I still go back to Europe for at least five cross races a year, and have been doing so for the last six years. Before I turned pro on the road I was living full-time in Europe racing cross, but living in the States and going over there each year for a spell is a good balance for me.
I loved having teammates and racing for them on the road, and I miss road racing a lot for that camaraderie. I was the guy who was helping my teammates win. I was the one who chased or attacked or covered or led out, and I miss that. With cross, you do see similar things once in a while and it’s so cool when it works right—that’s a whole new level of what cross can be. I do think cross has more room for the quirky personalities. That’s not to say road doesn’t have room for it; I’m sure if you’ve spent time with a guy like Zabriskie, you know he’s totally unique. People don’t often think that road has room for guys like that, but it does. Cross still lends itself to those types better, though.
There used to be a big gap between the States and Europe, where the training was much more regimented and data/science-driven in Europe, but it’s changing. It used to be that I could ride the Tour of Missouri—which was a major stage race in the US at the end of the road season—then get off my bike, fly to Nevada and race Cross Vegas on Wednesday. After not riding a cross bike in months, I’d hop on one and immediately get podiums or even wins. You can’t do that anymore, because the level has risen. And yes, the approach to road and cross is still different, but again, that margin is shrinking. I don’t know what my VO2 max values are or anything like that, but you definitely try to train better and keep in mind what you can do—specifically—to be a better rider. It used to be that by doing a road season, I was training by default and it would work for cross season.