It was mission accomplished for single speeder Craig Etheridge (Raleigh) when he crossed the line in second place on Sunday’s Deschutes Brewery Cup in Bend, Oregon.
“It’s been amazing.” Etheridge told podiuminsight after his eighth and final podium at the Exergy US Gran Prix of Cyclocross.
“It’s been exactly what I’ve always thought should happen with single speed and it’s also something that I think will happen again. I think there’s going to be more people who are finding interest in it and recognizing that it’s not only an awesome race to watch but a really hard race to win too.”
This season, Etheridge’s goal was to not only race every single speed race but to be competitive in the USGP series. Done and done. He won six out of the eight races and finished second in the other two, and would have topped the overall if a series title has been awarded.
“The two people who beat me were also on my team. I can’t complain, I’m sure the team can’t complain.” he laughed. On Sunday, he finished second to his teammate TJ Fountain.
Not only was Etheridge killing it in the single speed category at USGP and other UCI cross events, he also entered in the cat 2/3 races on some weekends. He wanted to prove that single speed is viable racing.
“I think a lot of that proof is coming now from other people in the single speed category, like JT, and myself racing against the geared riders and having good success. Having good races against geared riders, here and also in other places across the country.”
One of those weekends was the Cincinnati3 Cyclocross Festival where Etheridge solo’ed to win the three single speed and two cat 2/3 races over the three days.
“Five wins that weekend, that was amazing.” he smiled. “That was a great weekend. But to tell you the truth, even doing those races, I never felt like I was tapped out or out of it for the next day. I guess maybe some people are geared towards one-day races but I get warmed up and I feel fine the next day too.”
One of his realizations during this season was that his hardest competition was in the Northwest. “My best teammates, my hardest competition, my hardest races.” said the Seattle-based racer. “I’m not going to say the best races, they’ve got great races it’s just that it’s not has big of a field, not as much competition, it’s not grown quite as much in the Midwest, or East Coast either. That’s something I really learned this year, I can bring that back to my teammates and the other people who I raced with here in Bend or Seattle, and I can let them know that they’ve got some of the best racing. Everyone likes to hear that. It’s not to say that the racing isn’t good in other places, the competition hasn’t been there yet.”
He also thinks that he was able to bring more attention to single speed racing. “I think it’s great. You know who I think pays the most attention? It’s other racers. Other racers realize, hey I see this guy and he’s not in my race but I see him at all these races but people recognize me and they know I’m doing good, especially on the national circuit. And I think a lot of the other racers who travel to the races really notice it and that helps other people who are even just spectating and watching.”
“It’s good to get some press like that especially with Raleigh’s new program sending everybody else out with Jenni (Gaertner) and Russell (Stevenson) and also JT, in Idaho and in the Northwest doing really great. I think that program itself is getting singlespeed a really good push and a lot of press.”
One of his best experiences during all his travels to UCI races across the United States has been getting to know some of the top cross racers. “They know I’m not racing against them, but they know me now. I can be comfortable talking to these people who are the best of our sport and that’s an amazing opportunity for people who are in the sport to be able to do and I don’t think people do it enough.”
A familiar sight now at USGP has been the smiling Etheridge, enthusiastically cheering on the other categories after his early race. The gregarious rider nicknamed Shiny by some is also always willing to chat.
“I think everyone that is revered as the best of our sport, men and women, are just as approachable as anybody. I’ve realized that in doing that, in seeing them and having them see me enough, it brought us closer and I’m comfortable enough to be able to hang out with them and ask them question and act like a real person around them. And that’s been a really awesome opportunity.”
What’s next? Even though he won the majority of his single speed races, Etheridge will not be taking on USA Cyclocross Nationals this January in Madison, Wisconsin.
“What a good year and I’m going to finish it here.” the 31-year old said. “I didn’t really plan on doing it and then at some point and time, it was a little too late to decide to do it, and in a way I honestly didn’t want to ask too much. I feel like I got a whole lot from Raleigh and from my sponsors and I didn’t want to push it too far and say ‘oh I know I wasn’t planning on doing this earlier, I want to go to this trip now’, it seems like a little bit too much to ask.”
So instead, he’s taking some time off. “What I like to do in the winter is mountain bike, I don’t really do much racing because I can just go on a ride. Now I can just focus on having fun mountain biking and maybe some rock climbing.”
And why not take on mountain bike stage races on his single speed? “Maybe that’s the next bet, a single speed stage race. It’s not impossible, I’m sure somebody else has already done it too.” he mused. Especially since he states that he “felt really good” in the back-to-back five races in three-day weekend.
As for cross, Etheridge would love to repeat the experience again next year. “I’m hoping to work it out, we’ll see what the feedback from the company is, and if it’s worth their time, I would certainly love to help them do it again. It’s been fun.”
It has been fun.