After finishing on the podium of three UCI cross races in the United States, American Meredith Miller (California Giant/Specialized) traveled to the Czech Republic to race in the first two World Cups of the season. Her goal is to get points and to make onto Team USA for the World Championships held in Koksijde, Belgium at the end of January.
Coming into cross racing relatively late after many successful years of being a pro on the road, Miller has been able to use her power to claim podiums and victories. But she freely admits to be still improving her skills and even her confidence. Like many other racers, Miller has been going from road into cross into road season, but the 2008 US National Road Champion is planning on a lighter road schedule next year. All to prepare for the 2013 Cyclocross World Championships in Louisville, Kentucky.
While training in the Czech Republic, Miller along with her mechanic Jordi Cortes are staying at Katerina Nash‘s parent house. Nash and Miller also participated at the second World Cup press conference this week where Miller was happy to talk about her Pretty In Mud t-shirt.
A few days ago, Miller took the time to answer our questions on her season, her plans for the next two years and a lot more on another in-depth interview in our One-On-One series.
Tell me about your World Cup race last week, your first one of the year.
I had never done that World Cup before but pre-riding it, I thought this is a good course, a lot of punchy explosive power, some short punchy climbs, nothing too extremely technical, pretty straightforward with one tough steep ride-up section and then another run-up section with stairs that were just brutally hard, especially towards the end of the race. Got out there for the race and felt okay but didn’t have a ton of power that day. I had a smooth race, everything went well, I thought that I’d picked the right lines and all that, I just have didn’t have the gas that I was hoping to have. I finished 13th . You know, I’ve finished 12th at races over here before so I was definitely hoping for better than 12th. I was really hoping for top 10. I’m still hoping for top 10 in Tabor. But first World Cup of the season is out of the way and just hope that this weekend goes better.
How happy are you with the start of your season so far?
I’ve had a couple less than stellar results but, the two podiums that I’ve had at USGP I’ve been happy with of course, I just wish I could do that for a whole weekend which I said last year – usually it was the first day last year that I struggled with and I could come back strong the second day. This year my poor results haven’t been because of mechanicals or technical difficulties at all, I don’t know, I just didn’t have it that day whatever it was. So I’ve been okay. I figured I’d probably come in a little bit slow because I did have a long road season. I took the month of August off and so I didn’t want to come in flying because it’s a long season and there’s a lot to focus on in January. So I’m over here to get points , to do well at the World Cups and show that I can still be racing with these girls in Europe and that I deserve to be back here in January for Worlds but I still have some work to do for sure. But I’m happy with how things have been going so far.
Do you think that you are a bit slower because of the long road season? Is it a mental road block or physical?
I think it could be a little bit of everything. I had a pretty big road season, a full road season this year and I’ve had road season into cross season into road for the last couple of years. So definitely now I probably have to rethink a little bit about how to manage fatigue in between races more than it is necessarily a lack of fitness. And I’m also starting to think more about next year too, how to manage my time next year so that I’m not on the road as much, traveling and racing and all that so that I can come into cross season ready.
What are you thinking of for next year then? We all know that the World Championships are coming to Louisville in 2013.
That’s still what I focus on. I think I’ll probably end up being part-time on the road, still working out those details but now that the NRC schedule is out, I can start thinking about it. But I also want to add some mountain bike races, not a lot but just a few so that come August I’m not all of a sudden going ‘oh this is what it feels like to ride on dirt’.
I’d like to sprinkle a few mountain bike races here and there, in between some of the road races. I’ll probably do more stage races with only a couple of crits here and there, focus on the stage races and then add some mountain bike races in between some of that. It might just be races in Colorado, maybe with a trip or two on the mountain bike, just to keep me fresh and to keep me on top of my skills so that I’m not trying to rush everything right before cross season starts. I think having a mix of road and mountain bike is good, I can keep the leg speed that you get from road but also the skill and explosive power that you get a little bit more from the mountain bike, so hopefully the combination with be good for me.
Are you still with TIBCO next year?
That’s the plan. Linda and I need to sit down now that the calendar is out we need to sit down to work out a schedule. If I don’t race with TIBCO, the only other thing I would do is with CalGiant and I would just end up guest-riding or doing races on my own but hopefully it’s going to work out that when I am at a road race I am racing with TIBCO and then, anything else off the road bike will be with CalGiant.
There is stiff competition in the USA to get on the Worlds team, lots of cross talent. What do you think you need to do to make sure that you’re on that team?
Well, I think the first step was being here in Europe. I think an automatic qualifier is being top 15 at a World Cup and we just had four of us in the top 15 and Katie (Compton) is automatically qualified because of her win. And then Amy (Dombroski) would be the next person because of her sixth place and then Nicole (Duke) and I are not too far behind her. So I think that we’ve shown the interest and the commitment to be back here in January for Worlds, I think that’s the first step. And then continuing to improve on the results over here will be necessary for me to make the team.
It’s a deep field here.
Yes. Last year, I wasn’t planning on coming over until January and then I talked to Gully (Marc Gullikson, USA Cycling development program manager) who said well you really need to go over there and do some World Cups. My only option to come over was in December and that was just to prove that I could be over here racing and my commitment to being here. It wasn’t just that I could sit back on my heels and expect that I was going to get results in the US and that was going to be good enough to make the Worlds team.
So this year that’s why I planned it differently, I wanted to come over here, get some World Cups done right away, see where I’m at, what I need to work on. I want to come back in November for Koksijde, especially because that’s the Worlds course in January, again I want to come back and experience that course and see how I do. If it goes well, great, if not then at least I know what I need to go home and work on but I’ve shown that I’m dedicated and I’m committed to wanting to be here and improving. And then if everything is going well then hopefully I won’t have to come back in December just because it’s hard to come over during the Holidays and stuff, I’d like to race this year but the travel is hard. So if everything goes well, I will stay home in December, and then come back in January and do the last two World Cups before Worlds again.
