Watching the Men Junior 17/18 races at the Exergy US Gran Prix of Cyclocross in Louisville, the phrase that came to mind was ‘the future looks bright’. A very strong group of American with a couple of Canadian riders came to test themselves not only against each other but against the 2012 World Cyclocross Championships course.
The brightest that weekend was American Drew Dillman (Bob’s Red Mill) who solo’ed to the win in both days, beating the cream of the crop. “Yeah, besides all the Belgians.” he laughed when asked how it felt to beat the best juniors a few seconds after crossing the finish line.
While the victories did increase his confidence with the big races coming up, Dillman stayed humble as he told podiuminsight. “I’m not too cocky or anything, all these guys are worked really hard and they all deserve to be up there with me. I think the juniors this year, all of us are really good friends, I don’t know if that’s the way it’s been the past years, if one were to beat me I’d be just as happy as if I’d won.”
Dillman dominated the last four UCI junior races starting with the two races at Cincinnati3 Cyclocross Festival where Dillman adjusted his strategy at the different venues each day.
On Saturday, Dillman made his move early on, dropping Clif Bar teammates Curtis White and Zane Godby. “Mainly through the technical sections, I felt that I was gaining time on them through those sections on the first lap I was with them, so the next lap I was really railing it through those sections so I could gain, a couple of seconds here and there so each lap I was gaining a little more each lap and opening the gap.”
Then on Sunday, Dillman waited a bit longer to attack on the hilly course. “it was the three of us and I was on the front for the first two or three laps but as soon as I would get up there, I would power out and kind of make them chase and I kept wearing them down and I tried to do that through every turn. Since I was the first one, attack out of the turn and make them chase me, then just throw it down whenever I got the chance. They were running through the sand and I rode through it and that’s when I was like ‘I got to go now’.”
And then he did it again at the third USGP weekend in his hometown of Louisville, where cheers of ‘go Drew’ were heard around the course. “I love it, there are so many here that support me, it’s unbelievable. All of them are really great.”
All for cross. For Dillman, the improvements this year are a direct consequence of his decision to focus on cyclocross.
“Last year, since I was the youngest one to go to Worlds and to do so good, before then I wasn’t sure about road or cross, after that I was pretty decided, I’m going to focus on cross.” explained Dillman who finished 21st, highest-placed American rider at 2011 Cross Worlds.
“So all last year, I was on a really good road team and I went to a lot of great races and I actually did better than I ever had at road nationals last year, sixth in the road race but I helped my teammate win, that’s what we went there to do and he won it so that was big. As soon as we got done at l’Abitibi, from then on it was all about cross. I’ve been focusing on cross since the end of July.”
Dillman really came into his own as a cross racer in Europe last year, where his mental strength was noticed by yours truly. “The first couple of races over there last year I didn’t do that well in, and I could feel what other people had been feeling, to go over there and do so bad and drags you down. It drags you down so much. But I got one good race in and after that one good race, I was like alright I can do this. So after then, it was just better and better. Once you do good, you get mentally stronger.”
After his results which included seventh place at the Grote Prijs Sven Nys, Dillman started this season with one big goal for the 2012 World Championships in Koksijde, Belgium.
“I want to try to peak at Worlds, I really want to do top 5 or top 10 at Worlds, that’s my main goal but obviously Nationals is a goal too, I’ve never won Nationals.” he explained. Dillman is also going to race at the Koksijde World Cup this weekend. “I’m peaking for that right now and as soon as I get back from that, I’ll take half a week or a week off, and then start ramping it up again for Nationals and Worlds. EuroCross Camp, I hope to do good there too.”
Not only has he not won a title, yet, but claiming the Stars and Stripes would also help defray the costs of going to Europe.
“At Nationals I really want to try and win and that means Worlds would be funded, that would pay for Worlds.” explained Dillman who quickly pointed out the support he’s received from Bob’s Red Mill. “They’ve gotten me both the bikes and helped me with all the sponsorship stuff. I had a couple of teams come to me at the beginning of the season, wanted me on their teams but they felt through and then Bob’s stepped up, ‘dude we’ll take you and take care of you all season’. I was ‘alright’.”
A high-school senior, Dillman also has to juggle school. “Last year when I signed up for all my classes, I took all the hard classes so I’m still having to do all the work.” he laughed. “A lot of my teachers are working with me, they’ll email me while I’m there. I still have all the work that I would be doing if I was here, I’m just going to be doing it by myself in Europe. It might be harder if I don’t have somebody teach it to me but I’ll try to figure it out.”
Future. Obviously Dillman is looking forwards to the 2013 Worlds in Louisville where he’s hoping to race as an under23 rider for the United States.
“I’ll be at the bottom of the age group but I think I’ll have an advantage since I ride on that course every Wednesday for cross worlds.” Dillman laughs. “I’m really hoping to at least get invited. All I’d have to do is drive my car down there and not have to spend $2,000 to get here. No matter what, I’ll come watch, I wouldn’t miss it.
His goal for the next three to five years is to become a pro cyclocross racer. “Everybody says ‘oh you want to do to the Tour de France’, that’s definitely on my mind just because I’m really good at cross but I’m really good at climbing too so there’s not a lot of races where there’s big climbing except for the Tour.” he mused.
“Maybe focus on cross and see how the climbing goes for me for road. I don’t know if you know Rob Bush but I’d like to follow in his footsteps, a little more with the cross. I don’t know if I can pull out both or not, definitely focus on cross because that’s what I have fun with and I want to do something where I have fun than just for the money.”
You better wear shades because the future of North American cross definitely looks bright with riders such as Drew Dillman.