Friday, December 21, 2012

Nate Wilson Reflects on the Move to Bontrager

Paps: Nate, Bontrager recently announced its 2013 squad and you were on that list.  Congratulations!  Do you mind walking us through the process?  I mean, really go into the juicy details.  You know all of us older and slower MABRA folk live vicariously through this stuff, right?

Nate Wilson:  Thank you.  I saw the article with all the US continental rosters and saw I was on the Bontrager roster, so I figured that meant I was on the team, and just thought “wow sweet!”  But in all seriousness, it happened over the course of a few weeks, but fairly painlessly.  To be honest still in July I was totally committed to staying with Cal Giant where I was very happy this year and last year.  I planned to finish out my last year u23 on Cal Giant and then hopefully move onto a pro team after that.  But I was in Europe and some friends encouraged me to e-mail Axel.  I didn’t really think anything would come of it, but a few days later Axel called and offered me a spot on the team.  We went back and forth a few times discussing the details, and I had to take some time to seriously think about it as I felt a strong sense of loyalty to Cal Giant.  But at the end of the day, I believe Bontrager is the best development team in the world, and was something I always wanted for myself even if I didn’t say it out loud.

Paps:  Your family has been a big part of local racing for as long as I've been around DC (i.e., five years).  Your dad takes great pictures and generously shares them, and clearly loves watching his boys kick ass on the bike.  I came into the peleton about the same time as your kid brother, and one of my favorite bike racing memories is of attacking on a slick Hagerstown course in the rain with a fourteen-year-old fearless, slightly pudgy Avery.  What's it like having a family who appreciates our sport--its beauty, dangers, rewards, and what it means to you?

In the Yellow Jersey at Mt. Hood Stage Rac
NW:  Having the support of my family means a lot to me, I’m not sure I would be racing at bikes all if I didn’t have such an amazing support system.  This sport is too hard already to be in it without some great people backing you up.  My dad obviously loves it and gets way into it.  Some people may not know my mom as much, but she’s incredible.  Some weeks she rides almost as much as I do.  She has probably driven the section or 95 between DC and New Jersey more times than anyone I know taking me to races.  And Avery is just the man plain and simple.  He’s going to school out in Boulder with me now, and it’s awesome having him out there.  Honestly my brother is my best friend, and I don’t know what I would do without him.  Most of the time I’m pretty neurotic and he grounds me with a swift kick in the ass, he comes out and rides with me.  What many people might not know about him, is that he’s probably the smartest most talented person I know.  He races bikes, but he is an amazing artist, master chef, and has the musical stylings of Neal Peart on the drumset.
Paps:  You had an amazing 2012 you summarize well over on your blog.  Here in the U.S., you won the overall at Hood and earned solid placings at Gila, San Dimas, and U23 Nationals; in Europe you took 10th on the queen stage at Aosta even after you'd had a nasty crash.  You even found time for us--you swung by and crushed our dreams at the Tour of Washington County.  What racing memories and sensations stand out from the year?
NW:  Honestly it kind of all stands out, I tend to judge my years as a whole, rather than looking at races individually.  San Dimas was big for me because I proved to myself I could climb with most anyone in the country on a good day.  But honestly the biggest one for me was 10th on the queen stage of Aosta.  It doesn’t look the greatest on paper, but that stage was amazing.  The final race time was close to 5.5 hrs and we went over 4 mammoth climbs.  In the past I’ve always struggled on long days, it’s just been a big weakness in my toolbox.  10th on that day was what it was, it was good but nothing earth shattering.  But the thing that was awesome for me was that I was actually racing my bike the whole time.  I’ve had a history of making a really hard selection early in a race then falling apart and crawling up the final climb.  But at Aosta on that day a few guys that beat me were up the road from an early break, so the fact that we hit the last climb 5 hours in and I was top ten out of the guys left just proved to me that I could do it.  And I needed, because in every other race in Europe I’d only ever been pummeled, so it proved to me that I could climb with some of the best U23’s in the world and gave me the confidence to hopefully go and win something next year.
In the Break at Avenir

Paps:  It's been especially great seeing you mature as a writer and thinker.  No offense, your early blog entries read like a series of disjointed text messages from a high schooler still finding his voice.  Then something happened, and I'm not just talking capitalization and punctuation.  You started writing about other people, and you started writing about doubts and fears--the stuff most really good bike racers don't share, maybe because they're cocky, maybe because they don't have the words.  Anyhow, to me, I thought it was amazing stuff.

