On his second year of racing at the Elite level in cyclocross, American Jamey Driscoll racked up two UCI wins, numerous podiums and a top 20 at the UCI World Cyclocross Championships.
“I’m pretty darned satisfied especially with how it ended and how consistent, while I was healthy, my European campaign went as well. Not really any regrets for this season.” said Driscoll about his cross season with the Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com team.
The 24-year old Vermonter is now preparing for his first road season with the Jamis/Sutter Home Men’s Cycling Team presented by Colavita while attending school full-time.
Boom, boom, boom. His cross season started off with a bang when he surprised everyone, including himself with a win at CrossVegas.
“I didn’t really know what it meant during the race or right afterwards because honestly it was so unexpected. I just remembered suffering so bad in that race at the back of the lead group last year and it was just… Everything happened boom, boom, boom, I really didn’t think about it.” said Driscoll.
After a admittedly bad start, Driscoll powered up to the lead group which included his teammates Tim Johnson and Jeremy Powers, just as Chris Jones (Champion Systems) was getting a gap. “When I got there I told Tim ‘hey sorry I’m late’ as a joke, Jones had 10 seconds at the time. I got up to Tim and he just waved his hands to keep on going, and so I went from the back of the lead group to off the front of the lead group and just worked together with Jones.”
“I was really expecting the classic road race thing to happen, where the break got off the front, towards the end when people feel like racing hard we’re going to get brought back but when it stuck I was really amazed, really shocked, it was pretty darn huge.”
Driscoll outsprinted Jones for the biggest victory of his career, in front of the Interbike industry crowd. “Thinking all the people I beat, all the people that were there. Especially I was introduced to the CEO of Cannondale, all these huge corporate guys, I didn’t realize how big it was on the industry side as well.”
Stories abound on the celebration which followed. “I went to zero pretty quick that night I have to say.” But as they say, what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.
Progression. “I would say that my fitness in general improved and stayed better.” said Driscoll about improvements over the past two years. “Last year I was sometimes struggling to be in the lead group but this year it was much less of an issue being up there.”
For Driscoll, the measured improvements were almost as big on his second year as an Elite rider as his first in 2008 where he finished second at the 2008 US National Cyclocross Championships.
He attributes his progression to training smarter. “Learning from your mistakes, being able to come into the season with the right fitness, not being over raced all helped to make it better. Two years ago I was struggling a little bit towards the end of the season, coming out of my fitness racing the best I could with it. I did the same last year lost fitness towards the end of the season, this year I felt I was able to maintain a pretty high level of fitness throughout the entire year.”
While he is encouraged by his progression year over year, Driscoll does acknowledge that he needs to work on getting faster starts.
“Fortunately this year when I was going pretty well I had enough fitness to basically strong arm myself up to where I needed to be but other times I got caught out when stuff went early and that’s definitely something that I need to work on.”
In many US cross races, Driscoll kicked in the diesel engine after a slow start to power up to the lead group which typically included at least one of his two teammates.
“It was more motivating, ‘oh boy they’re up there, I’m useless back here’.” he laughed when asked if he felt extra pressure having two teammates that do have good starts.
So what is the problem? “I think it’s more of a mental thing, sometimes I take the attitude ‘oh well it’s going to sort itself out by the end’ but a lot of times I let one or two wheels slip and I really got to shy away from that.”
“I think it took me a good part of the year over here to get that mentality back.” He turned it around just in time for his European racing. “Because it’s definitely worst if you have that attitude ‘oh I’ll let this guy in front of me’. You do that in Europe, you’ll have twenty guys passing you before you blink. I think it’s not so much a physical thing I’m actually capable of doing it, it’s more a mental of not given up an inch.”
European campaign. After the domestic season ended with his sixth place at the US National Cyclocross Championships, Driscoll traveled over to Belgium with his teammate Jeremy Powers to tackle European races in preparation for Worlds. On his fourth tie following somewhat the same schedule, he knew what to expect.
“I think just having the familiarity with the program and the specific races helps a lot.” said Driscoll about handling the blitzkrieg of races during the holiday season. “The first time I did it I was just totally awestruck just going to the races and the whole scene of the pros with their trailers and stuff, fortunately I was I Geoff Proctor’s camp which makes it as easy as possible. They tell what to do, you really don’t have to think much other than racing your bike and getting your own bike ready well tire pressure is about the extent of what you have to do before the race. So that was a good introduction but then nothing really replaces going to races yourself and experiencing it to help you for future times doing the same schedule of races.”
He definitely saw improvements in Europe even though he battled sickness right after the holidays.
“Last year I had just one good result because unfortunately I went down the race after that good result and tweaked my wrist and it was frozen and hard for the whole time so it was pretty hard on my wrist. The last three or four races I really didn’t live up to my potential because I was trying not to crash and that just made me that much more likely to crash. That was a bummer, that one good result at the World Cup last year was something to shoot for to do as well or better this year which I fortunately did.”
“Two weekends before Worlds, I was really struggling and got lapped at Roubaix and then the next weekend I felt like I could race but didn’t do quite as well as I know I could have done just because of the results I had over the holidays against the same people.”
