“I’m surprised. I’m just so excited, I couldn’t be happier, if go to Worlds or if I don’t go to Worlds I’m still happy.” said a muddy but happy Drew Dillman (Red Zone Cycling) after the Grote Prijs Sven Nys on January 1st. In one of the toughest races in extremely difficult conditions that included deep, thick, bike stopping mud, standing freezing water of unknown depth, he finished 7 making him the top American in the junior’s race.
I first met the 17-year old when he finished third at the USGP Derby City Cup in Louisville. In his first year as a 17/18 junior, his goal this year was simply to get invited to EuroCrossCamp. And now here he is, finishing top 10 at a very tough cross race in Belgium.
“The first lap I was excited, I had a really good holeshot, probably the best holeshot I had all year because I was fourth or fifth right there.” Dillman explained. The only rider he recognized was Laurens Sweeck, winner of Kalmthout and leader of UCI standings. “I saw him up there and there was three of them and then me and they had a little bit of a gap on me.”
And then Dillman missed a turn on the course. “The junior course is shorter than the one I was warming up on, so I started to go on the regular course and then they yelled at me so I had to turn around and come back. I guess I was so into it, so I got back on and I was behind Bahnson, I think I was in 7th or 8th.”
But he chased back. “I caught back up to fourth and I couldn’t see the three guys that were in front of me but I was trying to hold on to 4th and then the last two laps, 2 guys caught me on the second to last and another guy caught me right at the beginning of the last lap. By the end of the race all those uphills and downhill, it was just tiring.”
It wasn’t his first top 10 nor the first time he was the top American in a race during this Christmas racing season. He finished fourth in his first race, a B race in Beernem, and top American at both the Zolder World Cup in 29thand GVA Azencross in 18th.
Was he surprised with his results? “Oh yeah,” he responded with a big smile. One thing that surprised was finishing ahead of friend and US Jr National Champion Jeff Bahnson (Van Dessel). Dillman finished third at US Nationals this year. “I’ve never ever beaten Bahnson ever before I came to Europe and in Europe, I hate to say it but I have beaten him a couple of times, we’re good pals and stuff, it’s just surprising I’ve never beaten him before. He’s a year older than me, he’s the National Champion, I expected him to be way in front of me.”
He can’t pinpoint why he did so well in his first time racing cross in Europe. One reason might be that he started his season a bit later, skipping the first USGP weekend in Madison. “I just started racing two weeks after that race. We, me and my coach, were hoping that I’d get here and he wanted me to peak right around now and I think I’m really am peaking right about now.”
Many are overwhelmed when they first come to Belgium with the deeper and bigger fields and tougher courses but Dillman seemed to adjust with no trouble. He thinks that having that one good race was essential to be prepared mentally.
“The day before Zolder, I got fourth and that was the one good race that brought my hopes up, and once you get out of that hole where ‘oh man we’re in Belgium and I’m going to get my butt kicked’, once you get out of that and you’re like ‘yeah I can stay up here with these guys a little bit’, it makes you do better when you’re giving yourself good thoughts and being in front of Bahnson was a big surprise for me, it made me feel a little bit better about myself.”
He has identified areas to work on for next year. One is shouldering his bike. “I have problem getting my bike on my shoulder, it just takes me a little bit longer to do it.” And another is endurance. “These guys have crazy endurance, I thought I had pretty good endurance but today the last two laps I was really tired, maybe work on that a little bit.”
As for the World Championships, well Dillman would love to go. “I put in my petition this week, I sent it in last week before Zolder and all that, and so I had all the results in Louisville and then Kalmthout, hopefully he’ll see that I was doing pretty good here.”
Now he waits to see if he made the USA team for the race in Sankt Wendel.