In part one of our interview Jesse Anthony, of the Kelly Benefit Strategies-OptumHealth team, explained his decision to focus on the road over cross racing with a long-term goal of racing full-time in Europe. In part two, we discuss his renewed motivation along with how he handles the mental stress of his job.
So what does it take to jump to that next level of racing full-time in Europe? Is it simply to win more? He chuckled and replied, “I got on a few podiums last year, I think I had a lot of solid rides, maybe not everyone saw but I was able to contribute to the team and to the team’s efforts a lot and this year I want to win some more races.”
Anthony – who turned 26 yesterday – not only has a new focus this year but an increased motivation to fight for the win.
He did come close at the Tour of Battenkill in April, where he finished second after being off the front for 100 kilometers, and solo for 65 of those only to get caught and passed in the final two kilometers.
“I wanted to get into the early because the pack seemed pretty uninterested in racing very hard.” he said about Battenkill. The pace amped up, his teammates softened the field and Anthony was able to bridge up to the 5-rider early break about 55 kilometer into the 161-km race.
“Then, myself and one other rider, the guy who actually won, Brett Tivers, dropped those guys around 75km in on a slightly steep dirt road climb.” The two rode together until Anthony went solo with 65 km to go, “on the next long, stair-stepped dirt climb, it was about one mile long.”
After dropping back to the field, Brett Tivers (Garneau-Club Chaussures-Norton Rose) recovered, got into a chase group and attacked with 10 km to go to take the win.
“I knew he was catching me, he timed it perfectly, he had accelerated right as he was coming up to me, I tried to get on his wheel but I was absolutely fried by then, my hamstrings were cramping 25 km out, I was pedaling all quads, it was ugly.” Anthony chuckled. “I was feeling good most of the race but my hamstrings were super-twingy so that didn’t help. I made a few digs in the last 2 km to bridge but he was gone. He rode a perfect race, the guy rode smart and he was aggressive, he obviously wasn’t afraid to race because after he got caught after being in the break, he attacked again.”
Anthony said that losing that race was really, really hard because he’s never been so motivated to win in his life. “I’ve always been happy with good results, with solid rides, and it’s not going to satisfy me this year, I want to win because I think winning is what I need to do to get to the next step. I’m not trying to be cocky, I’m not trying to make it sound that it’s easy and I know I can do it, I know it’s going to be hard. I’ve seen that I can be there in the races, and now I want to see if I can win these races.”
“It’s hard to be second place.” he added. “Everyone is out sport works so hard to be where we’re at and you get second, you know you were close enough to winning, that you were almost good enough, that difference between first and second place is a few decisions, a few choices in the course of a 105-mile race. You always think what were the big ones that you messed up. It’s also a solid result, it was a good ride. I was off the front for 105 km and 65 km I was by myself so I certainly can’t say I wasn’t having a good day. It’s definitely bitter sweet.”
So what did bring about this changed attitude, this increased motivation? While the overall win in Norway was part of it, Anthony says that being a part of of the KBS-OptumHealth has inspired him to win.
“Jonas Carney, our director, likes to win. Our sponsors like to win, our staff likes to win, our mechanics and our soigneurs, they work super, super hard and they go above and beyond because they want to win so badly that they know it takes a full effort from everyone.” he said. “The team’s attitude has rubbed off on me, it’s been addictive and especially Jonas. Jonas just mentioned once this year that he likes to win bike races, and I never really thought of it, I’ve always tried to do my best, take what came. I’ve always ridden hard, be the best teammate that I can and of course, I’ve tried to win races but this year, something clicked inside of me that just made me hungry to win more than ever before.”
It’s also part of where he wants to go with his career. “I know if I want to go race in Europe, I’m not 21 years old anymore, they’re not going to take me over there as a young guy who has potential. If I’m going to earn a spot, it’s because I’m a guy who can win races and so that’s what inspired me to push for it this year.”
Is that increased pressure to win manageable? “I don’t know if I’d say the pressure is manageable.” he laughed. He then added that he spent two miserable days after Battenkill asking himself a thousand different questions, what went wrong? why didn’t he win?
He agreed that he does put a lot of pressure on himself. “I’m not feeling perfect, I’m trying harder and harder to figure out what I can do better, what I can do differently, prepare myself better, to stay healthy, to recover better, to train better, to stay stronger. It is a lot of pressure and most of it, I’m putting on myself – all of it I’m putting on myself. The team stands behind me, they want to win, they want me to be a member of the team, to win races and to help the team win races. But they haven’t really put added pressure on me this year, it’s definitely coming from myself.”
Combined with the pressure, there is mental and physical fatigue from racing, training and all the traveling that hits all professional cyclists. After taking almost a year from diagnosis to “riding well” again, Anthony does pay attention to not getting sick or over-fatiguing himself.
“I really don’t think the mono is going to come back but it’s hard not to get sick when we travel to so many different countries and continents, sit on airplanes for that long, and just running around, busy schedule, stress. It’s definitely something I stress about, probably I stress more about that I do about my training. I’m serious, my training is pretty contained, it’s pretty normal. For the most part, I’m just recovering from the races, try to get a little bit of work in when I can and the racing is my training.
He does spend a lot of energy not getting sick. “I try to take some muli-vitamins, eat really healthy and get lots of sleep and drink plenty of fluids, stay hydrated. The list goes on, sleep, making sure you adjust to the time properly, wash your hands a lot. Just a ton of tiny little things that I try not to stress about but I also try to make sure I pay attention to the little details because they make a big difference.”
He then added, “Another note on the travel. I haven’t been in one place more than 20 days since the Christmas of 2009.”
That was an extra incentive for his decision to focus on road. “I need to give myself a mental break, and some things in life aside from bike racing. I love bike racing and that’s pretty obvious but I also would like to do some other things, ride my dirt bike, go camping and hiking.”
Though he has chosen to prioritize road, Anthony has not turned his back on cross completely. “I will be at races, I might race a few,” he added with a laugh, “I will most definitely be heckling, you do not have to worry about that.”
But it is all about taking it to the next level on the road for Anthony, all with a renewed focus. “I’m also more motivated more than I’ve ever been.”
Following the Nature Valley Grand Prix, held June 15 to 19 in Minnesota, Anthony will take a break until Cascade Classic Stage Race starting July 19. Maybe he’ll finally get those 20 days at home.