The bad weather conditions that impacted many of the races and racers this season in Europe did not cause him any problems.
“I think I do pretty well in adverse conditions and I seem to adapt pretty well going from a pretty fast style of racing over here to a slower more power type of races over there in the mud. So I think that also helped me because those guys are really fast just in general but they’re a lot more used to the mud than we are. I always try to train during the domestic season specifically for it because it’s definitely a totally different muscle use, like less motorpacing more a hard grind up a really long hill in the mud.” said Driscoll who adds the mud-specific training to his regimen towards the end of the season. “So I think that’s why some Americans really struggle there because it’s so different from the east coast style of racing for the majority of the year.”
Overall it was a good campaign. “A lot more consistent results this year because I didn’t go down which was pretty satisfying, I hope to just keep totally keep on improving on those results every year.”
Balance. While racing and training, he is studying Mechanical Engineer at the University of Vermont, planning to graduate with the 2011 class. It’s a full time schedule with 12 credits per semester though “most of my classmates are taking one or two more courses than me on average.”
Cross schedule and team support make it easier to balance it all. “Fortunately over the years of traveling, it becomes less and less stressful especially with the help of our awesome crew this year, I didn’t have to fly with my bike which was a huge burden off my back. For a couple of a races all I brought on was one carry-on for the plane and that was pretty darn cool. That helped a lot, just traveling on the weekends helps the school issue, I’m not going to week-long stage races and having to make up a week of school or prepare or get a week’s worth ahead before I go on these trips.”
“Cross is definitely the most doable cycling sport for having a job or being in school because you’re doing less training hours and just traveling on the weekends.” continued Driscoll who admits that sometimes racing comes first.
“I’m not saying that I am putting as much effort in school as I possibly could, I’m sure another person could but I can’t seem to fully switch off my cycling and go to school and forget about cycling, it’s always on the back of my mind. I’m always thinking about what I could do for cycling and I’m not thinking about that in terms school all the whole time or if I do I’ll consciously let school suffer for cycling as long as I’m doing decent in the class.”
Road. Now for the first time, Driscoll will have to balance schooling with a professional road racing season. While last year he was officially on the Rock Racing team, he really didn’t have a full racing schedule with the team.
“I haven’t exactly crossed that bridge before,” he commented about managing a pro road schedule, “I’ve never had a commitment like that in the spring, no big commitment like that where I won’t be attending school for a good amount of time.”
The goal this year is simply “to do well at racing”. He has not targeted any specific road races as he is still figuring out his role with the team but will venture to guess that he will be helping out the team sprinters. “I want to race a bunch, learn a lot and improve my fitness and hopefully not go overboard so I can still have plenty in the tank for my cross season.”
“I’m going to have suck it the first race or two I do,” laughed Driscoll, “I don’t want to be in good race shape for the first races I do because if I do that I’ll be worthless in June and July so I have to put in my base miles like everybody does but they did it in January so I have to really plan for the long-term this season rather than impress the crap out of some people.”
His first team challenge will be in April when he is scheduled to race the Vuelta a Mexico and be away from school for a one-week period.
Driscoll will also race on the collegiate circuit to showoff and defend his USA Cycling Division I Collegiate Road title. “My schedule is going to be three or four weekends available that I can race collegiately. [I have to] weigh how much I want to race, how much of a drive it is, and hopefully I can show off my jersey for a couple of races.”
Road or cross? “I don’t exactly know right now.” answered Driscoll who started off on the road as a junior. He was already into riding his bike “more than your average kid, kept with it more and more when other kids left their bikes outside to rust” when his dad, also a bike rider, got him into a local club.
“I immediately liked it because there was a lot more attention given to the younger kids compared to other sports like soccer or baseball where you sort of ignored unless you’re an annoying sticky wheel which isn’t exactly my style so I immediately took to it versus the traditional ball sport you play growing up.”
With the support of his parents, he continued to improve and traveled to races. “I think to some degree no matter how hard you try, good results from your efforts always do help you to motivate you to do more and to do better. That definitely helped me out when I was a junior.”
Cyclocross racing came early into the equation while mountain biking is used for fun and a mental break.
For the short-term, Driscoll sees himself racing both road and cross professionally. “As you know, even the best American crossers with the exception of Page have a summer time job, which is kind of their bread & butter and they do cross because they love it. Hopefully in a few years, there will be a few people in the US that cyclocross is their main sport and they can be professional just at that which would be awesome to do that. I think for now, I’m going to try doing both but I would like the opportunity to race just cross or we’ll see what happens on the road, if one opportunity is much bigger or better than the other, I might leave the other behind for a year or so to pursue the one sport. I’m pretty open minded right now.”
Mellow is good. Meet Driscoll and you’ll notice his laid-back nature.
Is there anything that gets Jamey pissed off? I asked. “It doesn’t seem to be the case. I think that the most angry is on the road, up the mountain, behind a big truck that’s really slow, that gets my blood pumping. I can’t think of anything in the cycling world strangely enough.”
“I think it’s definitely a strength, sometimes there might be situations where I need to react more than I probably will but everything seems to work out okay so far so I definitely like try to deal with stress, have no excess stress basically.”