For the past ten years, reigning USA XC Mountain Bike National Champion Todd Wells (Specialized) has been racing cross as part of his program.
“I really enjoy the racing, the racers, the whole atmosphere.” a relaxed Wells told podiuminsight.
“We race each other on the mountain bike but then during cross there’s a whole other group, the road guys that I get to see. Everyone is friends and it’s a cool atmosphere. And cyclocross I feel really helps my mountain biking, the acceleration, the punchiness, the speed whereas mountain biking doesn’t so much help cyclocross but I feel like that cyclocross definitely helps my mountain biking.”
For Wells, it’s simply fun racing. “The mountain biking is becoming more group racing, more tactical, tighter with the shorter courses, shorter climbs but with cyclocross you’re racing, you’re banging elbows with guys, they’re attacking, you’re chasing and as a mountain biker we don’t have that a lot. Sometimes we have groups that we’re fighting in but it’s not like the road where you’re always riding in a group. For me, it’s really fun to come out and race these guys.”
The scene has grown in the past ten years, forcing Wells to add cross specific training to stay competitive.
“It used to be that I could come into cyclocross out of the mountain bike and not really focus on cross and still be able to win some races. It’s not that I wasn’t trying but I wouldn’t be out there trying to do cross specific intervals, I could do long mountain bike rides, kind of enjoy myself, I’d probably end up getting one or two wins.” admits the 35-year old.
“Now the guys are getting so good. There are people that are focusing just on cross where ten years ago, everyone was using cross just for training for the road or mountain bike and so the level in the US has shot up. You see it with Katie (Compton) winning World Cups and almost World Champs, and (Jeremy) Powers and (Tim) Johnson both have been top 10 in the World Cups. And (Jonathan) Page almost winning the World Championships, you can’t just come in and use it as training if you want to compete against those guys.”
Wells has been very successful at cross, he is after all the reigning USA Cyclocross Champion. A title which is will not be defending this year with Nationals now being held in January instead of December, especially with the London Olympic Games in 2012. So far this year, Wells podiumed at both races of the Spooky Cross weekend.
But he did follow his usual schedule of some cross-specific training after CrossVegas.
“I felt that I was getting some good fitness towards the Madison USGP side of things but then I took a break and now I’m training for La Ruta. I just come here and suffer really bad. In order to be competitive with these guys, you have to really focus on it and do the correct training for it.”
After racing in Boulder this weekend, Wells will be off to Costa Rica for the four-day La Ruta De Los Conquistadores. Then, back to the USA for the third USGP weekend in Louisville and his final cross weekend at JingleCross.
“I’m hoping to be pretty good at JingleCross. It’s got a big climb, that’s the closest thing we get to a mountain bike race, and it’s always cold and muddy and there’s a slippery descent.”
Secret of his success. Wells is coming off two tremendous years. He did the trifecta in 2010, winning three National titles in one year with cross, cross-country and short track mountain biking. It was the third Cross National title for the mountain biker who had previously won in 2001 and 2005. He had another banner year in 2011 as the cross-country National Champ in 2011 and finished seventh at cross-country Worlds.
“Last year was my best domestic year I’ve ever had and then this year I didn’t win quite as many domestic races but I was much better internationally with a couple of top 10 in World Cups, and seventh at World Champs so then internationally I was good and then I was able to win the National Mountain-bike champs again, finished second in the series, win the Leadville race, so it was great.”
He attributes his success to his team. “Being on the Specialized team surrounded by so many great athletes, they want to win all the races. So that mentality carries over. When I wasn’t on the team if I was top three or four that was a great result domestically but for those guys, we have all the best riders in the world so even winning in the US is just, that’s what you’re supposed to do. I feel that that mentality has upped my performance.”
Though it was mostly mental, Wells has also been fine tuning his training over the past years which have helped him peak for the big events. “I would always be pretty good somewhere along the line but I never would know when it was going to happen and now I feel that I’m getting better at targeting when I’m going to have good form. And then, we have really great support on the team, awesome soigneurs, mechanics, equipment. Like I said, they foster a winning mentality and being surrounded by so many great athletes who all want to win.”
His best win? Leadville because it is so different than what he trains for. “The mountain bike climbs are usually 2-3 minutes long and the races are an hour 45 minutes. Leadville the climbs are over an hour, an hour 20 minutes and the race is six and a half hours so it’s completely different from what I normally do so I’d say that was pretty cool.”
Can he top it? For Wells, that means making the Team USA for the Olympic Games and doing well there.
“A top 10 would be good, top 5 awesome and to get a medal would be amazing.” replied Wells when asked what doing well means to him.
He also wants to do well at the World Cup level. “If I’m doing well at the World Cup then I’m going well for the Olympics, they’re all kind of the same, so I would like to have good form for the World Cup also.”
Louisville 2013. Wells wants to be part of Team USA for the Cyclocross World Championships in Louisville. But he knows it’s going to be a fight.
“There are so many US guys, just to make the Worlds team is going to be hard.” he acknowledges.
“After the Olympics I’ll probably get away from World Cup racing and do more of the endurance stuff like Leadville, Cap Epic and then I feel that by doing those I’ll have a schedule more that I can put together and then I’ll be able to put it together so maybe I finish in August instead of September. I can take a little break and do some cross specific training.”
While he does feel that there’s enough time between the Olympic Games and Cross Worlds,Wells knows that “in order to make that cyclocross team and be competitive in cross, I’ll really have to focus.”
Of course, one thing that will stay on his schedule is golf. Wells simply loves to golf.
“I love it.” he smiled. “I don’t know why, it’s one of those things. I played it a couple of times with some friends and it’s so hard and such a frustrating game that you instantly want to be better and it seems that it just hooks you in. So I spent a couple of years, I would play and practice as much as I could, any free time and now I’ve gotten to the point where I feel that I can play alright and it’s just fun to go out.”
And he’s got a pretty good handicap too. “I’ve gotten it as low as eight, right now it’s probably about a 13 or something. I’ll take it.” he finished with a smile.
Wells will be racing at the two UCI cross races in Colorado this weekend.