Last weekend, Brian Matter (Gear Grinder) claimed his first (and second) UCI cyclocross win when he swept the cross weekend in North Carolina, taking both of the North Carolina Grand Prix UCI2 races in a sprint finish. In his third year of racing cross, the 32-year old racer from Sheboygan, WI has been finishing top 15 in the Greenware US Gran Prix of Cyclocross and top 10 in a few other UCI races this year.
But Matter is not new to racing a bike by any means, for the past 17 years he has been racing on the mountain bike circuit. This year he won his third Triple Crown of his career, the Ore to Shore Mountain Bike Epic in August, the Chequamegon Fat Tire Festival in September and the muddy and cold Iceman Cometh in November, in the middle of cross season.
Matter is looking for finish the US Cross season strong with top 10s at the USGP finale in Portland and at the US Cross National Championship in Bend, Oregon in December. And then, Matter along with friend and fellow cross-racer Mark LaLonde, is heading over to Europe to tackle the Christmas cross season for his third time. His goal is to learn and have fun, “I’m going to go over there with a smile on my face this year.”
I chatted with Matter earlier this week to get to know the Midwesterner. We talked about his UCI wins, the triple Triple and his European racing experiences. Matter is currently racing at JingleCross, the 3-day cross weekend in Iowa City, Iowa. In the first race on Friday night, he crashed like many others and recovered to finish 9th.
Congratulations on the wins in North Carolina. Tell me about the races. And how is the racing scene there?
They have a pretty good scene down there. I went down there last year and raced and I really enjoyed the course so I thought I’d make the trip again this year. Last year when we raced, it was 40, muddy and miserable but this year there was some unseasonably warm temperatures which makes for pretty fast racing, almost like a road race or a criterium. So it was a lot of attacks, a group of 15 would split to a group of 5 but then nobody would want to pull through and all of a sudden there’s a group of 15 again and it pretty much went like that both days. Both days, starting the last lap the lead group was about 15 riders so it was important to stay positioned well and race smart. And then, 300, 400 meters to go make sure you’re in a good spot and let it rip.
So you outsprinted them both days?
Yep, both days [it was] me vs Frattini. On day one, he led on the pavement, he kind of led me out and I just got him on the line. I didn’t want to do that again on day two so I figured I’d led him out and see what happens, I think after beating him on day one, he pulled the plug with like maybe 50 meters to go on day two.
Not too shabby outsprinting Davide Frattini, he’s not slow on a bike.
Yes, exactly. The competition wasn’t super deep but there was definitely some fast guys down there.
How important was it for you to get the UCI points, the maximum you could get that weekend?
It was very important. All season so far, I’ve done just the big races, USGPs and it’s been a battle to get UCI points and each weekend, guys on the East Coast and guys that are doing races out in California and I’m going further and further down the start grid and that was kind of making me nervous heading towards Nationals and going over to Europe. So I had this opportunity to come halfway to my parents’ house and hang out with my parents for a couple of days and then go to North Carolina and race, win some money and win some points. It’s definitely going to be a huge help for racing over in Europe and Nationals.
So why pick the big races then this year and not some of the smaller races to go hunt for UCI points?
One I think logistically for the bigger races, Madison is close to home, Kentucky is close to home relatively speaking. The races in Cincinnati are close to home, it’s not a huge race but there is definitely good competition there with Trebon, Wicks, Powers, Kabush, Jones and Tristan [Schouten], just trying to stay relatively close to home. Then you have to do the USGP Series, it’s the best of the best and if you want to be the best, you have to race against the best and learn and try to get faster each weekend.
And then you had the Triple Triple. How sweet is it to do the Triple Triple?
For the Midwest it’s huge. Everybody in the Midwest focuses on those three races and those races get tons of riders, 2000, 3000, 4000 people entering into each race so for the sponsors it’s great when you’re on the podium in front of that many people and then just to be able to win those races that many times. And the level of competition that those races is increasing every year, Iceman this year was definitely the deepest field in one of the Midwest Triple Crown races with Todd Wells, Jeremiah Bishop, JHK [Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski], Sam Shulz, there’s three, four National Champions. It was pretty darn sweet to beat those guys for sure.
You had time to enjoy your victory, so what’s going through your mind when you crossed that line at Iceman this year, all muddy?
