Monday, October 14, 2013

Nate Wilson Reflects: 10 (More) Questions

As part of the Bontrager development squad, this year Nathan Wilson got a chance to ride with the bigs.  At Colorado, at the Ronde de l'Isard, and representing the U.S. at the U23 World Championship road race, Wilson proved what we in MABRA have known for a while: the kid's got chops. 

He can also write; he's come a very long way from the capitalization-eschewing kid who used to blog like a poor man's e.e. cummings.  He has a ways to go before he's Joe Parkin or Tim Krabbe (don't we all), but he's the best ol' Velonews has. Read his stuff here.

Last year Nathan told us what he was looking forward to in 2013; now he reflects on the year and has a big news about his plans for 2014. Not that he's shared it with us.  Yet.

Q1. Last time we chatted, you had just been selected by Bontrager.  This year you had a chance to race U23 Worlds.  How do the two selections compare?

I was really excited about Bontrager, but for me getting selected for the Worlds team felt like a much bigger deal. Perhaps not a bigger deal, but I felt more honored. With Worlds I auto-qualified my spot, which means that USA Cycling had to take me, and because of that I felt like I really deserved it. With Bontrager I didn’t necessarily feel like I was undeserving of the spot, but I think I earned the spot largely on some strong recommendations from guys already on the team (thanks Dombrowski) and not necessarily the merit of my results. My results weren’t bad, but nothing outstanding.
Photo: Jim Wilson

Q2. What are some highlights of this year--your showing in Colorado (16th, 5:00 back) was particularly impressive?

Thank you, Colorado was good, to be honest though I wasn’t that thrilled with it. I did a decent GC but I didn’t really do anything in the race to differentiate myself from everybody else, which in hindsight is what I needed to do. But overall I was pleased with the year. My personal highlight was the Ronde de l’Isard. Isard is a u23 stage race in the French Pyrenees and a lot of people look at it for future climbing talent. I was 5th overall, which auto qualified me for Worlds, and it was just a break through for me and meant a lot. I raced it with the National Team and the team we had there, well they rode out of their minds for me everyday. One day there was a big break of ten or so guys, we were going to finish on a little climb. Every team, except for us had someone in the break. The last 15k into the final climb were a crosswind and the guys went to the front took 1.5mins out of the break with no help from any other teams and blew the field apart. The final result, but just to be a part of a team working like that and on my end being able to come through with a result was the highlight of my career thus far.

Q3.  I just read Sean Kelly's new book, Hunger, in which he describes a moment during a time trial where he achieves a kind of elevated state of intensity and ability to push himself:  "My agony lasted 20 minutes and 50 seconds.  It was the most intense experience I'd had up to that stage of my career.  I'd never pushed myself that deep before but it had been worth it...Paris-Nice was mine...but all De Gribaldy [Kelly's DS] said was: 'Now you know what it takes to win. You did the climb the way it needed to be done.'"  Do you feel like you've had such a moment, or is such a moment still to come?

It’s funny, it seems like every year I have a moment like that. Every year that I’ve raced I seem to be a little bit deeper each year and each time I think to myself “wow so this is how hard I need to be going, I think I’ve finally got it”. Then next year I end up pushing that wall out a little bit more. So I think for me that’s something I’m always going to be pursuing as long as I’m racing.

Q4.  Did you ever think to yourself in the middle of a race, "this is just like MABRA," or is the usual thought, "this is VERY different from MABRA"?

To be honest my usual thought is that the racing is pretty different from MABRA, but at the end of the day it’s never that different. It’s always still a bike race and I feel very lucky to have come up racing in MABRA. At the time I was coming up through the categories, the top guys were really good and gave me something to aspire to. I also think that the racing in MABRA tends to be pretty aggressive and not too negative with people always wanting to attack and race hard. A lot of the races I do in Europe are pretty aggressive and I think that can be similar to MABRA, most of the races in the states are a bit more controlled and predictable though. One time that I did think it was just like MABRA was actually at Colorado this year, when every morning I would run into Joe, Ben King, and Matt Cooke.

