January 28, 2013

Skyler @ Cross Nationals: Bringing Home the Bacon

by Nick Frey

To whomever called in Tony the Tiger...sweet!

To whomever called in Tony the Tiger…sweet!


Two weekends ago, thousands of racers descended on Madison, Wisconsin, for the 2013 USA Cyclocross National Championships. Contenders encountered the unpredictable weather of Wisconsin in January. The course started as snow, but with thousands of feet and tires pounding down, the snow began to melt. By the time the weekend rolled around, the course was a muddy mess. But that, too, was about to change. When colder temps rolled in at the end of the weekend, the mud froze, making for a slippery, frozen mess that rode differently from hour to hour. Despite the conditions, there were fields stacked with killer competition, in top form, ready to fight for the title of National Champ.


Boo’s own Skyler Trujillo was there, for not one, but two challenging races: under-23 and collegiate. It’s rare to have such important races back-to-back, but Skyler was prepared for the doubleheader. I had a chance to talk with Skyler about his experience at nationals; here’s the low-down.


The Course

According to Skyler, the course was top notch, including tall, well-crafted stairs, super high barriers and three technical, hard climbs each lap. The course was all built around a “sick” hill and when muddy, rode like a hard European course. When the mud turned to frozen tundra, the course was fast and riders were ripping around. What a difference a day can make. Skyler’s first race was technical, muddy and challenging. The second race was faster with less technicality because the mud wasn’t as prevalent.


The most challenging part of the course for Skyler was a muddy soccer field, followed by a false-flat, which ended in a super steep hill. He said it hurt so badly – every lap he was just smashed. The easiest part was the descents – they allowed him to catch his breath and recover just a bit before the next challenge.


Saturday – U-23 Race

Skyler woke up the morning of the U-23 National Championship with a mission: to improve upon his 6th place finish from last year. But rather than just improving, this year the stakes were even higher. This single race would decide if he was going to represent the United States in the first World Cyclocross Championships on US soil ever.  Any normal bike racer would have been quaking in his muddy cleats, battling nerves, butterflies and stage fright. But Skyler is a different breed, one of a select few young races who can manage stress and anxiety and consistently perform well regardless. His attitude was to keep it simple, not over-think it: “I just decided to let whatever happen, happen. With great preparation, some solid European racing in December, great bikes to race on and dialed in equipment, there was nothing else I could do but relax, race as fast as I could and see what happened.”


It was a fantastic start to a dream race

It was a fantastic start to a dream race


This race was full of epic battles. An awesome front row start set the stage for Skyler to rock 2nd place the entire first lap, away from the pack and up with Yannick Eckmann (who finished 1st). He didn’t belong there. Yannick was favored to win; he’s a superior rider. Skyler had to fight the inner demons of fear, nervousness and excitement. He was riding with the best U23 rider in the country. Skyler knew he would get dropped at some point – it was inevitable – but he strived to stick with Yannick as long as he possibly could, without depleting his energy in the meantime. As he fought to hold onto Yannick’s wheel, the mud being spit in his face the entire way, Skyler stayed focused on his goal. As expected, Yannick eventually pulled away, slowly at first, as if he was still reachable, but the gap continued to grow.


In any race, moving forward is motivating, and moving backwards is disheartening.  But in ‘cross, every successful racer somehow stays on the gas at all times, never giving up hope.  Anything can happen in a bike race, especially a ‘cross race.  So when Skyler’s elastic to Yannick finally snapped, he knew he had to keep pedaling in anger.  That became easier when a new foe came lurking: Drew Dillman.


Drew caught up to Skyler and they battled it out for a lap and a half, changing positions frequently and each looking for an opportunity to drop the other. Skyler knew that the only way he could get ahead was if Drew made mistakes, but he didn’t. He was riding so smoothly. It was Skyler instead who made a couple of minor mistakes, allowing Drew to drop him and pull away. Now sitting in 3rd, the race was far from over and Skyler was willing to put in the work to hold onto every position.


Shortly after Drew pulled away, another competitor, Josh Johnson caught up to create another epic battle which lasted the rest of the race – the battle for 3rd. Neither rider gave up ground or made fatal errors—it was truly an even match, and an exciting one for all the sideline hecklers BOOing Skyler. Going into the last lap, Skyler got a little time on Josh and thought he had him, but then out of nowhere, Tobin Ortenblad caught him with half a lap to go and “ended up throwing the stomp on me!”  Skyler just didn’t have the gas to sprint it out with Tobin, but fought to maintain his position ahead of Josh.


In addition to the battles with competitors, Skyler was dealing with the challenge of riding such a muddy, messy course. The Boos had to be washed, dried and lubed every half-lap, lending a bit of craziness and chaos to the race, stress to the racers and full-on pandemonium in the pit. It was just crazy having to pull into the pit so often, get to your team, get on the clean bike and set out to create more mess, all while holding (or ideally gaining) in position. The RS-X Disc bikes Skyler had been racing on the whole season passed the difficult, muddy task with flying colors—the Challenge Limus tires dug down and scarred the earth below the muck, and the Enve carbon 29er disc wheelset tracked through the ruts and slop without error.  With geometry custom-made for Skyler’s MTB position, he was able to brake late, throw each RS-X into the corners, and power out with nary a whimper.
Skyler finished in 4th place. The entire race was sweet because it went from one epic battle to the next and was a fight for the podium. “It was really a dream race,” Skyler said. With a perfect race, he was hoping for 5th. Pulling off 4th was huge, especially in a race with such high-quality competitors. With a field like U23, many of the racers know each other quite well and race frequently, so they have a pretty clear idea of how everyone stacks up. There were people like Yannick and Drew, who consistently outperform Skyler and were expected to finish near the top. And there were also people he ended up beating that he didn’t expect to beat. That was a victory in itself and was exactly what he wanted to do. Skyler’s summary: “I’m so stoked!”