I won it in 2007 in approximately the same thing, I attacked with 20 minutes to go in the race, I was pretty confident I was going to win in 2007 and I was definitely happy. In this race with that firepower behind me, I had the fear in me the entire time so I wasn’t thinking much before I crossed the finish line until the final straightaway and man the crowd noise was just incredible, it sounded like a European cyclocross race. Tons of spectators and it was an awesome podium ceremony so just pretty happy, pretty excited to be able to pull it off against the big guys. The Iceman was one of the first big races I did, I think the first time I did it was 1993 I must have been 15 years old. As a 15-year old showing up, racing beginner and probably getting 30th or 40th to seventeen years later, come back and win and be the best of the best, it was pretty sweet. A lot of friends from Michigan that have known me since 1993 and that have watched me climb the ranks, pretty sweet to win in front of them also.
Do you think it proves anything?
I think it gives me a little more respect to the guys in the Midwest, I think there’s a lot of East Coast mountain bikers with Jeremiah Bishop and Adam Craig, and then there’s the Colorado scene and the California scene. The Midwest definitely gets overlooked but I think with these guys showing up to that race and Tristan and I battling it out, I think it definitely earns us a little bit of respect and then for me personally, I think definitely the same thing. Kind of tell myself and prove to myself that yeah I’m supposed to be up here racing the big guys, it gives me a little more confidence for cross season.
This is what I called the get to know Brian. What do you consider yourself? Are you a mountain biker that races cross, a cross racer that does mountain bike races? Is it equal?
I would say I’m a mountain biker but… Basically I raced mountain bikes in Michigan for five years, I raced mountain bikes in Tuscon Arizona for five years and now I’ve raced mountain bikes in the Midwest for five years and each five years, you start to want to get something fresh. And now I’ve done Midwest mountain biking for five years, the cyclocross thing came up I’d say the last two years, after making the Worlds team two years ago, my focus is switching to cyclocross, I think there’s a little more money, a little more sponsorship opportunity so I’d say I’m a mountain biker who is becoming a cyclocross racer but I still love to do both of them.
You’re also a working man, you have 9 to 5 job at a bike shop, right?
Yep, pretty much all summer long I was shop manager at a Trek store in Sheboygan Wisconsin. This past month I actually have not been working. It’s been a little bit slower at the shop just because it’s cold in Wisconsin so I’ve had the opportunity to take a little time off of work and really focus on cyclocross this season. So I kind of lost the title of a working man about a month ago. I’m going to say it’s pretty darn nice not to be working (laughs).
But the whole summer you were balancing work, family, and bike. How do you do that and get ready for mountain bike and cross?
My wife, I have a support crew and family. We live in Sheboygan, her family is there, my sister-in-law actually lives with us and I have tons of support from my family. I don’t have a coach and kind of listen to my own body, as far as training goes I’ve come up with my plan at the beginning of the month, at the beginning of the week and adjust it as necessary. I wake up and I train in the morning and then I go into work between noon and one and work until seven when the shop closes every night, come home and luckily most nights dinner is ready for me, eat dinner, go to bed and do it again.
You started young on a bike and racing.
I started racing in 1993. 1996 I was on the Rock Shox Junior Development mountain bike team with JHK and with Tom Danielson and then a couple of years after that, I hit the road in a minivan with buddies, we didn’t take it quite as serious, we were having fun and living out of a tent and we were doing the NORBA National circuit but kind of partying at the same time so… in 1999 I met a couple of guys from the Czech Republic and they invited me down to Tuscon, so that’s kind of when I left Michigan. I lived with 4 riders from the Czech Republic and one coached me for one year, and that took me up to the next level and from then on I’ve been my own coach, doing my own thing.
What do you think your strengths on a bike are?
Each weekend that changes which I don’t know if that scares me or that’s a good thing. I’ve done some really nasty muddy races where I felt really good and afterwards I’d think hey I’m a great mud rider, I really love racing in the mud but then New Jersey last year was muddy and I got 25th or something like that and I had a horrible day and I’d think I can’t race in the mud. But same goes, one day you do a flat power race, if you have a good day that day you think yeah I’m really good in the dry fast corners so I think I’m pretty good all around, it just happens if you’re on that day, you’re on and if you’re not, you’re not.
Okay back to cross. Less than one month in the US and then Europe. What’s your goal for the rest of the season here in the US?
I’d like to finish up with a strong USGP overall series. I think right now I’m in 12th maybe three points behind Barry Wicks or something, another three points behind Heule. I’d like to finish it with a top 10 in the USGP point series. I’d like to have a solid result, top 10 at Nationals. And Jingle Cross is this weekend, and that’s kind of home, it’s only five hours away, we consider that a close drive. Five hours, it’s like wow I only have to drive five hours, I think if Sven Nys had to drive five hours to a race in Belgium, he probably wouldn’t do it but we’re relieved to only have to drive five hours. I want to have fun at Jingle Cross in front of the home crowd and do some top 10s in Portland and Bend.
Then you have this big trip to Europe. What’s the plan and the goal of your trip?