A couple passages I like (indulge me, here):
In 2011, you wrote about riding around as a teenager and wondering what it would be like to be a professional and "the problems you'd like to have."

In February, 2012, you wrote about your new approach to training:  

"If some good results happen and I continue that is great, but if not I'm completely at peace with it and will finally get to go out and just train with reckless abandon how I really like to."
In May, 2012, you wrote about dealing, not with failure, but with modest success:

"I sit around telling people I want to race professionally and this and that.  I still feel that way.  However, I think that if I had to race with people I did not like being around I would not enjoy racing.  Maybe that seems black and white but I think it is important.  If I had the choice of signing a six figure contract to race time trials all year or paying to race office park crits with some of my best friends, I would choose to race office park crits every time.  Now maybe if I was actually faced with this decision I would crumble.  But at least for a split second, while I type this, I am experiencing a moment of clarity where I am letting go of the pressure to chase a pro contract and embracing the moments I am experiencing right now."
What led to you starting to write with more depth and clarity?  What writers or thinkers inspired you?

NW:  For me it’s all about Hemingway, Kerouac, and Tom Wolfe.  Ha just kidding, well those are some great writers, but I can’t say they really influence me in my blog.  I think when I was younger I thought it was cool to come across as nonchalant as possible.  But as the years have gone by I honestly just need a place to vent and get some thoughts out.  So I put it on my blog, just because I know that I would enjoy reading someone else’s thoughts like that and I don’t have a problem with people reading mine.  Sometimes I do have stuff that I write and realize it’s too outrageous so I don’t put it up.  But I don’t know, if people honestly enjoy reading it that’s great, but it’s as much for me as for anyone that reads it.  

Paps:  Nick Bax, another amazing local U23 racer, mentioned the other day he's always had a sense, maybe because his father raced in Holland and he's a scientist, that drugs played an almost institutionalized role in bike racing at the top level. He was reluctant to pursue being a professional in the sport because he didn't want to be a part of that scene.  Was that a disincentive for you?  Did the thought occur to you that your success on the bike might lead you into a difficult choice? 

NW:  I don’t think doping is good.  But to be honest I don’t have a problem with it.  I love bike racing, because I love training and I love going out and seeing what I can do.  I’ve never been a big winner, so I guess when I don’t win a lot of races it doesn’t bother me.  This probably seems a little off from the typical response, but it just doesn’t bother me.  I feel like it’s not worth my time worrying about it.  If people want to dope and beat me in races that’s fine with me.  I’d obviously rather win or not be beat by someone doing drugs.  But it is what it is, I’ve just always felt like I’m not going to let other people’s choices determine whether I like to race or not.  If I could be a professional and get last in every race, because most people were doped to the gills that would still be ok, because I’d still be racing and riding my bike for a living.  At the end of the day that’s all that matters to me.  I think that people coming into the pro’s at this time are coming in at a good time, because it is very clean.  But I guess in summary, people taking drugs is not a disincentive to me at all, I just like racing too much to care.

Paps:  What are you looking forward to most about racing with Bontrager?

NW:  That’s a tough one.  The team just is very well supported, which maybe seems superficial but I believe all the little things like getting massage at every race and not working on your own bike adds up to big things.  Honestly I’m hopefully just looking forward to winning more races, because that’s the idea.  But the guys on the team are great, I love them and am looking forward to racing with them.

Paps:  I first noticed you at Tour of Millersburg in 2009 when you dropped Tim Rugg (oh, god--he'll kill me for mentioning it) and won it.  A few weeks earlier, you'd just missed winning the Junior national championship (finishing 2nd).  What stands out to you from those years as the moment when you thought, "I'm alright at this here bike racing"?

