Ever since winning the silver medal in the 2007 Junior World Cyclo-Cross Championships, US National Under-23 Champion Danny Summerhill (Garmin-Transitions-Team Holowesko Partners ) has been striving to return to that level of success. Possibly just in time for the 2011 World Championships, he may have discovered his lack of success was never about his fitness but rather his state of mind.
"Ever since I got the medal at Worlds, I've always put so much pressure on myself trying to replicate it. And all that pressure for the whole two weeks leading into Worlds at the euro-camp just killed my legs and my energy. I didn't think that negative or nervous energy could do that much damage but I've gotten on the start line in years past, gone to push down on the pedals and had nothing. My legs were just rocks," explained Summerhill.
But this year, he's taken a completely new approach to European racing, specifically regarding his lead-in to the big event. "I am mellow and relaxed in comparison to what I usually am. High stressed to the max is what it usually looks like around my little area," laughs Summerhill.
Zolder World Cup last month was his first application of his newfound approach of ‘Mister Mellow'. "I tried not to stress too much – whatever happened, happened. And I got 13th which was fun! The same went for Hoogerheide. Even though it wasn't the placing I think I could have gotten, it was nice to see that I was able to claw back up into the teens after a bad start."
In line with his relaxed approach to race preparation, this year he set himself up in a completely different housing situation. "This year, I am staying out of the general scene up until Wednesday. Meredith [Miller], Cody [Kaiser] and I have our own place. It's nice because it's a lot less people to bounce around with in the morning compared to the US Cycling house [in Belgium where the rest of the National Team resides] where it gets pretty stressful at times. And all they do is talk about cycling 24/7, so I was really glad when Meredith and Cody gave me the invitation to stay with them because we don't talk about cycling at all while we're in the house. We get on our bikes , then we might chat a little bit. Otherwise, it's more like, did you see that music video? That chick was hot!"
Breaking away from tradition can be a rewarding yet strange experience, according to Summerhill. "A few days ago, on our way from the airport where we collected Meredith's bikes, we drove past the exit for the Izegem [USA Cycling] house. That was one of the weirdest feelings because in the last six years, I've never gone past it when returning from the airport. When we just shot straight past it, I thought, wow, this is the end of an era. It felt great."
On Thursday morning, Summerhill joins the rest of the US Team for travel to Germany. Lucky for him, the Team's housing is located a good forty kilometers from the venue which will cut down on the pre-race stress he normally experiences.
"Because we are living pretty far from the venue, we'll probably be spared the mayhem of going to the course every day to stress about new lines that are going to change within twenty-four hours. That's where a lot of stress comes from. You think that you're going to have a certain line through a corner and two days later that preparation just goes out the window." As for course preference , Summerhill is hoping for a more dry, frozen terrain as opposed to his pre-ride on Thursday where he felt like he sloshed around in the mud.
Taking the lacksidasical route that has helped him succeed in his last two World Cups, Summerhill refuses to set a goal for himself at the upcoming race. "Usually when I make a goal, that's when shit hits the fan. If I can feel in Worlds like I did in Hoogerheide last weekend, no matter what place I finish I'll be happy," mused Summerhill, but quickly added, "The only down side to that is that it's my last year as a U-23 and it would be nice to leave with a bang, but I don't want to think about it too much to the point that I'm over-thinking it and stressing and all that stuff."