An interview with Barry Wicks, December 6, 2005
Going into the 2005-06 cyclocross season, Barry Wicks wasn't seen as one of the big hitters in the field; an inconsistent mountain bike season coupled with the fact that riders such as Ryan Trebon and Tim Johnson were catching people's attention meant Wicks wasn't rated as a favourite for many of the USGP of Cyclocross series races, let alone the series win. But consistent results throughout the six-race series saw Wicks effectively wrap up the overall title after race five in Watsonville. Wicks had been quietly confident of his abilities come crunch time, and it paid off. "I wouldn't say I was surprised...I kind of knew I could ride as well as I did; it was a bit overwhelming I guess," he says.
The key is consistency
At the beginning of the 'cross season Wicks was aiming for more consistency - he'd demonstrated glimpses of his potential during the mountain bike season and was determined to step it up a notch for 'cross. "One of my main goals was just being more consistent - when I was riding mountain bike this year I'd have a really good race and the next race I wouldn't go so good. I was just trying to ride it so I'd finish consistently in the top three or the top five," he says. He knew what it was going to take, and wasn't feeling the effects of a mountain bike campaign with Kona, saying, "I was pretty fresh. I didn't feel like I was rundown from that [the season] or needed a break - I felt pretty good."
His consistency throughout the USGP series had put him into a strong position going into the final weekend, and the 2003 collegiate national 'cross champion admits to being a bit nervous beforehand. "I was pretty nervous going into the weekend because it's like, 'I have the potential to be able to win the series', and after Saturday I was totally relieved - I was like, 'oh, thank god I actually did it.' Of course I was thinking I could crash, or have a bad day...but I was totally relieved," he says. So after a win in Saturday's Watsonville race, Wicks knew he had to bring it home in Sunday's San Francisco race to clinch the series, and everything worked out well. "On Sunday I was feeling a bit more relaxed - I knew I had the fitness and my coach Geoff Proctor was telling me 'you can just ride your own race, have fun' - it was good," he says.
Unseasonably mild conditions have been a talking point during the 2005-06 'cross season, with the USGP finals being particularly warm - how did Wicks handle the heat in Northern California? "It wasn't too bad actually - I'd been in California for three months before then, so I'd been training in the nice weather and it wasn't too bad," he says, before adding, "Everybody really had to deal with it." Wicks handled the conditions extremely well, thriving on the technical parts of the course while feeling strong enough to control the race from the front. He was just beaten by Todd Wells in the final race but accumulated enough points to stand on the top step of the overall podium.
With a big win under his belt, Wicks moves onto a crack at the national championships, something he knows is another step up from the USGP series. He's reluctant to list himself as a favourite, but is still quietly confident of performing well. "I definitely feel like I can head into it as a third or fourth choice for the win - I mean, guys like Ryan [Trebon] and [Jonathan] Page are coming from Europe where they're doing really well, and Ryan's got good form - but I feel like, 'why not?' I've put in a lot of hard work and a lot of training; I'm not going to count myself out for it [the win]," adding, "I'm going to go out there to race as hard as I can and do what I can to try and win the race. I think it'd be a pretty tall order, but I'll try..."
Getting the chemistry right
His tip for the win this weekend is Ryan Trebon, a good friend and training buddy. "I'd have to go with Ryan. He's a good guy - I really think that Ryan's a stronger rider in terms of sheer power, and I think last year he missed out on an opportunity to win because he didn't have the experience - the 'cross experience. I think he's got that now; after riding with him this year I think he's gaining that ['cross experience] so he's got the upper hand."
Wicks and Trebon are good mates, and Wicks has an enormous amount of respect for his fellow Kona rider, saying, "We're really good friends - Ryan's really the only guy I train with and we understand each other." This was evident in the races they rode together this season, and Wicks explains their racing chemistry. "When we get in a race we don't even have to talk to each other; you know how you get a feeling...? We know how we race - it's sort of like habit, because we ride together," he says.
The two will be sharing that racing chemistry when they ride together in Europe before and during the world championships in the Netherlands in late January. Wicks is also hoping that his good 'cross form can translate into good mountain bike form, and in addition to riding 'cross world's he can go to mountain bike world's. "I'm going to head over to Europe straight after nationals and doing the rest of the season in Europe. I'm hoping that building on my 'cross season, my next mountain bike season is going to be a success," he says. He's confident of this happening, saying, "I think it can be [a success] - this is the first time I've had a coach and it makes a big difference in what I'm able to do. I think if I put the same amount of energy and everything else I put into 'cross into my mountain biking, hopefully I'll go to world's and have a good ride there."
Wicks says his weakness in mountain biking is riding at altitude, and although his choices in this regard are limited, in 2006 he'll be aiming for races where the terrain isn't too high. "I tend to not ride so well at altitude races, which is unfortunate because there are a lot of them - but there's a weekend in June, where there are two races on the east coast and then the world cup in Mont Sainte Anne; I'll probably focus my training to try to peak for that." He'll also be riding on the road in 2006, saying, "I've always enjoyed road racing, but I've never done any of the big races. This year I'll be on a road team and do some of the big races like the Tour de Georgia."
He's enthusiastic about the squad he'll most likely ride with, not least of all because they can schedule racing around his mountain bike programme. "I think I'm going to end up riding with the Aerospace team - the same team Ryan rode for last year. We've got a pretty good relationship with them and it fits around our mountain bike contracts well - that was the biggest thing," he says.
But at the end of a year where he says he's achieved his goals of 'winning some sweet races and meeting some rad people', Wicks knows things need to start getting pretty serious in 2006. "I'm not one of the young guys anymore, and it's sort of like an invisible transition you make from being one of the young guys to being one of the guys; Ryan, Adam Craig and myself, we're all from the same 'era'. I think those guys have come on a little bit earlier than I have, but this year is my year to step it up." Much like his performance at the USGP finals he's up to the challenge, and welcomes the responsibilities of being at the highest level.
"Any professional athlete is looked up to or is seen as a role model. Regardless of whether or not they want that, they are," he says. "I think there are a lot of times when people will act irresponsibly because they think they aren't - this counts not just for sport but for the world in general. If I'm in a position when people look up to me for guidance and the like - or if I'm in the spotlight - I try to act in a way that's consistent with what is right." With this sort of attitude, plus plenty of talent and ever-increasing experience, it's highly likely that Wicks can make that step up as he's demonstrated this season and become a real force both in cyclocross and mountain bike racing.