On his second year with the BISSELL Pro Cycling Team and only his fifth year on a bike, Paul Mach is on what he calls the best form of his life. After winning the Sea Otter Road Race and Circuit Race, he is set to tackle the tough SRAM Tour of the Gila with difficult climbs, sketchy descents.
The 28-year old is also a PhD student in Applied Math at UC Davis in California. Pull up a chair and get to know Paul Mach, pro cyclist, geek, blogger and funny guy.
For Mach, one of the biggest factor at Gila is the altitude. “I’ve never done well at a race at altitude that’s always the challenge but I hope…I’m coming in with the best form I’ve ever had so hopefully this will be a good indicator of what I’m capable of at altitude.”
“This is my fifth year racing and every year has gotten better and better. Last year was huge because it was a full season of NRC races, it was definitely the hardest, most miles I’d ever put in and I’m seeing gains from that this year. With this being my fifth season, I’m still on the upwards swing.”
Last year on his first full-time season with BISSELL, Mach claimed the biggest win of his career, the overall at Mt Hood Cycling Classic.
“It was a good win. I feel that I raced well and Chris Baldwin is a great rider that everybody knows so to be able to catch up with him was a good feeling for sure. I always heard about that race, people from Davis would go up there and ‘oh I did Mt Hood and it was awesome’ and I never got a chance to and then the first time to go up there, ride really well and get the win was a great experience.”
Mach won the first stage after the prologue to get an early lead of 18-seconds on Chris Baldwin (OUCH). “At that point. Omer, Graham, and Burke and I guess Morgan was part of it until he crashed, they all rode a the front for me which was very nice of them.”
The team successfully defended his lead to win the overall. “Once you have a team riding for you it’s a totally different experience because you just can’t, because a lot f time when you’re racing you throw in that attack at the right moment that you think is best and if it doesn’t work out that’s fine but to do that same thing after five guys have been killing themselves for you all day makes it a lot different. I just tried to do the best that I could and hoped for the best.”
In 2009, Mach was an unknown on the national scene but this year expectations are set especially going into hilly stage races.
I hope I can still surprise we’ll see.” laughed Mach. “Bissell is a pretty laid back team, expectations are known but not really forced upon you. I have my own personal expectations that align well with what the team wants but there isn’t a whole lot of ‘you’re got to win, you’ve got to do this’. Gila is definitely a race that is probably suited towards me, I guess we’ll see this year whether it is or not. I think I’ve always thought of myself as a climber but I’m finding that those hour-long climbs super-long super high altitude I’ve never really done well at so it’s kind of wait and see at Gila to see how I do stack up at Gila against those guys that have proven themselves, an hour-long climb at altitude is a lot different than a 20-minute climb that I’ve done well at in the past.
His expectations for Gila are pretty simple, to hang with the front group. “I wasn’t in the break last year so I watched them ride through me and that was pretty impressive to watch them go up the hill and be significantly slower yet still on par with what everybody else was doing. To be able to hang with those guys would be good.”
To be able to do that, he needs to be smart in the race. “Position-wise and not burning energy early. It’s one of the things I’ve been trying to work on the last few years. Whenever I go this sucks, I’m in bad position, I look up and see Ben in the perfect spot so I try to follow Ben Jacques-Maynes around, he’s always in the perfect spot, always holding good position.”
“And it makes a big difference once you hit that final climb if you had the easy ride all day or whether you’ve been fighting all day mentally and physically. It makes a difference, those extra few watts whether you’re hanging on or falling off the back” laughed Mach.
PhD in Applied Math and pro cyclist. Mach has been a student-athlete since high-school, running the 800 meters as an undergrad.
“I came to Davis and the only way to get better at running is to train harder and I didn’t really feel like training harder just getting more serious. So Davis has a big cycling community and I’ve always wanted to try it got involved here and then with the collegiate team, one thing led to another and I got on bigger and better teams.”
After starting cycling and racing, Mach moved from cat5 to cat 1 in two years.
“The PhD was a factor those first few years, because I had to take classes and there was a lot of work that was more structured so I wasn’t necessarily taking it as seriously as I do now. I wasn’t doing as many races, I spent the summer commercial fishing with my dad so I spent half a season so it was, I don’t want to say it was easy but it did come naturally to ride my bike.” replied Mach when asked if it was easy. “The transition from running from really good I think.”
