Tim Johnson's cyclo-cross season has been unusual: normally by mid-December, the former US champion would have a dozen victories and top European results to his palmares, but until November 27 this year Johnson had gone winless.
This year was supposed to be different: the 34-year-old gave up his road season this summer to focus all of his efforts on cyclo-cross, but so far the pay-off hasn't come, and Johnson has struggled to achieve the kind of results that put him 17th in the world at the end of last season.
It was an intentionally slow start to the year, however, and the Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld rider is feeling motivated to make the most out of the remainder of the season.
"The idea of not doing as much road was ... instead of racing for 11 months out of the year and doing it kind of mediocre at times, I wanted to focus on 'cross so I could try and be better during the season," Johnson told Cyclingnews at the Exergy USGP finale in Bend, Oregon last week.
"I still have 10 races to go this year, and almost all of them at the World Cup level. I've got a lot to do, and I still have motivation and energy to do that. In years past I didn't have that."
Johnson admitted that it has been mentally difficult to come away from the early part of the season with only two wins and a handful of podiums.
"I was planning on it, but it was still tough to deal with," he said. Next year he will continue to focus on cyclo-cross, but add in some more road racing and start his season a bit stronger. "Instead of coming into form in November, hopefully I can enjoy a little bit better of an October."
Currently in Belgium for the World Cup, Johnson didn't have his best day in Namur, where he finished 39th, but he is still hoping that his strategy will pay off in the form of a top result in Europe.
"I'd say the best way to put it was that everything but my legs showed up to work on Sunday. I had a good warmup, liked the course a lot, had great equipment and support but when the whistle blew it was me trying to keep up with the pace and not pulling it off.
"Probably the biggest explanation is the travel. Excuses are pointless, I'm doing all the right things and that will get me where I need to be, just pissed to have wasted the opportunity. The World Cups are filled to the brim with fast riders and it's especially tough on a course like Namur, [there is] no hiding out there."
In our interview last week, Johnson indicated his aspirations are much higher than just participating at the World Cup level. He wants to be up with the top riders.
"Top 20s don't matter anymore. I need to be better, I need to be top 10 or top 5 if there's a chance to do so. There are so many guys in contention, but all the races are different. You never know what's going to happen, if you have a chance to follow the right wheel or put in a great 20 minutes when it counts then you can pull out a good result. That's what I want to try to do, I don't want to ride around in circles and just be happy racing in a World Cup."
While Johnson is optimistic about the US championships in Madison in early January, the world championship course in Koksijde perhaps isn't his kind of course. "I know the course, I've done it a few times, and it's definitely a specialist's course."
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