At the Cincy3 Cyclo-cross Festival in Ohio two weeks ago Tim Johnson (Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com) and his teammate Ryan Trebon won all three races. Johnson won the marquee C1 event, the Kings CX Night Race, and then surprised Jeremy Powers (Rapha-Focus) the following day at Harbin Park with a late race attack, which garnered him his second consecutive victory of the weekend. Trebon carried the momentum to Louisville the following weekend, by winning the C1 event on the first day of racing at the Derby City Cup, which was being sponsored by Johnson's Mud Fund.
He doesn't like to call it a comeback, but after a few lean years, Johnson feels he's finally come up with a balanced, and winning formula for the cyclo-cross season. When he left the professional road peloton to focus on cyclo-cross, Johnson found it difficult to replace the intensity he achieved while racing on the road. Riding tempo at the front of the peloton, driving breakaways, and racing all of the major U.S. stage races for ten years provided a level of training and fitness that Johnson was, at first, hard pressed to replicate.
Johnson now uses a mix of road racing, mountain biking, group rides, and even fondos, to prepare himself each season, but it took time to isolate the problem. "I didn't really know what I was missing," Johnson said about the energy the pro peloton gave him. "I miss that part about road racing a lot, and I think my 'cross results have missed that, but I think I've done a pretty good job of getting back into some kind of balance. I feel like when 'cross season does start, I'm ready for it."
Johnson is a busy man, and immediately after his win at Harbin Park he flew to Colorado for USAC Cyclo-cross Committee meetings. As one of the committee's athlete representatives, Johnson is an influential voice in determining the direction of the U.S. cyclo-cross. Though the committee is still working on their strategy, Johnson's primary interest is to continue growing rider development, with a focus on juniors, U23, and women. After his mid-week trip Johnson was upbeat about the direction the committee was heading, and felt it was poised to fill the leadership gap left by the UCI.
"We have a lot of things we need to do in America to continue to develop our system of cyclo-cross, and our brand of cyclo-cross. Going to Belgium is not the only way you are going to be successful in 'cross, or that America is going to be successful," Johnson said. "We have so much potential in America to make 'cross our own and develop it. I think that it's the fastest growing segment of USAC for a reason, and we need to take advantage of that."
Johnson's commitment to rider development was evident at the Derby City Cup where his Mud Fund program participated as one of the title sponsors. After hosting Worlds last February, the fate of the Derby City Cup was in doubt until Johnson and the Mud Fund stepped in last September to help it stay on the schedule.
According the promoter Joe Czerwonka, Johnson's involvement helped spark interest amongst other sponsors who believed in the Mud Fund's mission. Fulfilling his belief in lowering the barriers of entry for younger riders, the Mud Fund enabled all juniors to race free, across all categories. As one of the few two-day UCI Junior races in the country, it was an important event.
"I remember what it was like going from junior to under 23. There are a million reasons to stop riding. School, job, girlfriend, boyfriend, car trouble, what ever," Johnson recounted. "I know for me and my development, I had some years I'd go to Worlds and get 52nd or 56th place. As a U23 I stayed in the sport because I had a good support system. I know there are kids out there who don't necessarily have that system, the little bit of help that the Mud Fund can give is important at the time, and I'm proud that we are able to give it."
Johnson didn't finish on the podium at Derby City Cup, but he's scheduled to return to Jingle Cross where he won two of the three races last year. As Johnson moves about the Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com compound at the Derby City Cup, playfully sparring with mechanics, and teasing passers-by like Mark Legg Compton, it appears that he's found the camaraderie he left behind as a road racer. After proving he's still a force to contend with as a cyclo-cross racer, and ambassador of the sport, it's not hard to envision he will be in 'cross for years to come.