“The plan for this season is race to learn and then next season is race to win.”
In a nutshell that’s the 18-month plan for Craig Richey (cylocrossracing.com) of Smitters, British Columbia. The plan also included going all in.
“I worked up until Starcrossed so I didn’t have any time to really train and prep for this the way that I wanted to and I mountain-bike raced over the summer, because this summer I was a mountain-biker, so for this season it was more like you’re going in not a hundred percent and purely learn as much as I can.”
Last September, Richey quit his marketing job and switched his focus from mountain biking to cross. He went on to grab UCI points including a fifth-place at Beacon Cross and third at HPCX in New Jersey followed by a fifth-place finish at Canadian Cyclocross National Championships.
The plan seems to be on track as the 26-year old will represent Canada, along with Derrick St. John in the Elite Men’s race at the Cyclocross World Championships in Sankt Wendel, Germany at the end of January.
“It will be a good learning experience, I’ve never done a World Championship before, I’ve done 4 mountain bike World Cups and it seems similar, the mountain bike World Cup and the cross World Cups. The races play out the same, the start is crazy you need to start really aggressively otherwise you’re way back and it bottlenecks and you just lose too much time.”
Why cross? After six years as a mountain biker, Richey felt that he had ‘plateaued’ in that discipline.
“Looking at my strengths and weaknesses it seemed that cross was maybe a better fit.” One of the issue was the heat as some of the mountain bike races. “I may be a bit too big for mountain biking and technically I am good but on certain really high speed descents I something lose time, it just seemed that cross is a better fit and I like cyclocross and it played to my strengths more so.”
Doing mostly wrestling and cross-country skiing growing up in Smitters, British Columbia, a small town about 1,300 km north of Vancouver, Richey rode mountain bikes in the summer with friends. “ I really liked cycling but no one had road bikes because you have a choice of highway one way or highway the other way.”
Then he joined the triathlon club at University of Victoria and got into cycling. Triathlon club you say? He smiled. “The tri-club, it’s crazy the people that have come from that.” One rider that was there at the same time in the club was Catherine Pendrel who has won World Cup overall mountain biking. “The group of people that have come from that is pretty crazy because there is no cycling team or club at UVic but the triathlon club is sort of what most people do.”
And he was hooked. Richey kept on riding and racing after graduating and while working a 9-to-5 job. He added some cross racing too.
“Last year I had some decent, like I was sixth at Nationals, I did a bit more cross racing and saw some results, oh I have some potential here.”
Business-savvy Richey also took into account the growing popularity of cross.
“I think with cross growing so quickly in North America that you will see more and more cross riders that are making money and that is also why I consider looking at do I want to be a mountain biker or a cross racer? Mountain biker in Canada no one is making money besides Kabush and Plaxton.” he explained.
“There’s a lot of depth in the Canadian mountain bike scene and third through fifteenth, they’re all good but they’re not making any money whereas if they were in the States, they probably would. Who was fourth at Nationals? you’re never heard of them but at the Windham World Cup they were top North American, they don’t get any coverage and doesn’t make any money. So that was a reason to go to cross, I’m thinking the next couple of years you’ll see more teams as the Cannondale p/b cyclocrossworld.com team has shown that when you put together a real program, I’m sure the return on their investment has been huge.”
Using savings from a ‘frugal lifestyle’, cashing in RRSPs along with sponsor support, an 18-month budget and plan was born.
Europe. “Number one thing I need, I need more race experience so this season. Racing in North America you can only do so many races so this allows me to do many more.” Since the plan was all about learning this year, Richey has been living and racing in Belgium since November 9th, 2010.
Another reason for not staying in North America was actually cost.
“I think it was cheaper to come here. In the States, I wanted to do a race block going into Starcrossed, so Seattle, Vegas, Wisconsin, LA, back, that was only two weeks and it costs over a thousand bucks and I had host housing, people helping me out, I was super cheap and it cost one thousand and I was only flying with one bike and that was only for 2 weeks of racing. Here it costs, total budget for this trip is maybe five thousand but it’s for 3 months. So it just seemed for the dollar it seemed better.”
And reducing the travel time. “I think the races in the US the travel is going to work against you. When do you train?” We both agreed that there is no way that Sven Nys for example would either drive 20 hours to go to a race or fly every week. Something that most cross racer do in North America.
Since then, Richey has been racing almost every weekend, in both UCI and ‘B’ (non-UCI) races. His top UCI finish was 16th at the Grand Prix Hotel Threeland, in Luxembourg.
“I think I came here with realistic expectations, I think most North Americans come here with realistic expectations knowing that it’s way faster and you’re going to get hammered. I think most people come here with the attitude ‘I’m coming here to learn’, not many people come here with the attitude I come here to win and if they do, they’re probably going to be disappointed.”
Win what exactly? If this season is all about learning, next one is about winning. “I’m not going to win a World Cup or even come close, that’s not realistic but I think I can win Nationals if Kabush doesn’t race.”
Does he think he can beat multi-time Canadian Cross National Champion Geoff Kabush? “I don’t know, he’s pretty fast and he knows how to win. He’s won twelve mountain bike national titles, he knows how to win.”
So win what exactly? “I’d like to win a UCI race and ideally Nationals but you can’t control who shows up.”
He also has a rough draft for his plan for next season. “I’ve thought about it. Fly back to Canada on February 10th, I’ve talked to some people here and most of the cross riders take 3 weeks totally off the bike so I’ll probably go home and cross-country ski and then go back to Victoria and then probably do April, May mostly training on the road and then June, July I’ll race cross-country and I’m also going to do road this year.”
The plan also includes racing as a guest-rider for a few road races this summer. He would like to race the first two World Cups starting with Aigle, in Switzerland which is close to his aunt’s place. But of course, racing in Europe next year will be worked out with his team and sponsors later on.
“This year I went on the cyclocrossracing.com team which was really good. I’ve worked with Blue for two years before on the mountain bike so that was good, I really like the bikes and the team has been really supportive but this year, I sent in a schedule and they said do whatever you want, as long as you’re racing we’re really happy.”
At the end of our conversation, I asked Richey to tell me something about himself that only his friends would know. “I grew up pretty much in the bush. I’ve gone hunting by bike before, I’ve gone deer hunting by cross bike before. “ he laughed.
A brief discussion then ensued as to whether Richey on his cross bike with a rifle slung across his back would be a good photo to use for his fan card.
Richey will be racing at the Hoogerheide World Cup next weekend in the Netherlands and then Cyclocross World Championships in Germany.