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A symphony of success

An interview with Mark Hekman, June 8, 2007

South East Crit Series winner Mark Hekman is hoping to continue extending his US Crit Series lead after his exceptional Athens Twilight win. Cyclingnews' Kirsten Robbins spoke with the musically inclined cyclist about his consistency on the bike and dreams of the orchestra.

The ten part US Criterium Series begun at the Athens Twilight and will finish in Los Vegas at an event dubbed the 'World Criterium Championships'. With three events run and won, Mark Hekman and his Abercrombie and Fitch team have shown their consistency in placing amongst the top contenders in the country. He won the Athens Twilight and went on to place just outside the top 10 in both the Tour of Somerville and CSC invitational.

"Consistency is the key," Hekman noted after the Tour of Somerville. "It is really hard to place on the podium in these races but if I can stay in fourth through 10th then I have a good chance at winning the series overall."

A Masters in Music graduate from Ohio State University, Hekman specialized in bassoon performance. While the double reed woodwind instrument may have played a role in building his lung capacity for cycling, his musical interests played second fiddle as his father introduced him to cycling as a child. "I've always been a bassoon player and a cyclist," Hekman said. "My father is a big cyclist but mainly recreational. Training races and long rides are how I was raised on a bike. I did my first century in fourth grade with him and I started racing locally in sixth grade."

Hekman may be new to the National Racing Calendar circuit but no stranger to racing against the local professionals and spending long hours in the saddle in his current hometown of Winston-Salem, North Carolina. "There is a big local scene where I grew up in Michigan but the racing is more positive where I live now," Hekman admitted.

He plunged into the NRC circuit last year and noticed his knack for criterium racing after winning the top placed amateur spot in the South East Crit Series while racing for Abercrombie & Fitch. "I did the whole series last year and finished in the top 20 every race," Hekman said. "And I was the top ranked amateur last year and this year I was the first amateur again, but also first in the overall winner."

Team Abercrombie and Fitch has aspired to compete for the win in both US Crits Series and the US criterium nationals held in Downers Grove. In order to be competitive Hekman decided to take racing to another level and took on his teammate, Andy Applegate, as a full time coach. Applegate has been a notable rider in the history of the NRC circuit and has been passing down his bike racing knowledge through A2 Coaching.

The team manager's advice combined with a new coach led Hekman into a winning mentality. "My manger told me if I stop screwing around I might actually race well," Hekman laughed. "It was very nice for Andy to take me on as an athlete and he really knows my strengths and weaknesses. I decided to not be scared and race at the front more which makes all the difference."

Back to the bassoon

Dot and Cal Hekman introduced their son to music by taking regular family trips to the orchestra. "I picked the bassoon as my instrument because we actually look quite similar, pretty big and tall," Hekman joked. "I play the piano too and other instruments but the bassoon is unique and the one I liked the most."

Though the bassoon, or dulcian as it was known in the 16th century, has taken the backbench in Hekman's life at the moment, but playing in an orchestra is something that continues to sit at the forefront of his mind as a future endeavor. "Being a professional bassoon player is as time consuming and competitive as being a professional cyclist so I can't do both at the same time," Hekman admitted. "For a full time bassoon job there are one hundred applicants and they are all blind spots - only one person selected to perform. I want to get a job playing in the orchestra successfully one day and my dream would be to play in New York City."

For now, Hekman's itch for bike racing has taken on a life of it's own but the desire to be professional is not what is fueling his passion. "I want to race and I love being competitive and having fun with it," Hekman said. "I'd love to race for a pro team at some point but I'm not really stressed about that. I'm just happy with a bike and the ability to race.

"Maybe racing is more enjoyable at an amateur level," he speculated. "As long as I get to race I am happy. I'm just counting down the days to the $100,000, world Championship criterium in Las Vegas."

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