Max Plaxton is coming off a breakthrough 2012 season and gearing up for the coming 2013 campaign. For him, it's been an unusually long off-season since the Canadian had to terminate his season early due to an injury. During his extended break he has been busy rehabilitating his body and switching teams.
"It was an amazing season. I finally cracked into the top 10 of the World Cup," Plaxton told Cyclingnews. "If it had been any year other than an Olympic year, this season would have really stood out for me. It was a definite breakthrough year for me."
New year, new team
Plaxton will make the move from his current team Specialized to the Sho-Air/Cannondale team for 2013. For the Canadian, the transfer is a sort of a return to a former team.
"I've been with Sho-Air in the past, and I'm familiar with [Manager] Ty Kady and [Owner] Scott Tedro and others in the company. It wasn't a really big change - that was a factor for me. I can't think of anyone who has done more for mountain biking in North America than Scott. The new team with Cannondale is something I wanted to be part of."
He said he is excited to race for a North American factory team. "As a Canadian, that's a nice fit. I feel very welcome on the team and there are all sorts of great opportunities to work with the team and Cannondale."
Plaxton connected with Sho-Air for the first time about four years ago when he joined the Sho-Air/Specialized team. "I didn't have a ride after the 2008 season. Those were tough economic times, and there weren't spots on teams," he said. "I met Sid [Taberlay] while I was in Tasmania, and he hooked me up and we called up Scott. I joined the team in 2009 for Fontana US Pro XCT. I was with Sho-Air for 2009 and 2010."
"I'd like to thank Specialized for the few years I had with them. We left on great terms."
Good momentum until injury spoils late season
Late in the spring and early in the summer, the momentum got going for Plaxton. "I went from not being able to crack top 30, to getting into the top 15 and then into top 10 at World Cups," he said.
Then came an amazing week. "I got onto the World Cup podium here in North America one week after repeating [my Canadian cross country] national title." About that time, Plaxton was also named to the Canadian Olympic team, and he prepared to head to London.
Things seemed to be going swimmingly for Plaxton, but his Olympic intentions were compromised abruptly by an injury.
"After Windham [World Cup in late June], I took five days off the bike, then I started training again, and I had a few good rides back and felt rested. I was really 'just riding along', 20 minutes from my house," said Plaxton. "All the sudden, there was this sharp pain. I tried to ride through it - you know how sometimes you're just not warmed up?"
"I wish I knew exactly what it was. It was an over-use injury of my left knee and my IT band. I had MRIs, CAT scans, etc. and there is nothing that stands out. Maybe it was pushing my body as hard as it did. I think everything caught up with me."
While Plaxton tried to diagnose his troublesome knee, he did not publicize his injury as he tried to make the most of the Olympic opportunity he'd worked so hard to create.
"Even though Olympics didn't go as planned - it was difficult leading up to it... keeping it quiet and trying to pretend I didn't have the injury at the Olympics - I still came away with a good experience, and hopefully I can use that in Rio."
Plaxton did not finish the Olympic race. He then decided to pull the plug on the year, officially ending his season and focusing on rehabilitation.
"It was a great year, it just had to end it a little early. It was the first time in my career I ever missed Worlds."
With plenty of opportunities to think during the past few months, Plaxton is keeping it all in perspective. "The knee injury was unfortunate timing. Now that I have time off - more than I've ever had - it's been great to reflect on the year. With it being the Olympic year, that was the absolute focus of the year. Because the Olympics didn't go as well as I'd hoped, it took away from the other results I had this season."
"I didn't touch my bike from the Monday after London until just recently. My injury is not 100% yet, but it's close," he said. "It's a bummer that it happened, but I've always thought things happen for a reason."
Plaxton has been doing more strength training, with a personal trainer. He's spent extra time in the gym. "I'm working on coordination and balance with the goal to prevent an injury like I had in the future."
Focusing closer to home
When asked about his overall plan for 2013, Plaxton said, "I want to race at home a bit more next year and travel less. I'd like to have a good Worlds in South Africa. I like that course and my best Worlds finish yet was 22nd."
He named his other top priority races such as the US Pro XCT series, the Whiskey 50, the Canadian national championships and three World Cups including two in Europe and one in Mont-Sainte-Anne, Quebec, Canada. He's still undecided about races such as the American Continental Championships.
He doesn't expect to contest the Canada Cup series. He expects too many conflicts with the US Pro XCT. "I think the goal is to race all the Pro XCTs, and I'd like to win the Pro XCT again. I think the year after the Olympics, people in North American will focus on that series again, so it will be challenging."
Plaxton won the US Pro XCT in 2011, but only raced one round of the series in 2012. He is looking forward to participating in the newly expanded series, especially those rounds with UCI points, which will help improve his starting positions at major UCI races.