In 1999, Tim Johnson was the first American rider to stand on the podium in a cyclo-cross World Championship back as the U23 bronze medallist, but he then embarked on a tumultuous road career, leaving highest level of 'cross. Seven years after his first US title, Johnson is once more on top of the US 'cross scene and back in Europe to prepare for the World Championships in Treviso, Italy. The New Englander spoke with Cyclingnews' Kirsten Robbins before boarding a flight to Belgium to "take care of some unfinished business with European cyclo-cross racing".
Tim Johnson was just 21 years old when he stood atop his first World Championship podium. The Massachusetts native stood financed his own way to Poprad, Slovakia that year, and then stood shoulder to shoulder with Belgian Bart Wellens on the U23 podium. "I was just so blown away when I realized I won the bronze medal at the World Championships," recalled Johnson.
"I have always been a subscriber to putting your head down and riding hard - then the result will follow," he continued, spelling out his simple plan which yielded such strong results. "I started in the back, with no points, and was looking at row after row of riders in front of me on an icy road ahead. I was relaxed and thought, I just had to make it happen.
"I rode as fast as I could, passed people very lap, but I honestly had no idea what place I was in, even on the last lap when I went onto the finishing pavement sprinting," Johnson described. "I didn't realize that was the sprint against Tom Vannoppen for second place. They grabbed me to go to the podium and I remember all the bells and horns and smoke in the crowds. That's when I met Bart Wellens as the U23 world champion and for me it was brand new experience."
Despite his early success, Johnson has not returned to European cyclo-cross, with the exception of the 2002 World Championships, since his podium in 1999. However, this season Johnson seems to have revived his 'cross spirit with a successful domestic season, and is hoping to show his mettle in Europe. "It will be a basic situation of taking an opportunity to be in the lead group, catch the lead group or take advantage of the situation," he spelled out his plan to gain results. "I have little expectations other than to have a good race at worlds."