Tim Johnson will not renew his professional road contract with UnitedHealthcare p/b Maxxis team and will step away from professional road racing after a decade-long career. The US National Cyclo-cross Champion intends to use the next three years to prepare for a podium performance at the UCI World Cyclo-cross Championships scheduled to take place in Louisville, Kentucky in 2013.
"I'm going to be focusing on 'cross and I'm taking what we do with our Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com team and expanding our schedule this year," Johnson told Cyclingnews. "I won't be racing on the road with UnitedHealthcare next year. I had an offer but after weighing it with so many new opportunities with 'cross, the timing of how things are going towards Worlds and with agreed support of my sponsors, both current and future, I can actually pull it off.
"Personally and for the team, I want us to raise our game in the next three years," Johnson continued. "In the US, Jonathan Page forged a path that was impressive. Now that the sport has grown in the US so much. I want to be able to go top three in the Worlds in three years and to do that I need to focus more on cyclo-cross. I think it is possible and something that I really want to do."
Johnson was the captain of UnitedHealthcare and played an integral part of the squad's development during the previous five years with Momentum Sports Group, LLC's former teams HealthNet 2006-08 and OUCH in 2009. During the opposing Fall-Winter season, he competes in a full-time cyclo-cross calendar with Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com.
"I've always been so conflicted spending my spring and summer racing on the road and then switching over to cross," Johnson said. "Now I will be able to represent my cyclo-cross sponsors and the sport for the whole year around. It is exciting but it was a tough thing to make that final decision because I've been a professional road racer for ten years and that's been a big part of who I am."
In February, the UCI announced that the cyclo-cross world championships will be held for the first time in the US in Louisville, Kentucky in 2013. Johnson's decision to compete exclusively in cyclo-cross was accelerated by UnitedHealthcare's recent plan to upgrade from its current Continental license to Professional Continental next year.
"At the very beginning of the year there is the Tour of San Luis in January for UnitedHealthcare," said Johnson. "That is the same weekend as one of the 'cross world cups in January. That right there made me a burden on them because I would have to say that I needed to stay in Europe for 'cross.
"Over the year's with HealthNet, OUCH and UnitedHealthcare, they were always really good with me. I was always able to do both because it was possible or because the team was really nice. Now that they are going Pro Continental it is a different story. There is more responsibility, the calendar will be longer and the races will be harder.
"I'm not 23 years old and itching to race on the road in Europe," he added. "What I can do here in 'cross overshadows that. It wasn't an easy decision to make but the timing was good for me, for UnitedHealthcare and for 'cross. I think all around it was one of those things that happens for a reason and I'm ready to go forward with 'cross."
Johnson said that he is not completely finished with road racing and will continue to jump into select stage races during the summer months that will better prepare him for the cyclo-cross season. In 2011, he plans to enter events such as the Fitchburg Longsjo Classic, Cascade Cycling Classic and Green Mountain Stage Race in Cannondale colours.
"I'm not completely retiring, I'm just not racing as much on the road," Johnson explained. "Next year I will compete in a reduced road schedule and events that are fun for me that I always had to say no to. I will have enough racing that I need to get in shape for 'cross. Cannondale has committed to the cyclo-cross season and the months in between."
Johnson competed in his last road race under the UnitedHealthcare banner at the Univest Grand Prix Criterium in Pennsylvania last weekend. He won the best sprinter competition and played a crucial role in helping his teammate Karl Menzies finish second.
"I wasn't really going for it but I was always at the front during the sprint laps," Johnson said. "The guys took me out for a beer at the airport afterwards to celebrate. I'd also like to think it is because I won't be back next year."
Johnson is a three-time national champion and was the first American to stand on the podium at the UCI Cyclo-cross World Championships podium capturing a bronze medal in the Under 23 event in 1999.