For many, 2011 was decision time, time to make a choice, cross or road, road or cross? Jesse Anthony of the Kelly Benefit Strategies-OptumHealth team, made the tough call and chose road. The 25-year old (soon to be 26) has bot only a new focus this year but an increased motivation.
After coming close, very close, bitter-sweet close to the win at the Tour of Battenkill in April, Anthony got into the breaks where he battled for the King of Mountain jersey at the Amgen Tour of California. He ultimately pulled out of the race when his Achilles flared up. He then continued to put his nose in the wind, fighting at the front, getting into breaks and chasing for his teammates at both the Greenville Hospital Systems USA Cycling Road National Championship and Philadelphia International Championship.
Anthony explained his decision to focus on road earlier this year. “Last fall was pretty difficult, I set out an ultimatum or an objective for myself at the beginning of the cross season, to figure out which direction I wanted to go in. I had a great road season last year, coming off two injury years, and so last year I did what I wanted to do on the road.”
2009 was a tough for Anthony who was sick or sidelined with mononucleosis for most of his road season then riding for Team Type 1, on his third year as a pro. 2010 brought recovery and breakthrough along with a new team. The year included a stage win at the Tour of Luzon in the Philippines, a second overall finish at the 10-day Tour of Korea and the overall win at the Festningsrittet, a UCI stage race in Norway
“I got some results and more importantly I was riding how I know I can ride as part of a team, I was more consistent than I have been for a long time.” he said about his 2010 road season. After a short – a very short – rest of only three days, Anthony embarked on a cross season with CalGiant where the desired results did not come.
“The cross season was kind of a do or die thing, it just didn’t pan out and so I decided this year that it’s not worth it to keep riding both road and cross at a mediocre level if I could excel at one. I’ve seen lots of potential in myself in road racing the last year, yeah I’m choosing to put all my eggs in that basket for a few years and see how it goes. I really want to make the next step in road racing.”
But that’s not to say that it was an easy decision by any means for the 7-time US National junior and U23 champion.
“That has been extremely tough and I don’t think anyone who has never been in my shoes will know what it’s like. A lot of people are saying a lot of different things to me about it and again, I have to do what’s right for me. Yeah, it is extremely difficult, I never thought it would be this hard to choose – well I did think it would be this hard to choose one over the other and that’s why for so many years, I did both of them. I never wanted it to come to this, but I think it has. I’m sticking to my guns, I made a decision, I’m sticking to the road.”
Anthony did inform CalGiant of his decision. The choice was made even harder with the UCI World Cyclocross Championships coming to Louisville, KY in 2013.
“It’s been extremely tough especially with Worlds coming up, with new sponsors and teams coming in, and growing and so many more fans, so many more races, I can’t believe that I’m walking away from the sport, I don’t want to feel like I am walking away, I’m a huge fan and I’ll always love cyclocross, hopefully I’ll be doing a few races this year but yeah, it’s been really hard.”
Why not chose the reverse, cross over road like his competitor, friend and fellow Bay Stater Tim Johnson (Cannondale p/b Cyclocrossworld.com)?
“It’s where I’m at right now. I don’t have any logical explanations for it other than I’ve seen a lot of potential in myself in road racing, I’ve always wanted to go race road full time in Europe.” he replied. It was simply the way things worked out in 2010. “I had a great road season and not a very good cross season. Had things been different, had I had a shorter road season, or more rest before the cross season, I do feel that I can ride cross at a much higher level than I was, but I think just the way things panned out, just set me up to pursue a road career.”
And the decision wasn’t about money. “People always talk about money and how you can make more in road racing but, and sure I think it’s probably easier to make more money or be slightly more successful in road racing than it is in cross but that’s not why I’m choosing. I’m choosing it because it’s what I want to do, it’s where my heart is at right now, I just feel it’s time to do the road thing and see what I can do.”
Simply said, Anthony thinks he will be a better road racer than cross racer – what he calls his potential.
“Every year, for the last several years, I’ve raised my level of racing another step up in road. Probably for the last four or five years, I’ve ridden very similar in the cyclocross season so I’ve seen myself grow more in road racing and saw my strengths coming out a little bit more and I actually think that I’m more built and my talent is more conducive or better for road racing.” he explained. “I have great endurance, I’m usually very good at races of attrition where it’s long, hard, where it’s races of survival and cross is an explosive short sport. I think, like I said, that I could do much better at cross than I have but I see a lot of attributes or qualities in my riding ability that I can take further in road racing.”
The goal is to race full-time in Europe where he thinks the racing style with “longer, harder races of attrition and survival” suits him better. Though a USA-registered Continental team registered, KBS-OptumHealth has been racing internationally in Asia and Europe for the past two years. This year, Anthony finished fifth at a stage at the Tour de Bretagne Cycliste.
“I’d absolutely love to race full-time in Europe with Kelly Benefit Strategies-OptumHealth, it’s an awesome team, I’ve really found a home here and I fit into the family. I love everyone in the team, the way it’s structured, I love the sponsors, I love the management, we have a great attitude and I dread the day that I don’t ride with these guys anymore. I hope I can ride with them for the rest of my career and retire out of this family.” he said. But he keeps his options open.
“But I don’t know where the team is going to go in the next few years, if I do have the opportunity to go race in Europe full-time and it’s not with this team, I think I have to take it because that’s what I want to do, I do want to race in Europe full-time and get into the bigger races and pursue that career.”
Stay tuned for part two of the interview where Anthony discusses his increased motivation and more.