At this point in his life, cycling has taken a front row seat. “I’m still working on it, “ he said about his PhD, “but not quite as hard as I have in the past, so there’s still progress. I don’t want to say that I’m not doing anything but I’m doing far less than I have in the past and what an average grad student would be doing.”
“Cycling is once in a lifetime opportunity, to ride on a pro team and do big races so I don’t want to give it up and in theory I guess the PhD will always be there. A lot of people make a lot of sacrifices to try to be on a pro team, it is an honor, and I do like it its a fun experience and I don’t want to give that up because I know that once I do I won’t be able to go back.”
Balancing a full time pro cycling schedule including the travel and working on a PhD is difficult.
“I’m learning that hard way more and more. With the travel, you travel to a race, you race really hard, you come back so… your whole week is pretty much shot, you’re training harder, you come back from a five-hour ride the last you want to do is critical thinking so it’s hard to make progress, try to do other things. So of the bigger stuff that require sit down for a few hours and think it through, that stuff moves a lot slower.”
Mach is researching computational geometry related protein folding problems at UC Davis. “There’s a lot of applications in pharmaceutical companies in that field. Right now I’m just trying to finish it up, it’s one of the sacrifices that you make as a student-athlete whether it’s as an under-grad or this kind of student-athlete is that you don’t really do that above and beyond. The undergrad people have internship, doing all these extra stuff and I was running. And now people are writing papers, going to conferences, reading papers, doing that extra work to broaden their knowledge and I’m on the bike. It’s kind of a sacrifice in that way but it’s worth it I think.”
Europe? “I’d probably say yes because again that’s a once in a lifetime kind of thing, you can’t say no and a few years later….” replied Mach when asked what he would do if offered the opportunity to race in Europe.
But Europe is not part of his goals. “It would be nice if it happened and I would pursue it but it’s not really something that….I really do like the American scene, I think there are races that suit me here, I like being on the BISSELL team it has been a really good experience racing for and with them as a team riding situation, so I’m having a lot of fun racing with the team and the lifestyle in general I don’t really feel the need to change up.”
Five years of racing. The hardest thing to learn has been mostly the bike handling and positioning. “I think that’s pretty common for ex-runners that turn to cycling later on especially in crits and NRC road races, it’s always moving. People are always trying to move up even more so going into a climb, people know that you have to move up and are fighting for it. Definitely a skill there that I’m trying to perfect.”
Perfecting those skills comes with experience. “But I do look at Ben, he’s always in the right spot I don’t know how he does it, I try to emulate that. If it works for him I should be able to do something similar right or try to.” laughed Mach.
One thing that did surprise Mach when he started racing as a pro was the travel involved.
“You always here the stories, oh he’s a pro, he doesn’t do anything, they just ride their bikes all the time but it is more of a job than you think at first. Because you have to travel, and you do have to train more and ride more and I guess the travel really surprised me. Last year, I didn’t do quite as many races as everybody else. You had guys like Ben that would fly home on Monday then fly out again on Wednesday or do a 2-week trip or a 30-day trip or something like that just being away that long racing your bike every week and then racing it well every week, I guess the difference between a good pro and a bad pro is the one that can win races three weeks straight instead of running out.”
Mach spends between 20 and 25 hours a week on his bike. “I think is pretty typical, maybe on the low end for some pros but I think I’ve been trying to build it up. A lot of those guys have been riding since they’ve been fourteen, once year they max out at 16 hours, then next year 18 hours and they slowly build up and I’ve done that same build up but I started much later.”
As far as off the bike, Mach keeps himself busy. “I have the blog, I have my wife that I hang out with, I have the research and I have the cycling and that’s pretty much it for me.” he laughed.
The blog. “I kind of enjoy the freedom of the blog because there is no professionalism necessary. It’s a lot easier, I think what you do you have to have some sort of integrity. When I interview someone for the blog it’s with the expectation that I will re-write everything that they say and just use their answer as a guideline. If I could get paid to do that, yeah sure absolutely, I don’t know how much money there is out there.” he laughed.
“I don’t know.” replied Mach when asked what question I should be asking him. “Oh. I have all these jokes planned out but I don’t want to share them. I was going to ask the question that a lot of people get asked what is the most interesting place that you’ve stayed on a bike trip? My answer is on the top bunk of a teammate that was farting all night long and periodically waking up to foul smells so that’s pretty much the worst place I’ve ever slept period.”
