Cycle Messenger World Champion Craig Etheridge (Raleigh) has a clear goal for the Exergy US Gran Prix of Cyclocross this cross season.
“What I’m going to attempt to do at USGP is, I can’t absolutely say for absolute certainty but I really want to be if not one of, maybe the first person to ever do all the USGPs in the single-speed category.” Etheridge told podiuminsight this weekend.
We think it would be the first time that a rider has done all eight of the single-speed races during the series.
“I think it’s not obviously the biggest, most prestigious category but it’s becoming more and more of a high-profile category. A lot of people realize now that single-speed racing isn’t really just a shlough off category, it isn’t the warm-up category although some people can still use it as a warm-up category.”
“Then part of the reason that no one has done it yet is that it’s sort of unrealistic for an average person to take off the time, to commit to the travel, it’s expensive and that’s why people who end up doing all the Grand Prix in the first place are all sponsored professional riders.”
Raleigh is making it possible for him to go for it. “I think it’s good for Raleigh because they are putting out a lot of awesome single-speed bikes and it’s a really promotion for those bikes. I’m riding two different styles of their single-speed bikes, two different versions and it’s also something that as a company they’ve recognized, a growing sub-sport of cyclocross.”
Though single-speed races are offered for every USGP, the category does not have overall standings, a fact that Etheridge would love to be the catalyst for change.
“Maybe next year someone is going to say one guy went to all of those, well of course he won, well as a single-speed producing bike company why don’t I send someone, I bet you we could beat that guy and that’s what I would love. I would love to see more people do that and obviously get the support not only as a whole but more specifically single-speed which is what I like to do the best and I feel I’m best at myself.”
Under leadership of team manager Jonny Sundt, Raleigh is sponsoring an elite cross team this year, a team which includes Etheridge.
Single-Speed phenom. Every time someone around me said the name Craig Etheridge, it was almost always followed by ‘single-speed phenom’. Bike messenger in Seattle, WA, Etheridge is the 2006 Washington State Champion in Cyclocross single speed and the 2010 Cycle Messenger World Champion. On his single-speed, he also took the win at the CrossVegas Wheelers and Dealers race.
So what makes him so good at single-speed?
“I don’t know.” the 31-year old laughed.
“I think what I figured out a long time ago when I started racing single-speed is that it took a lot of the decisions away from me, like I didn’t have to ever decide which gear I was going to be in, I could just get on the bike and pedal it and I could take corners, slow down and speed up and that was it. I could stand up or sit down and the rest of it I didn’t need to think about.”
“Not to mention that just until up to this moment, I’ve never really been anywhere near sponsored so everything I’ve done has been on my own, I’ve put stuff together, make sure it works by myself, a lot less things to go wrong, a little simpler, a little cheaper.”
He did race one cross season in the Northwest on a geared bike. “I thought I did alright but I just never got used to it, I didn’t feel I did actually any better that I would of on my single-speed which is why I’m sticking with it for now.”
“So far, it’s been going great.” he said about his single-speed cross racing. “I do pretty well in the Seattle area. There’s a couple of guys who are always getting faster just like everybody is and just like these big races, there’s always a couple of fast guys that really push the limits. It’s really nice that in the Northwest we have a really awesome pool of people that push each other in the single-speed category especially. I know a number of guys that could any day, could have a good day or a bad day, could win any of our local races. I’m close to those guys and that’s where I like to stay.”
Single-speed racing. His approach is fairly simple.
“I’ve gone back and forth with the idea of changing the gear on my bike for years and actually I just end up deciding at the beginning of the year this is what I like to ride and it’s going to be great in some courses and it’s going to be terrible in other courses. And even on a course, it could be great on one-half and terrible on the other half but in the long run it sort of evens out and I just deal with whatever it is I deal with.” he said. “That’s the same things that other people deal with, I get to make less decisions about it.”
For the Planet Bike Cup course in Sun Prairie, he identified the back section as the more difficult for a single-speed.
“The gear I chose, I always like to believe that it’s perfect for every course. Honestly I think that on this back half it will be a little bit trickier because there’s lot of punchy stuff, you need to be able to come out of the corners, you’re never exactly where you want to be but you might be close enough to it. On a course like this, I don’t really attack it any differently because I’m so used to riding that one gear as it is. I’ll just and ride around as many times as I can and look at the course like everybody else except I never have to think about which gear I’m supposed to be in.”
Well, his way was working. On Saturday’s dry course, Etheridge not only solo’ed to the win but caught and passed all the Masters 55+ that started 30-second before his category.
“I had a great start, I was pretty used to the bike by then although every time I’ve ridden it has been in the dry so yesterday was also to my advantage that you know I’m still warming up to the season.” he said about his first USGP race.
Then, the weather turned on Sunday, a downpour turning the course into a sloggy, muddy extravaganza.
“The second day was a little bit tougher, there was a lot more handling skills and a little less power, and I had a really good instructor riding right next to me.” said Etheridge who once again made his way off the front but this time, he had company. Brian Forne, who happens to be his boss.
“He is my boss and he is boss on a cyclocross race let me tell you. He’s got some really good handling skills and it was awesome to tail him and learn some good tricks of the trade and hopefully I’ll be able to pick more of those and work on it for the rest of the year. We came in one and two today, it’s really good.”
If a series standings was being tallied, Etheridge would be on top with a victory and second-place this past weekend.
Revolution. “I’m hoping to.” he replied when asked if he was starting a single-speed revolution. “I’m hoping that Raleigh is really on the fore-front of it. I think that they’re really doing a lot of good things with their bikes.”
We both laughed when I brought up what many think of urban single-speeders, as seen on the streets of Seattle or San Francisco – the word weirdo might have used.
“Right but I definitely think that they’re thinking that a lot less.” he smiled.
“Hopefully prove that a little less and less that (on the streets) and more and more out at races. Not only in the single-speed category but in the geared category and that is what I might be trying to do in the rest of the Grand Prix also. Not only I’ll try to race the single-speed but if I feel alright, I’ll probably race the Open 2/3 men and I did that in St-Louis just a couple of days ago and I got fourth and that was after my single-speed race.”
“Like Brian said too, it’s not unrealistic that you could do well on a single-speed in a geared category and maybe that would be more of a shock to a lot of people.”
If anyone can shock us on a single-speed, it would be Etheridge.