NW:  That was a great year, I was just on it all year.  I had a breakthrough year in the juniors on the national level, and locally on the 1/2 level.  For me the big moment that season when I realized that the numbers I was doing in training were gonna be good for some results was the junior qualifying trial for the world championship team.  If you won you got a spot on the worlds team.  It was in Tennessee and it was very hot.  Midway through the race I bridged a two minute gap solo to a break up the road and immediately attacked them and went solo.  I was alone and riding away coming into the last lap when I just fell apart.  The front group caught me and I was cramping up so hard I couldn’t even pedal.  It was ninety degrees out and I had no body feeding me in the 80 mile race and I just came apart.  I ended up not finishing, but I realized I could race with those guys.  I didn’t get a result but I had taken the race to them and made it mine to lose, which I did, but it was kind of an eye opener for me.  From then on it’s just been about trying to step up to a new level get comfortable on that level and then go to the next one.  Hopefully I’ll keep doing that until there aren’t any levels left.

Paps:  What is your racing style, and whose style in the professional peleton--past or present--do you admire?
Nate Battling Joe and Ol' Chuck
NW:  I guess I would say my racing style is aggressive, and I tend to be happier on hilly or physically demanding courses.  I admire a lot of professionals, but to be honest I’ve always felt most influenced by maybe not the top euro guys, but more local and NRC guys, just because that was what I was surrounded with.  Rick Norton is an amazing racer.  Matt Cooke also, on his day I believe he is the best climber in the country; he has helped me out a lot.  It’s hard not to admire Dombrowski.  And for a big one, Brad Wiggins, it’s easy to say that now because of what he did this year.  But I admire for doing what he did this year after what he did four years ago.  His work ethic is unparalleled in my opinion.  I am much more impressed by someone that wins races off of work ethic much more than someone that wins races off of talent.
Paps:  You've been in school in Colorado--what's your academic situation and, if you could study something for a bit longer, what would you study?

NW:  I’ve been a student University of Colorado in Boulder since the fall of 2009.  My school has been off and on, the past two years I haven’t gone to school in the spring, and I will take spring off again this next year.  But I am majoring in integrated physiology.  I am trying to be successful in cycling, but I don’t believe I’ve done enough to justify not being in school at least part time.  As it stands I have three semesters left and then I can graduate.  It is important to me to get my degree.
Paps:  Anyone you want to thank or taunt?    

NW:  I know this isn’t the Oscars but I don’t get many opportunities or platforms to do this so I feel I owe it to thank a lot of people, because honestly I’ve had a lot of help along the way.  Susan Hefler has been an amazing coach for since 2005.  Blair Berbert as well has coached me almost as much, and been one of my best friends.  The whole Kelly team was brilliant and taught me a lot for the two years I was on the team.  Cal Giant is the best team I’ve ever been on so far.  The guys that run the team Anthony Gallino, John Hunt, Jesse Moore and James Mattis are awesome, they really care and I think the team’s results show that.  Evan Huffman and Jeff Perrin have been my best friends on the bike this year.  They always push me in training and keep me in check when my head gets out of line, which is fairly often.  Hardly anybody knew who Huffman was coming into this year, and he just didn’t care he went to all the biggest time trials in the country and took them for himself.  No matter who you are, you have to respect that.  Alright got some tears on the keyboard typing that one, but thanks for indulging me in that one.

Thanks a lot, I really appreciate you giving me the opportunity to talk about this stuff.

Thanks for doing this, Nathan.  We MABRA folk are proud to have raced with you and, hopefully, we contributed in some small way to your success.  Best wishes, Merry Christmas, and...ya earned this.  


chainfree said...

Great read! Good luck to you Nate. The world is your oyster.

Anonymous said...

My Great Uncle Pappy never told me he knew so much about sports. I'm glad he has touched so many people. He was a great man.

Still is.


rick norton said...

thanks for posting this - we kelly guys were really lucky to get a chance to ride with Nate. He has also been very generous with his time - finding time to ride with our newer guys - inspiring the next Nate or Joe D.
can't wait to watch Nate on the big screen in the big races this year!

chris said...

Good luck on the new team and I hope you ride with guys you like and also get a decent check...keep the rubber down. Keep posting on the blog also, please.