Despite getting a late start compared with the rest of his US cyclo-cross rivals, three-time US national champion Todd Wells said this week he'll be jumping on his 'cross bike and into some races soon enough.
"It used to be that I would start gluing up tubulars in my garage once the leaves started blowing in," Wells told Cyclingnews while en route to Malaysia for the Langkawi International Mountain Bike Challenge Oct. 15-20. "But as CrossVegas and all these other races started popping up, the US has really started earlier now. If you want to get to the races you're gluing up those tires when it's full-on summer outside. So there are some leaves starting to come into my garage now and I'm feeling the itch to get out there and do some 'cross races."
Wells said he should return from Malaysia in time to race the Boulder weekend at the end of October before heading to Costa Rica to defend his 2011 title at La Ruta de los Conquistadores. Wells will take a break after the cross country race and then most likely race the US Gran Prix of Cyclocross (USGP) finale in Bend and the UCI races in North Carolina and Chicago, then he'll wind things up for January's national championships in Wisconsin.
"My goal is national champs, to have a good race there, and then hopefully, if I do that I would get selected for the Worlds team," Wells said. "I'm not going to make it based on the criteria of who has the most UCI points."
Wells, 36, has had a long and fruitful season on the mountain bike for Specialized this year. Coming off his seventh-place finish at the 2011 UCI cross country world championships, he won the Pan American championship for the second time this season and took fourth in a World Cup in Windham, N.Y. He took top honors in the USA Cycling Pro Cross Country Tour (Pro XCT) men's standings.
Wells rode to his best-ever finish at the Olympics in August, coming in 10th on his third try at the medals. Most recently, he won the US mountain bike marathon national championships in Bend, Oregon, last month. Now that he has turned his attention to the multi-day mountain bike adventure races, his window for 'cross is even smaller at a time when the sport has become the main focus for many of his competitors.
"It used to be kind of a second sport for everyone," he said. "The mountain bike guys would meet up with the road guys and it would be pretty laid back because it wasn't their main season. So yeah, it was a race, but it wasn't as intense as it is now since that's how guys are making their living, and they're dedicated to it. And you can tell because everyone's gotten faster."
Although Wells is still focused on his mountain biking, he has been keeping tabs on the early season 'cross races and how his rivals have been doing. "It seems like the usual suspects are up there," he said. "Although [Jeremy] Powers seems to be a bit more dominant this year than last year even. And Zach McDonald had that big win this past weekend in Providence. That was cool."
With the competition getting faster and new names moving onto the podium, Wells will have his work cut out for him if he wants to achieve his goal of doing well at nationals and making the Worlds team, but he said the opportunity to race a world championships, an event he last competed in during the 2002 event in Zolder, Belgium, in his home country made the extended season and increased focus well worth while. He expects the North American riders will have their best chance at doing well against the often-times more seasoned riders who will have to travel across the Atlantic.
"I see it on the mountain bike all season long," Wells said. "The Euro guys might have to do one international trip all year – and half of them won't even do that trip – because the World Cup is so Euro based. And it's the same thing with cyclo-cross. Those guys can drive to just about every race. So for the domestic riders here in the US and Canada, to have a world championship where they don't have to deal with jet lag and different languages and just the whole thing that goes along with international travel, it's just a great opportunity."