Living the dream. Pursuing your passion, it sounds perfect like wine and roses, or maybe beer and frites in this case. But living the dream is not easy, hard challenges must be faced and sometimes you are pushed to the limit physically and mentally. Canadian Shaun Adamson (Cycle-Smart) lived the dream, racing cross in Belgium (and surrounding countries) for four months this winter.
During this period, he shared his thoughts with podiuminsight, the second time was in January, prior to the UCI Cyclocross World Championships.
Adamson had been mixing up A and B (amateur) races since his arrival after the Canadian Cyclocross National Championships in November. “Getting a balance in that so I could get the cool courses and work on the technical skills and race with the best in the world and also come back down to where I probably should be racing in the B races. They are not as cool or as interesting but there is still a lot to be learned and there are still fast riders there. “
Then the tough and competitive Christmas Cross Season, replete with UCI races almost every day for a 10-day period. It was difficult racing with Adamson pulled in the first few laps.
“So I think over Christmas I just did a string of the big races and it was really really hard and I think I had a hard time with the races themselves, with the volume of racing and then just with kind of getting beat down again and again and again and not getting a chance to redeem myself. Looking back on when I was here two or three years ago as an under 23, I was still getting pulled in those races but I thought maybe I would get pulled in half the races here, not barely making the second half of the race still, so I just don’t feel that I’ve made the improvements that I thought that I could, would, should in the last two years.”
Adamson was taking a hard look at his situation. “I think that’s probably the reality.” he replied when asked if he was being too hard on himself. “I think I was just hoping for more so I don’t know if it’s a question of if I can ever get there or if I’ve been doing something wrong or if it’s just going to take a little more time still.”
The 24-year old rider still had a few more races left in February both A and B races, and his goal was to keep remembering why he was in Europe. “After Christmas when I was not feeling so great about what I was doing, Adam reminded me that I came here to learn and to experience the races and to pick up all those little bits of information, not just for me but so that I can pass it on to other kids, to juniors, to all the people I’m coaching so going to school is basically what I’m going. Reminding me of that rather than just the results and just the races themselves.”
The Adam is Adam Myerson, friend, coach and employer at Cycle-Smart.
So how did a cyclist from Edmonton, Alberta end up here? Well like many he started mountain biking young with his friends and then one day told his dad ‘I want to race my bike’. By age 14, he was racing. A couple of years later, the road bike was added and a few years after that, cross. And it was love.
He considers himself “a cross racer doing road” even though the mix between the two has been 50-50.
This was not his first trip to race in Europe. “I’ve been over twice before. Went to Worlds as an espoir in Hoogelide  and then in Treviso , the first year I went for five weeks and then the second year, for seven weeks. I know how the races work generally, I’m used to that part of it, just being gone for longer.”
Prior to the European journey, he spent the fall in New England with Myerson. “He’s been coaching me for the last two years. It was the natural flow of things and when the opportunity came to ride on Cycle-Smart team and ride with Van Dessel bikes and everything, it was awesome, I jumped on it.”
Time to go. “I always sort of knew that you had to leave Alberta to be a bike racer but I never really committed to it but this summer, racing in Ottawa, it was like okay you definitely have to leave.”
Even though he raced two UCI races every weekend while in New England, for Adamson Europe is the place to be to experience the peak of the sport. “I really respect what Jeremy Powers and Tim Johnson and those guys are doing in building the home scene because Americans are not going to improve unless there’s good Americans to race with, when I say Americans I mean North Americans. It’s important to support your home and go back and teach people things but also if you want to be the best, I think right now you have to be in Europe, the courses are so much harder, technically and the racers, if you’re racing for 45th you are racing for 45th, you’re not just hanging out.”
Many racers would have stayed and hunted for results in New England cross races first before venturing across the pond, yet Adamson decided to go anyway.
“Yeah, there’s quote I think from, it was in Transitions 2, and Noel Dejonckheere I think said it and he said you have to be introduced to that high level early, not to be completely immersed in to but introduced to it. So if you come over for a month when you’re 17 and then come over for a month and a half and then eventually everything just starts growing and you’re not completely thrown into the water but start getting your feet wet a little bit here and there and then I think that makes every other experience that you have better or more useful.”