What is it that you want to accomplish this year, especially thinking of Louisville?
Well, I definitely want to keep getting the results and podium in the US but I also want to crack the top 10 here in the World Cups. I can do it, I just have to have a little more confidence, a little more experience. I’m really, really close so I want to crack the top 10 in a World Cup. I’ve come close at the Worlds too, last year in Germany, it didn’t go well, I had a flat at the worst possible time of that race but the year before here in Tabor, I was 12th. I’m right there. I definitely want to be top 10 and keep improving so that come Louisville, I’m definitely a solid top 10 rider by then.
I always find it interesting that you talk about finding more confidence because you are so confident when it’s road season so it is interesting that you’re missing a bit on cross.
Yeah, well, it’s definitely more mental for me, it’s probably like the first years I started racing on the road. I would line up for a crit and be scared to death. I was one of those riders that would be on the start line 15 minutes before the start of the crit because I was scared to death and had to be on the front row and now I can line up at the back knowing that I’ll be at the front when I need to be. In cross, it’s still so new, I’m still learning a lot, I’m still working on my start, all that kind of stuff and it’s just being able to put it all together. With road I know what I’m doing, I’ve been to some of the races 10 times before. Now with cross, I’m still doing races for the first time ever and at least internationally don’t always know the field. So just learning a lot and it’s great, I love it and obviously enjoying it and want to keep learning and welcome the challenge. But certainly it’s different than road because I know what I’m capable in road and I have the feeling of what I can do in cross and still trying to take those next steps.
You mentioned starts, I was going to ask you about that. Last year, there were some issues. What did you do to improve your starts?
Just been working on them a lot. Today, Katerina, Jordi and I were out riding and at the end of our ride, all three of us lined up and we just practiced our starts. It’s just a matter of practice, practice, practice. Whether it’s the starts, remounts, dismounts, shouldering the bike, that kind of repetition that you just have to do over and over again. In crits, you get a little bit of it when you have to start off quick, yet for me because I’ve been doing them for so long, I can line up at the back and not be as concerned about those first 300 meters of a crit. It’s just something that is so new to me, so different. That quick acceleration off the line, the reaction time, the first five or ten pedal strokes, it’s just practice, practice, practice.
Did you beat Katerina?
No, well one time when she didn’t get into her pedals (laughs)
Do you think it would be advantageous for you to race in Europe, go and live there for months?
Probably. I would like to do that but it’s hard to be away for home that long. Maybe it’s something I could do a little bit more next year if I back off of the road and the road schedule and I’m not so tired of being away from home come cross season I could spend a little bit more time over here. You look at what Amy is going to do this year, she’s already finished sixth at a World Cup, she’s doing something right.
The racing here is just so different, the courses, the depth of the field; not that the racing in the United States isn’t hard because it is very hard, it’s just different. The courses are laid out different, the conditions are different, spectators, all of that, preparation and obviously being away from home. When any of the European riders have come to the US, they’re like ‘oh okay now we get it, we understand why it’s so hard now’. You’re working out of the back of a van when they’ve got their Rvs, they’re comfortable and they’re warm inside, they have all the staff to do everything they need. All the Americans are great when they’re here. Back in Plzen, we were all parked near to each other and helping each other out and it was like our little crew (laughs) It’s good, there’s a lot of camaraderie and I appreciate that a lot about cross in particular, when we’re here, everybody can look out for each other.
So do you have anybody in Europe cheering for you because they don’t cheer except for the front group or their favorite rider?
It’s crazy. Actually last year when I was in Belgium, I would go hang out with Katie and Mark each day and the Belgian family that they stay with. So, I would hear her cheering for me on different part of the course, it was great. You hear that one little voice calling out your name and it’s really cool. But the spectators here, I was like ‘see Jordi, now you understand’. The spectators here cheer for the first five people to come through and then nobody else.
It’s silent. I was amazed. Now onto a completely different and silly question. I know that you like to bake while on the road, what’s the best cookie that you make?
Chocolate chip oatmeal. It’s a recipe that I got from a teammate years and years ago. Now I’ve made the cookies so many times that I don’t even need to look at the recipe anymore and sometimes I’ll put a little bit more of this today or a little more of that. That’s hands down my favorite cookie recipe.
What’s the weirdest combination that you’ve baked? Either that you were asked to do or wanted to try.
Weirdest. I don’t think there’s been a weird, well unless you consider gluten-free weird (laughs) That’s kind of weird. Jordi is gluten-free. In Ft Collins, I gave everyone else my regular cookies, I got a package of Bob’s Red Mill gluten-free chocolate chip cookie mix and apparently they tasted pretty good. I didn’t try any (laughs)
Traveling is hard. What else do you do to pass the time. This week, you had five days between the two races?
Sleep, sleep, sleep. Catch up on sleep. (laughs)
Normally, when we’re on the road, of course we all have our computers out on the internet all day long but that hasn’t been the case this trip. So we’re just hanging out talking. It’s been really interesting being here with Katerina and learning a lot about Czech history, I wish that her parents could speak English, I can imagine they had crazy stories of growing up in a communist country but unfortunately there’s not a lot of dialogue between. Katerina is translating everything. It’s been very laid back, one of the smoothest, stress-free European that I’ve ever had.
Races on Miller’s schedule include the Cincy3 Cyclocross Festival in Cincinnati followed by USGP Derby City Cup in Louisville and USGP Deschutes Brewery Cup in Bend.