But what about questions to get to know Paul Mach. “I don’t have anything.” Mach then asked his wife Sara if there was anything that people should know about him.
“She says that I don’t have angry that much.” said Mach when asked what made him angry. Well that’s not good I laughed. “I know, I know, it’s probably my downfall as a racer is to get angry and be out there, just keep pounding ‘I need to screw those guys, beat them by a lot’ and then they’ll know. “
Moving on on the getting to know Mach, I found out that he “hates animals”. “I hate dogs and my wife loves dogs so that’s a constant turmoil in our relationship when she sees a cute dog she likes to point out how cute it is and I like to point that it’s not.”
How can you hate dogs? “They make messes and they just lick you and they’re gross. I don’t know what to tell you but it’s the truth.” he laughed.
Mach spent 14 summers in a row working on a commercial fishing boat with his family. 2009 was the first year that he didn’t go to Alaska in the summer.
“Last year was the first year that I raced the whole year through the summer. Before I always took that mandatory going commercial fishing break between the middle of june to the end of July. That’s another reason that I feel I’m riding better this year because that was the first full year.”
“Now it’s not like that.” replied Mach when asked if life on the boat was like the TV shows. “We deliver to those boats so we had a smaller boat, 32 feet long and then we set up the net, a different style, you pretty much set the net and let it sit there and drift with the tide and then you pick it up and pick up the fish depending on what is going on you may let the net sit there from anywhere from five minutes to five hours or overnight or something like that. If you watch those crabbing shows they’re constantly pulling up pots, it’s not really like that.”
No drama on the boat, really not like the TV shows. “We had actually a really good situation because it was me, my dad and my brother so that made life a lot easier because we all knew how to interact with each other. When you get some random new guy on the boat it takes a while for everybody to figure each other out, for four or five years it was just the three of us, it was pretty good situation that way.”
While growing up in Seattle, Mach’s dad started off fishing out in Puget Sound but that dried up and started fishing salmon in Alaska.
“It used to be you’d see really good money in the early 90s, you could live fairly well from a few months of work. Now it’s still good money for a month of work but I don’t know if you can raise a family of the income.”
“No, it’s not.” replied Mach when asked if the income was better as a pro cyclist.
Not yet right? “Not yet,” laughed Mach, “yeah this interview is going to propel me to the top, I can feel it.”
Back to racing. Mach doesn’t know yet if he made the squad for the Tour of California.
“I actually asked after I won Sea Otter Circuit race, ‘oh does that mean I make the California team?’ and the response was, Eric said ‘oh I’m the only one confirmed’ and Glen said ‘yeah and I can still relegate you to car #2 if you don’t do well’. I haven’t heard anything, I’m optimistic. Hopefully I can get in, it’s a big goal to be part of that race especially since a stage starts in Davis but I haven’t heard anything yet.”
Full circle back to Gila. We’ll just see how it plays out.” replied Mach when asked if he was going for GC or the final stage. “I think the final stage will be the final stage no matter what. You do have easy days in the middle, or shorter days I guess they’re not really easy so you do come pretty fresh on that last day, it’s not back to back to back like it could be.
“I think that first stage that ends in Mogollon, that hilltop finish is a big decider for the GC. The second stage has a fairly mellow finish and then the timetrial of course for GC. Last year I did really bad the first day, I tried to follow way too many moves early on and then it came to that final climb and I didn’t really have anything to give but then on that final day, it didn’t really matter that I had a bad first day, the time gaps were so big.” he chuckled.
Tour of the Gila is known not only for the climbing but for the gnarly descents. “On that last day, there’s a descent that’s pretty nasty. I was in the breakaway on that one so I took it a little bit easier but it is pretty scary. You took a left and then it sweeps right and then the middle pavement drops out from under you so if you take that first turn way too hard then you come into the next turn and there’s no time to break. It is pretty bad but like last year I was well warned as to what was going to happen and I didn’t feel that it was that unsafe. And I also heard that back in the peloton everyone knew that it was a dangerous descent and that it probably didn’t matter because you had to turn around and go right back up, so five seconds faster on the descent isn’t really going to make any difference.”
The SRAM Tour of the Gila starts tomorrow.