Q5. Being a cyclist used to be something coal miners did.  It became something dentists aspired to (or, at least, aspired for their sons to do).  Where do you think it's headed now?

That’s an interesting question, and I don’t really have a great answer. To give one overarching answer I think is a little difficult just because cycling exists in so many places. I think in a lot of places in the states it’s got that vibe like you’re saying about dentists and being the “new golf”, that sort of thing. But in Europe, to me I think it’s still predominantly a working class sport giving kids a chance to do something other than go into whatever the family business is. The only theme that I think is consistent across the board is that cycling is continuing to grow in popularity. Obviously there was a big boom in the states with Lance winning his Tours, but then probably a bit of a decline for a bit with a lot of doping business in the news. I think that the sport is starting to climb back out of that and it’s regaining popularity. So maybe some of those dentists that went back to golf will be getting back on the bike.

Q6. I've really liked your contributions to Velonews.  They are well crafted, but they don't come across as PR--the way many of these kinds of things do.  How did that opportunity arise?

Thank you, I’ve enjoyed doing them. The opportunity actually arose pretty much all because Reed McCalvin created it for me. Reed is our head soigneur on Bontrager, but he is the hardest working, most selfless man I know. He truly loves the sport and wants to see all of us on the team get attention. So he contacted VeloNews and pitched the idea to them of having me write some journals during Colorado, because he thought it would help me get my name out there. VeloNews was into it and we just went from there.

Q7.  We fans get to critique you riders all the time.  Now's your time to critique us: What can we do better?  How can we enjoy the sport more? 

The biggest way I think fans can enjoy the sport more is just to be less skeptical. I see a lot of people constantly questioning every good performance, and making accusations at riders about doping, or being critical about a teams tactics, etc. For some people maybe that is how they enjoy the sport, but at least for me it makes the sport less enjoyable. I don’t mean to come across sounding like things shouldn’t be questioned and criticized, but I think most people would get more out of the sport if they just really enjoyed it. I mean enjoy by just appreciating it for what it is, not being skeptical and just loving the sport.

Q8.  When I was your age, I spent a few years in constant anxiety about my life--what I wanted to do, where I wanted to live, what I felt was valuable.  It's a natural and good part of settling in, but these days it seems particularly difficult.  The economy is rough, particularly in cycling where teams seem to be collapsing.  What's your approach to the stress of age and era?

Right off the bat I have to say that my approach to stress is bad. I think that is something that anyone that really knows me would agree to. I have a bit of a reputation as a head case, it’s not great but it is what it is. I spend a lot of time in constant anxiety, especially this time of year. It can be detrimental, but to be honest I’ve always believed that what a lot of people see as me being a head case has driven me forward. I stress a lot, and sometimes unnecessarily, but it makes me work harder and drive forward because I always think I should be doing more. It can be very difficult in some situations, because sometimes things are out of your hands and you just have to wait. It is very tough for me when it’s out of my control, but I’m getting better at just letting things be.

Q9.  What advice do you have for kids wanting to go pro?

It’s clich√© but the most important advice I can think of is to just have fun riding your bike. There are lot of things in cycling that are not necessarily enjoyable, that it’s important to get as much fun out of it as possible while you can. If you have fun and want to ride then I think the rest will follow. There is a lot of hard work involved as well, but if you enjoy it then it’s not really that hard and if you don’t enjoy the work then it’s probably not going to work out. Lastly, stay in school. There is no reason you can’t at least start in college and pursue professional cycling at the same time.

Q10.  Lastly, I know this may not be the place where you want to reveal it, but what are your plans for next year?  Any big announcements?

To be honest, I wish I had some big announcements to make. I have spent a lot of time talking to teams and working on finding a contract I’m happy with. I’m too old to continue with Bontrager so I am on to a new team. I am planning to race next year, and hopefully improve upon this season, but team wise I have not signed anything yet.

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