Luke Keough (Champion System p/b Keough cyclocross) did it again at the Cycle-Smart International this past weekend. The 20-year old picked his first and second UCI wins of the cross season to sweep, for the second year in a row, the races in Northampton, MA. The victories put him on top of the Shimano New England Professional Cyclocross Series presented by Verge with a three-point lead with two races to go.
Though Keough is traveling less this cross season, he is not taking it easy.
“New England has some of the best cross races so why not stay near home and race those. I’m going to be in New England as much as possible.” he told podiuminsight prior to the Cycle-Smart International weekend. “Possibly do Bend which is the last USGP. We’re taking it weekend by weekend, we’ll see, hopefully I can get a big win. That’s the real goal, racing each to win.”
Overall, he is satisfied with his cross season. “The whole season as a whole has been pretty good, I had a little bad luck here and there, some mechanical problems but overall I would say it’s been going pretty well, it’s been fun and trying to keep it as stress free as possible.”
Keough also decided not to defend his U23 USGP overall win. “I got the U23 jersey last year so I kind have checked that one off.”
One reason to limit his travel this season is that Keough took no real break after his first full and quite successful road season with Team Mountain Khakis/SmartStop. For a couple of weeks, he was overlapping both cross and road races. Nittany Cross Race on September 10, then onto CrossVegas and capped off his road season with the USA Crits finale, the TD Bank Mayor’s Cup on September 25.
Road. Though he was leading the series coming into the Boston race, Keough and his team went into the race with a goal to win, but he had to settle for third on the day.
“We were riding for the win in that race, we were racing for the day not the overall, we didn’t want to sit back, just watch other guys so we raced from the start. I covered guys that I needed to watch for the overall and it came down to the sprint. Some of the guys weren’t feeling so good, so the last two laps I was on my own but we had a couple of guys riding the front to bring the race back and it came down to a sprint. I kind of messed up the positioning but other than that it was a great day, I took the overall for the series, I took the U25 jersey and we took the team overall, it was a good day.”
“Season fulfilled” for the Team Mt Khakis whose major goal this year was to win the USA Crits series for the third consecutive year. For Keough, winning the overall showed that he had a consistent season. The first step was to figure out who would be the go-to guy.
“We came into the season with a pretty broad plan, everyone was riding for their best result because it was a team of young guys.” explained Keough. “The team’s goal last year was to move guys onto bigger teams so everyone was trying to ride for themselves up until the first race where I got the best result for the series and then the whole team got behind me and raced the whole season for me for the overall.”
Relishing the pressure, Keough became the protected rider for the eight-race series.
“It’s not really outside pressure, it’s more pressure from myself to perform for the guys, to pay them back. They’re doing their job and I have to do mine. That’s racing and that’s the pressure I want.” said Keough who claimed the overall lead after the fourth race, Hyde Park Blast.
The team followed a general plan for each race. “Everyone being aggressive in the beginning, the first half of the race, everyone going for breakaways and then pretty much from the halfway point, if a break wasn’t established we were riding for the sprint, I was the one that was getting on the back of the train for the sprint. “ said Keough. “It was everyone’s opportunity until halfway in the race and then it was me.”
The team also had to learn how to work together to set up Keough for the finish. “I just needed to get to the last turn in good position. Our leadouts weren’t so much take over at 10 to go and ride the front as everyone saw with UHC. We had two or three strong guys towards the end, and coming to the closing laps they would help me stay in position, so I just needed to be up there by the end of the last lap.”
Keough added, “There were a lot of races where everyone rode really selflessly for me and all the guys, we get along off the bike really well, it makes it a lot easier when we’re racing to communicate and everyone will give up their own race to help anyone else.”
There were some tough days out there, the toughest being the Iron Hill Twilight Criterium in West Chester, PA, one week after Keough had been hit by a car. “That was definitely the hardest mentally to keep going and to keep riding. I was in a lot of pain, probably the most pain I’ve ever been in, that was definitely a good mental workout.”
“I raced with a separated shoulder, all taped up. That actually stands out as the hardest race of the series. I didn’t end up finishing that well but I did finish, that was the goal.” said Keough. “We didn’t tell anyone that I was all taped up. A couple of people saw me just before the race with a sling on, but other than that I was racing injured and trying to keep it a secret. Because you know, it’s tactics, they could have seen it and raced differently.”
When we talked last year, Keough said that one of his goal for the 2011 season was to finish top 5 at an NRC race. Mission accomplished, well sort of.
“That was definitely my best ride.” said Keough who crossed the line in third place at Sunny King Criterium. “I ended up getting disqualified for that race which was a bummer due to an official’s mistake I got put in after the free laps had expired or something. It was a third place at an NRC race and they ended up taking it away. I still rode the race, I got the placings, it wasn’t cheating so I can look at it without any regrets.”
This year, Keough learned about not only the tactics of racing but about himself. “With such a long season, you really have to deal with a lot mentally and physically, I learned I can handle a big stress, it’s all going to be good for next year. I think it’s going to be huge.”
He also worked on his sprint. “I have a really good snap but I’ve been working on the length, working on more 200 or 300 meters versus just 100, 150 meters. It just makes you a little bit more versatile, you don’t have to sit in the wheels as long and it gives you other options.”
For the 2012 season, Keough will once again be racing with Team Mt Khakis who will be stepping up as a Continental team.
Future. Though he came into the season tired, Keough is still riding strong. “I think if I take a little rest in the season, I should be able to bring it back up to the level that I haven’t been at yet.”
His last break was July. “I actually had a week off the bike after I got hit by the car in mid-July so that was my break.” he laughed. “I hope I planned it well, I’m a little tired from a long season and we’ll see where it goes for the rest of the season but definitely just having fun with it.”
Keough has decided to take this weekend off from racing, and is still working on the rest of his schedule and is still planning to race at US Cyclocross National Championships in January.
Though he still loves cross, Keough is trying to get established on the road side. “I’m still trying to build. I have a lot to learn and a lot of strength to gain for road so on that side of things, it’s sort of more important to develop but as far as the importance to myself, I really still like cross. I want to do well but the two long seasons but I’m still going to do both as long as I can.”
But of course, the 2013 Cyclocross World Championships in Louisville is still a major target. “That will be my last year as U23. Yeah, I’ll definitely be going for that. Worlds in the US, you can’t beat that. I’ll definitely ride for that, we’ll see, maybe I’ll have to design my season a little bit differently, race a little bit less early season stuff but we’ll see. It’s still a long way off.”
In three years, Keough would love to be riding on a big pro road team. He added, “And I would love to see our program for cyclocross develop into something that recognized nationwide and hopefully be riding well in both disciplines that’s the goal.”
That’s a pretty lofty goal. Keough agreed with a laugh, “It’s pretty lofty but I have three years.”
Sibling rivalry. Keough is the middle child of the five Keough brothers, with eldest Jake a very successful sprinter on the UnitedHealthcare team. So who’s faster?
“One-on-one, I can beat him.” Luke Keough replied with a laugh. “When he’s got a team or it’s the end of a long race, he’s definitely hands-down faster. I have beat him though.”
Keough named two races that he would love to win next year, the Presbyterian Hospital Invitational Criterium in Charlotte which his brother won this year and the Athens Twilight Criterium.
“Athens would be a good one because I know that Jake is probably going to be targeting it, he’s always wanted to win that and I would love to win that one before him.” he laughed.
I love me some good-natured sibling rivalry.