Many professional bike racing teams begin to become more and more like family as the years go by, but the US-based Optum Pro Cycling p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies team, with both men's and women's programs, is the unique home to the brother-sister duo Jesse and Crystal Anthony.
The Massachusetts siblings come from a family full of bike racers: the five other children in the family have all dabbled in the sport, but seven-time cyclo-cross champion Jesse was joined in the professional ranks by his older sister Crystal this year thanks in part to his work as her coach - she won her seventh UCI 'cross race in Northampton this month. She will head to Belgium for the next UCI Cyclo-cross World Cup round in Koksijde.
Q: Jesse, you have been training Crystal for the last two years. Is it rewarding for you to see her successful on the bike?
JA: It's been really exciting for me to see my sister not only compete in cyclo-cross, but excel in the discipline. I have tried to share as much of my experience and knowledge as I can with her, and it's gratifying to be able to help her reach the podium. She is extremely motivated and capable. I've been coaching her for a few years, and I like to think that I've guided her well, but ultimately her success comes from her own ambition and dedication to her goals. Having her join the Optum family this year has been fantastic. It means I get to share the relationship and camaraderie I've come to love in this program with my sister.
Q: Crystal, you are going to embark shortly on a trip to compete on the World Cup 'cross circuit in Europe. What are the goals you have for this trip?
CA: I’m hoping to make the world championship team this year, so my goal for Europe is to secure a spot on the team. Last December, I had the amazing opportunity to race the Namur and Zolder World Cup races over the Christmas week. Being immersed in the European cycling culture – where thousands pay to come watch cross races – was inspirational.
Q: Anything different about the style of racing in Europe?
CA: One thing I found particularly refreshing was a shift in focus while racing: I found myself racing the courses more so than the other riders. Because of the difficulty of the European courses themselves, the challenge of those races were the actual features of the race courses. Here in the US, I think it’s generally the level of the competition that determines the difficulty of the races. From what I’ve heard, Koksijde is the most epic and unique of the World Cup races with its sand features.
Q: How has Jesse helped you prepare for racing at the pro level?
CA: Jesse has been coaching me for the last two years. He has been giving me training plans week to week, and also helps me analyze strategy and tactics. He's helped with designing intervals, targeting weaknesses, and gives me honest feedback on tactical mistakes. He also helps guide me through the challenges of balancing racing and life. He's a huge encouragement and source of inspiration through his own racing and success.
Q: Jesse, when and why did you decide to transition from 'cross to road?
JA: I made the very difficult decision to focus completely on road racing after the 2010 cyclo-cross season. I was at a point in my career where I felt that racing both road and cyclo-cross full-time was not allowing me to reach my full potential in either discipline. At the time, it just came naturally for me to choose road racing. I had a fantastic road season in 2010 where I finished on the podium in multiple UCI stage races, and I really saw a lot of potential on the road if I could pursue it exclusively. At the same time, I entered the cyclo-cross season burnt out and was only able to pull my head above water on a few occasions during that fall. The way the timing worked with all that made my decision easy.
Q: What 'cross skills do you find fundamentally apply to road racing, if any?
JA: The 'cross skills help a lot any time there is a dirt road, cobbles, and rough or wet pavement. I'm not comfortable on high speed descents, but I have less of a problem on technical, rough, or slippery descents. I also have seen my 'cross skills come into use when riding races with cobblestones in Europe. I can manage the bike and find a smooth line fairly easily.
The other 'cross skills that I see make a big difference in road racing are dealing with weather (hot and cold) and being able to fight through the really desperate times. I've raced in harrowing conditions in 'cross that very few situations in road racing compare to. When a road race is lined out in the gutter and everyone is barely hanging on, I try to think back to going full gas for an hour in a 'cross race, and I focus on what it feels like to go as hard as I can for a long time, even if I don't feel like I'm riding as well as I should be.
Q: Crystal, you grew up in a big family. Was there a lot of family competition growing up?
CA: Our parents always encouraged us to be active and were great examples of this themselves. They planned hikes and family bike rides. Our dad used to get us up at 4:30 am sometimes to run with him, and my mom had us join her for aerobics and runs as well, and took us to gymnastics and ice skating. We used to play basketball, football, and games like manhunt, and with seven of us we always had plenty of players!
Q: Did Jesse or your other brothers influence your decision to race bikes?
CA: Josh and Jesse were the original bike racers and were so successful at an early age that the cycling scene was a bit intimidating for me. At first, I pursued running, then triathlon. It has only been within the last two to three years that I’ve focused on cycling. Though Josh has not continued with cycling at the professional level, he still races and I train with him sometimes. It’s really special to be part of a cycling family and to have had brothers who’ve paved the way. Now, to be included in Jesse’s team “family” is an extra treat. Our other three brothers have all dabbled in bike racing too, and all of the family is a huge support to both Jesse and I.