Defending champion Eric Young of the BISSELL Pro Team is going into tomorrow’s Herman Miller Grand Cycling Classic in Grand Rapids, Michigan with a goal claiming back-to-back USA Pro Crit Championships. The pressure to repeat is increased by the fact that title sponsor BISSELL is headquartered in Michigan and the team has won the race the past three years.
“It would be huge but obviously you try not to think about any pressure like that and just focus on what you have to do, the little details and everything. Right now, I’m just focusing on taking it easy and healing as best I can.” Young told podiuminsight.
Young who crashed out of the Cascade Cycling Classic criterium last weekend but stated that it was just a “little bruising”, continued, “Once we get there to the race, do everything that we can. We’ll have a good team there for sure, as good as anybody’s so I think it will be fine.”
The pressure is handled by focusing on the details. “If you think about and dwell on the pressure of it, I think that will probably negatively impact your performance just because you might get in your own way. You just try not to think about that.”
Last year, the then neo-pro surprised everyone when he won the national title in a close sprint after nasty weather forced the race to be neutralized. After all, he had just joined the squad after winning the little 500 again at the end of April. Young was probably as surprised as everyone else. But then he had the honor of wearing the Stars and Stripes at races, a feeling that he called “very cool.”
“I haven’t really been doing this sport at this level for that often, that was my first professional national championships that I raced in and I won it. So, I really didn’t have as much of a perspective as the older guys doing these races for years and years and then they get a win. So I was just taking it as it came but it was awesome. Every race that I did with the Stars and Bars, it kind of sunk in a little bit more, I got a little bit more confident – okay I did deserve to win that – it re-enforces it in your head.”
“Going into a year later, I think I can win again and I’m going to try to but not that many people win two years in a row so it won’t be easy.”
One thing that Young didn’t do was sleep in the jersey. Probably. “We partied quite a bit and I think I had it on, I don’t know if I slept in it, I don’t really remember. I don’t think I did.” he laughed.
Learning the ropes. The 23-year old rider continued to impress by claiming more victories including a stage win at the SRAM Tour of the Gila this year. Can he continue to improve and to win?
“I guess that’s my big question. I hope so.” he replied.
“After last year I had such a steep improvement, I just got a lot better very quickly so that happened this year too but in a different way. It wasn’t as much as winning as much races but it was more getting a little bit stronger and experienced in the bigger races. California was definitely a big experience for me just that kind of thing, learning those types of races more. I think both years have been very helpful to me. I don’t really know what the future holds, hopefully I can win a few more races this year. Hopefully I do USA Pro Cycling Challenge, that would be cool and then next year we’ll see.”
At whatever level, there’s argy bargy in the finale with sprinters vying for wheels. Young compared the pro level to the amateur racing. “It’s very intense everybody is a lot more serious. It’s also, in a way, less chaotic. Everybody knows what they’re doing, everybody is confident in themselves and so you have to get in the right mindset where you don’t give anything up to anybody. It’s just part of racing. Definitely that’s a challenge for every sprinter getting into that mindset, some guys have it easier than others.”
The hardest aspect, so far, for Young has the longer and tougher road races. “To jump from amateur criteriums to professional, for sure it’s harder and takes a little getting used to but if you’re a crit racer, you’re a crit racer so you can make that transition relatively easy. But for me transitioning to longer road races, stage races, days with big climbs that was tough for me. I had to get a little bit better, obviously that’s a continuing process.”
That transition to harder stage races makes his win at stage 2, the Inner Loop Road Race at the the Tour of Gila his best day on the bike this year – so far. “It was a hard course for me, there were some climbs in it and I was able to get over those and I was pretty proud of myself for that.” Young said of the 79.1 miles (127.3km) which had three categorized climbs. He also won the overall points competition.
That day in May, Young benefitted from the full BISSELL train taking over the front with two kilometers to go. Multiple things have to come together for a leadout train to work. “Timing is very important and obviously having a big team with strong guys helps. And you need a little bit of luck too.”
A train strategy is fairly simple on paper but the execution can be difficult especially with other teams trying to do the same thing. “As you start to get set up, the experienced guys on the team between Frank (Pipp) and Chris Baldwin probably will kind of organize everybody and then give the order to go to the front and take control. And then, really it’s just keeping everybody aware of what’s going on behind them, the guys in front obviously can’t see back to where I am or anybody else so if another team is coming up on us, we just yell at them and hopefully they go a little bit faster and stay in front.”
Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. Young admit to re-living and analyzing races lost and races win. “I’ll think over and think about what I could have done differently because I only won by a little bit or whatever. But I think everybody does that, you think about what you did wrong, what the team did wrong, what you can change next time so it’s kind of a continuous improving.”
“There’s a lot.” Young replied with a laugh when asked if one race in particular was re-hashed. “I guess I would say Philly because I was there in the lead group this year and messed up the positioning, I could have done way better. That was pretty frustrating.”
US Pro Crit. The race on Saturday returns to an eight-corner course over historic brick-paved streets and the weather should not be a problem this year.
“They went back closer to what it was two years ago, there’s a bit more corners.” Young said of this year’s course. “No matter what the course is, it’s definitely just conserving energy throughout most of the race and then towards the end making sure I’m up there going through the last couple of corners in the right position and seeing who wins the sprint.”
Positioning is key especially in the final corner. “It’s very common in crits because it’s often a couple hundred meters from the last corner to the line so then your position is vitally important. But sometimes a lot farther or the corner is not exactly 90 degrees or… every course is different, every race is different.”
The final two corners at the Grand Cycling Classic are close together so the strategy is to be in the top couple positions with a few teammates around
As for the future, Young admits that he’d love to race in Europe. “That’s the end goal but there’s a lot to get there. Now I’m concentrating on getting the best results I can with BISSELL, doing the best I can here and then we’ll see.”