Better racer and better coach. His goal for the trip was to get better. “To gain experience, to gain knowledge and ultimately come back next year and be better. I don’t know if I fully have what it takes to be the next Jeremy Powers or to be the next Tim Johnson but I want to take it as far as I can and learn as much as I can in that so that I can one day pass that on.”
He did notice an improvement on his racing. “I lasted a few more laps in the Kalmthout World Cup than in Koksijde. The Koksijde course was really hard but you can tell a difference between, I’ve done a lot of the B races this year as well, first time I’ve done that and that’s a lot more like an American UCI C2, so I’m not quite at the front of those races but in the second and third group, in the top 20s.”
What if I was a 15/16 year old, still a kid that says I want to be the next Jeremy Powers, Tim Johnson, what would you tell them? “I think it would depend on where you live.” replied Adamson who became a coach for Cycle-Smart in 2011.
“Let’s say you’re from Edmonton, I would tell you to race locally and travel to a few races, maybe Portland. By Belgium standards, a 20-hour drive is ridiculous, but Edmonton standards, yeah, travel to a few big races, don’t take it so so seriously, just have fun. Then as you improve a little bit, work a lot on your skills. Sven Nys is untouchable when it comes to technical stuff, working on your skills, not be too confident and saying I don’t need to work on dismounts, I don’t need to work on barriers, I can do, you can always be better so always working on the little things. Really just have fun with it and then as you improve, start training more specifically. Also I think it’s important to still race road and/or mountain bikes to keep learning and keep building fitness. Don’t worry so much about results because year after year, everything builds and the training you do today matters next month and then next year, everything builds and keep working at it.”
And as a coach, what would he tell himself, a 24-year racer? “Keep working at it really. Ultimately there’s a point where it’s like okay you’ve stopped improving, you’re just wasting everybody’s money but I like to think that I’m not there yet. But if I’m in the same place in two or three years, I probably won’t be doing it anymore.”
For some, the two or three year deadline could be too much pressure. “Yeah but how you define same place might change. If I’m barely making ends meet and getting lapped at World Cups then … That doesn’t mean you stop racing, it just means you stop trying to be a pro. You can always race at home and race locally. “
Making a living racing cross. “I guess that would be the goal, I’d be happy to supplement it with road or mountain bike, probably road because I haven’t mountain biked in a few years. I look at a guy like Jeremy Powers and I’d like to be able to do what he does. If it came to a decision and it said you can get a road contract for 20 grand and you can’t race cross, I would take it. If I can make 5 thousand dollars racing cross and 5 thousand dollars racing road then I’d do that.”
Back to Europe. Through the support of friends and family, Adamson was able to recover from the mental beat down after Christmas.
“I have a great group of people here. And staying with Holly and Gregg and with Gabby [Day] it’s been really awesome, they’ve been really helpful.” Adamson stayed at the Chain Stay owned by Holly & Gregg Germer in Oudenaarde. “Talking to my parents, talking to my friends at home, getting all their support, I’ve heard from more than one person that has said whether they did or not but looking back on their lives in their early twenties and when they could have done something like this, they missed out on that opportunity or if they did get to do it, they were incredibly thankful for it whether it turned into something or not, just there few years change your life so much so the experience will make you who you are.”
And he received help from unexpected sources. “The second [B] race I went to, the guy that was parked across from me said are you here by yourself? I said yes and he said let me help you. He’s come to almost every race after that again to help me out, he’s a mountain biker that’s the same age as me from the Netherlands, he knows what it takes. The old Belgian guys, if you’re a foreigner they love you, they’ll be happy to take care of you, I can barely even speak to them, and they’re happy to help to me.”
Adamson believes that the experience will make him a better coach. “I think a lot of it too is meeting people here and making connections so that if you send an athlete over here then you’ll be able to help them find a mechanic for the race and help then find a place to stay and figure out which part of the country they should live in, that kind of thing.”
Though not chosen to represent Canada at the Cross Worlds, Adamson made the trip anyway to support his compatriots. “I know Derrick [St. John] and Natasha [Elliott] both said that it could be good to have you there just because you’re one non-stressed individual that can smile and be happy. That might be a good thing.”
A good thing. If you have a chance to meet Adamson, ask him about his adventures and if you’re lucky, he’ll cook and bake for you. After enjoying his final cross race of the season, the Cauberg Cross this weekend, he is back home in Canada.