Sunday – Collegiate Race

Between races, Skyler prepped for the next race and did a lot of nothing; mostly resting, relaxing and preparing. He knew he had to be prepared, because the course was much different from the prior day. Rather than deep mud and sloppiness, he was going to deal with frozen mud and deep tire ruts from the prior day’s races. The course was riding much faster and didn’t have as much technical difficulty. Although quite different from just the previous day, Skyler had ridden the course enough and was prepared for whatever came his way.


At the start of the race, Skyler was really excited. He had just come off an awesome performance and was hoping to do equally well in this race. The collegiate field is not nearly as fast as the U-23, so he was pumped for a great race, and better result. Unfortunately, he had a third row start – not where he wanted to be. “I didn’t quite have the spring that I normally have when I’m starting so I couldn’t get a whole lot of position,” says Skyler. He went off the road in around 15th place. He had work to do and spent a lot of time accelerating really hard to get past people and working to make something happen. The first lap was a struggle. “I couldn’t really pull it together,” says Skyler.  At the end of the first lap, he was sitting in 10th. At that point, it all seemed to be falling apart and Skyler thought he was definitely going to have a bad race.  He had a moment of being upset and frustrated, but continued to keep pushing. He decided to take one more lap, let himself settle down and pull it together.


Skyler races for Fort Lewis College on the collegiate circuit

Skyler races for Fort Lewis College on the collegiate circuit


By the end of that lap, he had worked up to 6th. Then he came across his teammate Ryan. They worked together for a good three laps, each leading the sections where they were strong and maintaining a high speed. While teamwork isn’t as impactful or common in cyclocross as in road racing, teammates can still help each other out a bit. Ryan and Skyler used each other mostly on the road section of the course and utilized the small chance to draft. Working as a team could provide just enough advantage to get that one more spot, and that’s what Ryan and Skyler were aiming for.


Skyler left Ryan behind to chase down the guy ahead of them. Getting around him put Skyler into 5th place going into the last lap. He kept looking for more racers out ahead, but none was within reach. He knew he couldn’t catch anyone else and accepted the position he was in. “I made sure to ride smooth and not make mistakes because at that point, I didn’t really have anything else I could do,” said Skyler.


After the race, Skyler spoke about the mental aspect of this race. The key, he said, was to not make mistakes and then not get frustrated with the mistakes he did make. Lap one included some mistakes and could’ve been a race changer. “I almost let it get the better of me,” he says. But he was able to pull it together and get a respectable result. Skyler says the key to overcoming this mental hurdle was attitude. He went into the race with a super positive attitude so even with a bad first lap, he maintained a positive outlook, knew he was strong enough and that he could make something out of the race. Even if it didn’t go as expected at the beginning, he could still turn it around and do something. “I just knew it was still worth it. It’s always still worth it.”


In the end, Skyler finished up in 5th place. All things considered, he is happy with the result. Most of all, he just really loves racing and having the Fort Lewis team together, supporting each other—that was one of the most memorable parts of the trip.


Boo In Action

Skyler was riding a Boo RS-X with disc brakes and Enve 29 inch tubulars, which dominate in  muddy situations. The Enve wheels are just the best thing to race on, says Skyler, because they are super stiff laterally and easily resisted deflections. They are a race mountain bike setup with cross tires, so while other riders were spinning in the mud, Skyler made it through with ease.


Tires also were super important for the conditions. For the U23 race, Skyler was riding Challenge’s Limus Team Edition tire at 25 psi so that he could get as much traction in the mud as possible. This low pressure created a bit of a challenge on the road section, but he just had to take that part a little easier to avoid rolling the tire. For Sunday’s collegiate race, with more of a frozen, rutted course, Skyler rode Challenge’s Grifo Team Edition at 32 psi to prevent pinch flatting and have a little less rolling resistance.


Skyler also contributes his success to disc brakes. While mud was collecting on the bike, it wasn’t collecting on the brakes and didn’t affect performance at all. “This is such as great design to have disc brakes on a ‘cross bike,” he says. Speaking about his Boo, Skyler says, “racing on these Boo bikes, like, they totally compete. They are at the same level as the best race bikes in the world, but they’re made out of bamboo. Like, it’s ridiculous.” The stiffness, fit, components, weight, design and handling all have to come together to make a top-quality race bike. Boo bikes do just that and in any area where the Boo lacks a little compared to other top brands, it makes up for in the ride quality of the bamboo itself. Besides the quality, design, materials and craftsmanship, Skyler says it is by far the coolest bike at just about every race. “It gets more looks and more attention than I know what to do with!” he says.


What’s Next

Skyler is super stoked to be representing the United States at the Cyclo-Cross World Championships in Louisville, Kentucky February 2-3. If you are going, be sure to show Skyler some love and BOO him! Good luck Skyler.