There was a new name showing up in the top 10 of the Elite Men US Cross Championships this past weekend. Well not really a new name but a name that hadn’t been showing up in a long time in results. After ten years of not racing cross, Alex Candelario came back out to get dirty again, all for a good cause, World Bicycle Relief, a non-profit providing access to independence and livelihood through the power of bicycles.
“Cross is always one of those things that have been pretty dear to my heart. I started off racing cross and every year, Tim, Jeremy and those guys are ‘when are you going to race cross?’. And so finally I thought it would be pretty cool to get World Bicycle Relief involved, Stevens stepped up, the Kelly family stepped up, SRAM and Zipp really helped out. It all just came together.” Cando explained on Sunday, still muddy from his race.
With a limited budget, he took on a few local races in California and hit only a few of the bigger races including Greenware US Gran Prix of Cyclocross Stanley Portland Cup and Nationals, where he placed 9th.
It was simply to “just try to have fun at it and spread the message about World Bicycle Relief.”
Obviously Candelario has been racing on the road for the past ten years, including the past three with the Kelly Benefit Strategies team, In February at the team training camp, he along with two other teammates, described their trip to Zambia and how World Bicycle Relief is helping on the ground. To anyone watching, it was obvious that Candelario has been deeply impacted by his travel.
“When you go over to third-world countries, it’s easy to kind of put the blinders on and not really pay that close attention to how people live and what their daily lives are like. As Americans,we’re privileged, we take for granted the fact that we can just drink clean water whenever we want and you see the relevance of bicycles and the impact it has on communities in places like Zambia, it’s hard not to take that to heart.” he explained.
But why cross? “I really wanted to ride as an expression of that appreciation, I felt like cross is a really good fit for that, people that love cross love all bikes no matter what and I felt that’s a really good venue to spread the World Bicycle Relief message.”
Ten years is a long time to be away in terms of racing, “Oh it’s definitely ten notches higher. Ryan, Wellsie, Tim and Jeremy, all those guys have elevated to a very high level. It’s great, they’ve created a whole industry essentially and so I feel privileged just to be a part of it and kind of experience that culture again.”
Even though he called the scene “a big time event, with big trailers”, the 35-year old did it simply. “I have just friends that are helping me out and so it’s been hard in terms of getting equipment all dialed and tires, and glue and all that kind of stuff. It’s just a lot of work, you have two bikes and you have muddy courses and you have to clean your bike, you don’t have all the support that you’d like to but it’s a grassroots effort for me this year and I like the struggle and it was a lot of fun.”
It reminded him of where he came from.”I think a lot of guys don’t realize how good they have it so it’s fun to get back and yeah I’ll wash my own bike, it’s no big deal.”
And he also enjoyed a change of pace from the road scene. “I think there’s this weird mentality in road, there’s definitely some privilege involved there. In cross there’s not any guys that you don’t like out there, and so it’s cool. The guys on the front row, any one of them I want them to win. It’s just a lot of fun when you have that respect for all your competitors.”
As fas as his cross skills, Candelario admits to be still struggling.
“I think I probably could have gotten top 5 had I not fallen so much.” he laughed on Sunday. “I went out really hard and I was pretty maxed out and just started making mistakes, that’s just racing cross. I haven’t raced that many races at a high level.”
The Bend course was also much more to his liking compared to the USGP finale in Portland. “USGP was high level but the course didn’t really suit an open riding course, it was really tight, slow and technical. It favored the front guys, they went and I was just alright I’ll just do what I can.”
As for the Bend course, “you got to actually get out there and ride, if you were strong you would have placed well.”
Candelario would like to race more cross in the future, but it depends on team manager Jonas Carney and John Kelly. “It’s always a battle because I don’t get paid to race cross,” he chuckled, “I get paid to race road bikes.”
And that’s exactly the reason he stopped racing cross in the first place. “It’s always one of those things that I don’t understand. On the road, if they’d put some money on a cross team, it would work out pretty well I think but what can you do.”
He’s not sure about his next endeavor with Word Bicycle Relief but would like to see the program expand next year and maybe have a grassroots army to spread the message.