Manual for Speed spoke with Ryan Trebon of Cannondale p/b Cyclocrossworld.com the night before the 2013 UCI Cylcocross World Championships—about anything and everything. What follows is in his own words.
I was born in Southern California, but my father was in the military so I grew up all over the place. I went to high school in Steilacoom, Washington. Lived in Illinois, Alabama twice, North Carolina three different times, Florida, Maryland, Washington, Panama, California. Moving around the country with the Air Force we never lived in big cities, lots of corn fields and woods. I actually moved to Panama after two years of high school in Washington, but moved back to Washington for my senior year—even though my parents stayed in Panama—so I could keep racing bikes, and because I wasn’t really productive down in Panama. I was 16 in Central America and I could do whatever I wanted. It was really fun for a while, until I realized I wasn’t exactly on track to be the most positive influence on society.
I started mountain biking after working for a school district, just doing shit during the summer. Hauling trash, sweeping parking lots, mowing lawns. I was a janitor really, but I like that kind of labor, it’s fun.1 I saved up and bought a Trek 850 for 500 bucks. That was my first mountain bike, I still have the frame sitting outside my house. I had a friend in the ninth grade who was into racing and we started riding together every day. I was like, “Hey, this is fun,” and it snowballed from there.
We weren’t really training, just dicking around, riding from here to there, being kids. I started racing in high school, junior mountain bikes. I went straight from junior to semi-pro, skipping sport. This was 1994 right in the middle of Mountain Bike’s heyday.
The only reason I ever got a road bike, which wasn’t until I was 20, was to be faster on my mountain bike. Mountain bikes were my ambition—though eventually cross came along and I decided I liked it just as much. Road racing is a lot of fun but it’s not for me, for reasons that aren’t limited to the racing itself. My personality, the way I feel about racing and life in general, just doesn’t mesh with the road world.
Any mountain bike or cross racer takes racing just as seriously as any road cyclist—we just don’t take ourselves as seriously.
You see a lot of guys racing mountain bikes who don’t like it because they actually want to be around dudes who take themselves too seriously. The guys that stick around are the ones who really want to do well, but realize that at the end of the day we’re riding a bike around in the woods, or in a muddy field. It’s real work, people spend a lot of money and we get paid to do it, but we have perspective.2
I’ve had some good success on the road, finishing in the top five at NRC races, but I just didn’t want to do it any more. It wasn’t fun. I was perpetually in Boulder, Colorado where everyone was too cool. I can’t be around that, where everyone is constantly stroking their egos and talking shit behind your back. I like being around Good People—and of course it’s not everyone in road racing, not at all. There’s just a lot of it. I love how on the road, the person that wins is usually the one that suffers the most, but the three or four hours leading up to the action is non-selective and boring. I mean even the Cascade Cycling Classic isn’t overtly challenging or fast. To a big degree it’s not even the NRC races themselves, but how they’re raced now: much less aggressive, with tons of guys who wait for the time trial and sit in seventh.
Why do you give a shit about getting seventh place? Who wants to get dropped by Mancebo on the climb and then try to come back in the TT? Let’s go race. Let’s see who the strongest is.
I never had a five year Going Pro plan or anything like that. I’m not one of those people that focuses on where I’ve been or where I want to go; I have a small bubble. I take things as they are, rather than stress about things five years in the future. Shit changes. I went to college for two years, and I think my dad was kinda bummed out that I didn’t finish, but after a year or two I really started to have racing success and he saw it; now he’s a huge supporter. He comes to all the races.
I was racing for small regional teams during that time, doing okay, but something switched mentally (and maybe physically) around the time I turned 21 and I started having a lot more success. I finished 15th at U23 Worlds, won a shit-ton of cross races that year, and got signed by Kona.
It’s not like I didn’t plan it; I’ve wanted to be a professional ever since looking at the magazines growing up and all that, but I didn’t take the usual, regimented path. I didn’t race for a devo team, I didn’t have all these mentors guiding me along, it just naturally came. Eventually.
I think that’s one of the reasons why Barry Wicks and I get along so well: neither of us had any support coming up through Juniors. Honestly, until I started winning races on my own I never got a bike. There are a lot of people who had a lot of opportunity who aren’t racing any more. We simply liked riding bikes (and we still do), and that’s why we were able to stick with it until the success came. I would ride bikes regardless of whether or not I am a pro. I love riding bikes. 99% of the American professionals in the last 20 years continue riding long after they retire, because we like doing it. In the US, you have to seek the sport out actively to have a shot, so that’s the type of professional the US breeds. In Europe, there is so much development and infrastructure in the sport that guys with talent fall into it regardless of how much they actually like riding. The guys in Europe don’t have to fly themselves across an ocean to enter the big races. On the other hand, you only see really driven guys from the US ready to make that commitment.
In 2002 I was winning big, national cross races, and that’s what you have to do to go pro. If you’re sitting there thinking, “I want to ride for Cannondale CX,” it’s not complicated. You have to beat the riders that are on the team right now.4 That gets attention. But it’s not like Kona started paying me 200,000 dollars a year. They said, “Hey, you want to come race for us? We’ll pay for your flights.” Well, sure.
You’re getting 10,000 dollars a year in travel—you’re not getting paid. I didn’t have to spend a cent on travel and I got free bikes I could sell at the end of the year. I wasn’t really working at the time anyway, I was traveling and racing and living off 300 bucks a month. It’s easy to go from 300 dollars a month to how I’m living now, but I’m not interested in going backwards, I’ll tell you that.
Sure, I work with a coach and I have a power meter, but it’s a sport that’s easy to overcomplicate. Forcing yourself into these super specific workouts or altitude tents and breathing masks, I’m not doing that. It’s a fucking bike race, man. Ride your bike really hard, ride easy, take a day off. It’s not difficult, it’s not rocket science. We don’t go out there and tool around; we’re riding hard. You can overcomplicate making cookies too. Is it going to make the cookies any better? No. Is it going to make you feel any better about the process? Sure, and that’s what works for some people. But for a lot of us, it’s different. I know really good riders—top-ten in the Tour de France—who will tell you the exact same thing. The training isn’t hard. Knowing how to train, when to rest, how to get prepared—those things come with experience. I’ve been racing professionally for over ten years, and in that time you learn what works best for you. I haven’t weighed myself in five years. I look at myself and say, “Do I look fat? Nope. OK!” I have a wintertime notch and a racing notch on my belt. I’m cognizant of what I eat but I have snacks once in a while, sure. I try to be reasonable in everything I do.5
Everyone can go out there and ride for four hours, that’s easy. It’s about being comfortable with being uncomfortable—going out there and riding hard for four hours. Pushing yourself. I don’t need a power meter to tell me I’m going Pretty Fucking Hard right now, and it’s not important to me whether it was 400 watts or 415 watts. Does that matter?6
Right now I’m buying motorcycles, cars. I just bought a new dirt bike. Finding parts. That’s what I’ve been doing lately.