal life. “After Worlds, I’ll come back and finish up school and have fun riding my bike, a little bit more on the mountain bike side, riding some trails with friends, have more fun rather than training.”
“As far as it will go” replied Kaiser when asked how far he wants to take cycling. “I definitely want to pursue it.”
“When you talk to him he’s very mature for his age and I think the sky is the limit, it just depends how dedicated he wants to do it.” said Gallino. “He’s got the bike handling skills, now we just need to get him that high level road training which I think will even improve him more for cross.”
With years of mountain biking, Kaiser does pride himself on his bike handling skills. “ I haven’t come across too many people that can out handle me on their bike.” Other strengths are his quick short attacks, and his speed off the line to get the holeshot.
But he does admit to “a little lack on the sustained long power, going hard.”
To work on his power, Kaiser will add more road training and racing to his repertoire in 2010 as he moves up to the U23 ranks. “I’ll be the triple threat.”
In order to pursue his long-term goal, after graduating from high school this spring, Kaiser will continue his education at a junior college on a spring and summer semester schedule – which means that fall time will be focused on cross.
Where does he want to be in five years? “I’d like to hopefully be pro. I’m still pretty young and still enjoying but it would be pretty cool to be pro and have graduated college, have that passed me have an education and still race my bike.”
His parents fully support his decision. “We’re excited, whatever he wants to do.”
Dad Bruce continued. “He does want to do it, he does say repeatedly that he would like to race professionally, I think probably more mountain and cross as a combo, those are his loves. He’s started to lean a little bit more towards road now, he raced a lot of road when he was younger and now people talk to him, like Anthony and say ‘hey I want to race on my U23 team’ and he’s like okay, I better step it up this year, I better get more road time in.”
One cyclist that Kaiser admires is Tim Johnson. “I like the way he rides, he’s kind of a scrappy rider, he’s always there, always sticks it out. A lot of the other guys are flashy, other guys like to blame it on other people, there’s always an excuse on why they didn’t do good. Tim and Jamey and Jeremy, the whole team is going to be there when it comes down to the finish and whoever can hold it the longest seems to be one of those three.”
Cody Kaiser comes across as a mellow Northern Californian but underneath that laid back exterior is a determined cyclist.
“I don’t know if I’d say that I’m the same type of rider as he is, “ said Kaiser about Johnson, “but I think we have similar styles as being the last man standing kind of thing, don’t give up very easily.”
The only question left to ask is road, cross or mountain bike? The next years will tell us as we watch Kaiser progress in the cycling world.