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US road champion begins season at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad
To say Jade Wilcoxson had a breakthrough year in 2013 is to stretch the meaning of the term to its maximum potential, and as she enters her third season as a professional cyclist, all with Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies, the 35-year-old Oregonian faces a year with plenty to live up to for both herself and her team.
A brief synopsis of Wilcoxson's multi-disciplined accomplishments from 2013 are as follows: silver medal to Katie Compton at cyclo-cross Nationals, 15th at the historic Louisville, Kentucky-hosted 'cross Worlds, the winner of the inaugural US women's professional road race title, stage wins at Sea Otter and Nature Valley Grand Prix, part of the team which finished second overall on the NRC standings, part of the team which finished eighth in the women's team time trial world championship, national champion on the track in both the individual and team pursuits, plus as track season stretched into 2014, part of a team which finished second in the team pursuit at the final UCI Track World Cup round of the season in Guadalajara, Mexico.
Wilcoxson qualified for the UCI Track World Championships, starting today in Cali, Colombia, but opted to end her stint on the boards earlier this year to find a bit of downtime and then make it to Oxnard, California instead for the Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies' combined men's and women's training camp which wrapped up this past Sunday.
In need of pre-road season base miles plus time with her family, Wilcoxson was able to combine both into a week-long bike ride with her brother from Oregon to southern California along the coast as a means to travel to her team's pre-season camp in Oxnard.
"I had a really long track season this winter so I didn't really get a break," Wilcoxson told Cyclingnews. "By the time I finished the track season, I was pretty stressed out and track is the worst for base miles. It's really good for cadence and speed work but it's not necessarily what you want in the off season. So I had two weeks between the end of track season and the start of my team camp and I needed a bunch of base miles, and the bike tour could fulfill all of my needs at this point in a very short amount of time.
"We camped down the coast for seven days and we had terrible weather - like the only four days it rained in California in the last nine months. Just epic, wet, nasty. But looking back everyone asked, 'what was your favorite day?' and it was the day when it just incredibly nasty coming down through Big Sur. Its those epic days you remember, its part of being a cyclist. The pain and suffering is something you look back on with warm feelings," Wilcoxson said with a laugh. "There's something wrong with our brain, right?"
Regarding her 2014 road season, which begins this Saturday at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and continues in Europe for a couple of weeks as part of a block of racing with the US National Team, Wilcoxson was optimistic that her team would meet if not exceed this season what it accomplished in 2013. Mission one for the team is another strong domestic season in North American, while internationally the team's focused on the inaugural women's Tour of Britain, having just received an invitation, plus a return to the team time trial world championship.
"It's going to be tough, and everybody on our team is riding really well," said Wilcoxson. "We don't really have a stand-out rider so I think on the team we'll be able to accomplish as much, or more...I think it will be more.
"But I don't think it will be me with all the good luck this year and I'm so happy to see all of my teammates succeed as well. I'd love to pass on the national champion's jersey to them and collect more national championship jerseys for my other teammates. I'm just excited about the year for our team in general and somehow we'll be able to top last year."
The Optum women's team experienced a change in management with director Rachel Heal moving on to the new UnitedHealthcare women's team for 2014, but Wilcoxson spoke of the immediate chemistry during the Oxnard camp with the squad's new director Kevin Field, formerly a director at Team Spidertech with a decade of directing experience, plus new assistant director Pat McCarty, who just retired from his professional cycling career.
"It's been phenomenal, actually. We have all new staff - mechanics, soigneurs - plus two new directors and we were all kind of coming into the season having had such success kind of nervous, but its a seamless transition," said Wilcoxson.
"Kevin and Pat are phenomenal to work with and I'm really excited to tap into the experience. Kevin is so experienced as a director and Pat is just coming off a successful road career and all of that is so fresh in his mind, so I'm really excited to see their perspective and learn a lot this year."
For Wilcoxson it's still a question of balance regarding her ambitions on the road, plus finding space if possible for track racing and 'cross to fit into her schedule and training program.
"It's really hard to spread yourself that thin and it's always in the corner of your mind 'what if I was able to focus more'. And it's that balance between the other disciplines, which are so fun and I really enjoy learning something new and trying new things, that gives me relief from road season. I enjoy the variety but at some point my muscles are going to say, 'Stop! We've had enough'.
"I'm so new to the sport I don't know where those boundary lines are and my coach and I talk about it a lot. She doesn't know where those boundary lines are for me, either, because so far I've had success in other things that I've tried. I keep pushing myself but everybody around me is constantly reminding me of the fact that at some time I'm going to hit that wall and it's not going to be pretty.
"At some point I'll have to choose disciplines, and I still don't know what that choice will be."