The first year I went I felt like it was a once in a lifetime opportunity ‘I’m going to go to Europe and I’m probably never going to go again so I want to go and enjoy it’. And the second time, I wasn’t expecting to get invited back to Europe again and I was kind of mentally done for but then I got the invite and I went over there mentally done for anyways and I kind of struggled and suffered through it. This year I want to go back, I’m feeling really motivated right now, I’m feeling pretty fresh and ready to tackle the second half of the cross season. I wanted to go and do my own thing, not with the EuroCrossCamp and see if that made any sort of difference. Each year you go over there and race, you learn so much and you come back so much stronger so I guess probably, like most US cross racers, the ultimate goal is Worlds in Louisville. So if I can keep on going over to Europe and learning and getting stronger, hopefully I can make that Worlds team in Louisville and represent.
So everybody is thinking two years ahead.
I would assume they are thinking two years right now.
What is like to race in Europe? Is it as crazy as some have described? What surprised you?
The first year I went Geoff Proctor was pretty influential and he gave some really good advice ‘Brian just go out there and enjoy it, it is what it is. There are going to be a ton of spectators and don’t get nervous’. I had no expectations and I went out there and raced the best that I could, I think I had some pretty solid results, never got lapped and everybody said ‘oh you’re going to get lapped’. I did a 25th at the GVA in Bale and I was pretty happy with some of the results.
Yes I would say it is a crazy as people said it would be, people are fighting for every corner, if you stop pedaling one second too early a person is going to pass you, somebody is going to crash into a corner, and it might be a drunk spectator, it might not be a racer. The spectators are crazy, they are there to party and they are there to watch Sven Nys, Niels Albert and Stybar after those three guys go by, they are just partying. It’s crazy, you try to leave the race but you can’t get into your car because there are so many spectators walking down the road, they’re jumping on top on your car, giving you beers through your window. It’s a scene for sure and if you can kind of roll with that energy, I think it’s pretty huge but if you’re kind of mentally done for, like last year then ‘oh man I just want to get out of there, I want to get back to the house, I want to clean my stuff and go back to bed’. That was kind of me last year, it got on me on little bit, like oh I just want to gt out of here.
When Sven Nys goes by and you don’t go by for another three minutes, they kind of get bored in that three minute timeframe and by the time you come through they can definitely give you a hard time and if you’re mentally done for, that’s something rough to take but like the first year I went I thought it was great, I thought it was funny that they were yelling George Bush at me, and they were yelling Obama at me. They just know I’m an American so they were yelling ‘Obama, boo Bush’ (chuckles), they don’t know what’s going on really, they’re just drunk and they’re having fun and I thought that was great that I was getting heckled by some crazy Belgian fans and it actually made me go faster.
So you’re hoping to do that again this year? You’re ready for it.
Oh yeah, definitely I’m going to go over there with a smile on my face this year, I’m feeling much more fresh. And being able to do it kind of on my own schedule instead of the EuroCrossCamp schedule will be a little bit more of a challenge but I’m up for that challenge, so it should be good.
There’s two of you going, you’re going to have to do everything. Prepare the bikes, drive to the race, clean the bikes, cook,…
We do have somebody who is going to help out in the pits, mechanics. This is all via email with somebody in Belgium, I’m not sure of the extent of their help, I don’t know if they’re planning after the race of dropping is off and we’ll see you or dropping us off and okay we’re going to work on your bikes for two hours while you guys are making dinner and eating. Yeah we’re going to help you out, we’ll be there but you don’t know what the level is going to be, if they’re going to be there in the pits and that’s it. And that’s part of the excitement for me this year, I’m not quite sure what I’m getting into but I’m ready for that.
(laughs) that’s pretty big.
Ten minutes ago, I just registered for my first race, I have no idea (laughs) I don’t know what I did.
How did you pick which race to do?
I think I’ve done about half the races. I picked the two World Cups, the GVA in Bale, Dygem, Loekhout and so I know those ones. I kind of made it so we have two days in the beginning, about a week of training, two days on, one day off, two days on, one day off, two days on and fly home. Definitely the back half is loaded pretty heavy but I’m hoping that first half, you do the first two races, load the travel out of the legs than have a week to settle down and get ready to go.
What will make this trip to Europe a success for you?
Oh if the bikes don’t get lost on the plane, if they actually let me race, I don’t have any expectations going into it, like the first year I went over, I have no expectations, I’m not going to say I want to get a top 10 or I want to get a top 50 and I don’t want to get lapped. I just want to go over and I want to have fun, I want to feel like I raced hard and I guess it would be a huge success if I can make the Worlds team but I don’t know who’s planning on going to Worlds, that’s in the back of the mind but really I want to go over and have fun and gain the experience.