Mud Bug

In Part III of my conversation with Meredith Miller, we discuss what she loves most about Cyclocross, what type of course she favors best, and why she is riding in pink this October.

Lenny B (LB): For the uninitiated, a Cyclocross race can look very much like controlled chaos, or what a friend might refer to as a hot mess. How much, or little, does teamwork come into play during a race, or is it mostly individualistic and all about the hole shot and positioning?

Meredith Miller (MM): I have to laugh a little at this question because it is very much like controlled chaos. It was hard for me to wrap my head around the chaos the first time I saw a ‘cross race. I had no clue what was happening. But the answer is that there is much less teamwork involved than road racing. An individual might have teammates in the race but before team tactics can come into play they all must be at the same level. For example, my first year on Cal Giant Rachel Lloyd and I were teammates, but I was so far off her pace that I was never any help to her at all. On the other hand, there are teams that have several riders who are at the same level and can use team tactics. So, while I wasn’t able to give Rachel any help several riders from the Luna team were able to one-two her over and over again. By this I mean, a Luna would attack, Rachel would follow, catch the Luna rider, and then be attacked by another Luna teammate…and the cycle would continue until Rachel finally couldn’t keep up with the attacks any more.

Team tactics rarely come into play though. For the most part it is much more about the individual effort and positioning. Quite often there are small groups of riders (2-4) on the course together who are trying to outsmart and outpace each other. It’s you against the others in the group. You win by being the strongest, most technically savvy and even smartest rider out there. Of course, the best and most satisfying way to win a race is by riding everyone off your wheel to ride across the line solo.

LB: Cyclocross requires a different skill set, from properly mounting to dismounting your bicycle to facing various obstacles along the course. What has been the most difficult aspect of Cyclocross for you to pick up…the easiest?

MM: Nothing has been easy, that’s for sure! By far my starts have been the slowest to develop. I just can’t seem to get off the line as fast as everyone else. Taking the hole shot would be a dream come true! Otherwise, I picked up how to dismount, remount, run barriers, etc quickly but I’m not saying I do it perfectly or efficiently. I still have to practice, practice, practice to get it right. And every single race there has been something new like tight twists and turns through trees, different style run-ups and mud that I have to learn. After having now done a few races this season, I’d have to add that off camber, tight turns are the trickiest sections for me to handle with any sort of deftness.

An area in which I might have an advantage over other riders is my power. When I can really open up the engine, I tend to excel.

LB: Some racers see Cyclocross as simply a means to maintain a base during the off-season, but you seem to have a real passion for it. What do you enjoy most about Cross?

MM: ‘Cross has definitely given me a heightened motivation to train in the off season. For as many years as I have been racing, the hours on the bike in the cold, wet winter weather are what have begun to wear on me most. The rigors of training outside for ‘cross still exist but it’s easier to deal with because the training is, more or less, short and sweet. The training is hard but it requires fewer hours than training for the road.

Mostly, I love the new challenges that ‘cross presents like riding in the mud, sand, dirt. I get to travel to new places. Meet new people. The energy at ‘cross races is truly electrifying, so much more than I have ever experienced at a road race. And it’s more of a “family” atmosphere where everyone looks out for each other. I can’t always explain it but whenever I talk about ‘cross I get the biggest smile on my face.

LB: Your road career has really blossomed since you took up Cross, how much do you think the rigors and various challenges presented to you in Cyclocross factored into your successes on the road or do you think it is has more to do about racing year round?

MM: Tough question. I’m not really sure how to explain my recent success on the road. It’s possible that ‘cross has given me a little bit more confidence in myself to take the risks needed to win races because I had to learn how to race for myself. And definitely winning road nationals in ’09 boosted that confidence even more. Wearing the stars and stripes this past road season gave me that extra motivation to go for top results more often than I had in the past.

LB: Has there been anything on a course that you thought was impossible or should not be there, and vice versa, that you love having on a course. Do you have any favorite courses?

MM: The World Championships in the Czech Republic was hands down the hardest course that I ever faced. It was sheer ice. I’d never been on anything like it before and I was scared to death. For 3 days while pre-riding the course I kept asking myself what was I doing here, what did I get myself into. It was absolutely insane but yet I had the best time ever.

Being a roadie most people wouldn’t expect me to say this but I love racing in mud, especially the soupy kind. I don’t know why but I love to get muddy! Plus it’s another challenge that keeps me on my toes.

LB: You are currently involved in a breast cancer fundraiser, have you personally, but perhaps not immediately, been affected by the disease?

MM: I have not been personally affected by breast cancer but I did have a little scare this spring. Everything turned out fine but it was enough of an eye-opening experience that I wanted to help women who have been affected receive the care and treatment they need.

I think we all know someone who has been affected by this terrible disease, but I can luckily say that everyone I know personally has beaten it. I chose Hope Lives! because I like to support local organizations when I can. Lydia Dody is a breast cancer survivor herself and the founder of the foundation. She is also from Ft Collins which obviously hits closest to home.

Hope Lives! works directly with local service providers to offer emotional, physical and spiritual support to women battling breast cancer.

Through their “Complementary Care Program,” Hope Lives! aims to:

1. reduce the negative side effects of breast cancer treatment
2. boost mood and energy levels
3. reduce anxiety and stress
4. provide educational materials and financial resources
5. offer support groups to women battling breast cancer and their families
6. help get women back on track post treatment

Services offered as complementary care include therapeutic massage, acupuncture, yoga, music and art therapy, couples counseling, house cleaning, wig salon and many more.

Hope Lives! serves approximately 150 women battling breast cancer on a monthly basis. $500 covers the expenses for one woman for one calendar year.

Part I – Ready For Her Closeup | Part II – We Can Do It

To follow Meredith as she dances with mud, visit her website or follow her on Twitter.

Photos: Courtesy Meredith Miller – Dave McElwaine/Trail Watch (top); Mitch Clinton (bottom)