How far would you travel for a quality road race? Hillsboro? Wisconsin? Arkansas?
That's where Vision Quest's Bryan McVey
and Luca Lenzi
headed this summer, becoming the latest in a long line of young American riders to rough it in one of the world's most grueling and hard-nosed racing environments.
To learn more about the experience, I checked in with
McVey, originally of Arlington Heights, who enjoyed a meteoric rise through the ranks in 2007. He's back in Illinois after graduating from Virginia Tech with a degree in mechanical engineering, and we should see more of him in 2009 now that he's working for Caterpillar in Joliet. He'll continue to ride for Vision Quest, but the 23-year-old says his services are available to teams racing at the NRC level.
In May 2007 you were racing (and winning) the citizens category at Monsters of the Midway. A year later you were Cat 2 and racing in Belgium. How the heck did that happen, and did it involve a time machine or space travel?
Unfortunately there was no time travel. In the summer of 2007 I felt I was trying to make up for starting the sport later in my career. I stacked my schedule with as many races as I could.
What sports did you do before cycling?
I competed competitively in cross country and track for 10 years prior to making the switch to full-time cyclist in May 2007. My last season as a runner was my junior year track season at Virginia Tech in spring 2007.
What was your primary event?
I was primarily mid-distance in high school and distance in college. In high school my best event was the mile, and college I ran the 3k, 5k and 3k steeplechase the most.
How did you and Luca get hooked up with racing in Belgium?
I had some teammates from my collegiate team at Virginia Tech (Eric Chrabot
, and John Zaccone
) who were at the Johan Bruyneel Cycling Academy, and `Racers will do anything to advance their position for the inevitable break in the peloton somewhere around the hour mark.’
they gave me the information and inside scoop on the program. I then relayed the info to Luca and he was in.
What kind of contact did you have with Bruyneel himself?
There wasn't any. But you have to remember that he was in season as well directing Astana, so there are priorities. He was at the pre-season camp in February in Arizona, although I wasn't there, and he did have constant contact with our director, Bernard Moerman
Is the program just for Americans?
The JBCA is not just for Americans, but it caters to Americans very well, so that is why most of the people there are from the States. It is pretty much a home away from home to live with other people that all have similar goals, which is to test themselves against some of the greatest riders in the world, in some of the greatest venues in the world. There were a few Belgian riders I raced with and became good friends with. They didn't live at the house, but would race with us as a part of the JBCA team.
How long were you there and how often did you race?
I was there for about 2.5 months, and I raced a total of 17 times: 11 single-day races and one five-day, six-stage race.
How is the racing style different from American racing?
It is much more cut-throat since every race is so important. A good finish in a race there will get you a lot of credit, compared to the average race in the states. Racers will do anything to advance their position for the inevitable break in the peloton somewhere around the hour mark. This includes riding on sidewalks, through gas-station parking lots and up the middle of the peloton through very narrow openings. It was very intimidating at first.
How are the Americans received?
For the most part we were just another racer they needed to finish in front of. But every once in awhile you would run into the hot-headed person that did not like you being there, and they made it known to you. The American-flag kit made it a bit obvious. At times I was glad I didn't speak Flemish.
How would you describe a kermesse to someone who's never seen it?
It's an extremely fast race, 100-120km in distance, on a 5-12k loop. The start/finish is in a small town, with the course on a mix of `Every once in awhile you would run into the hot-headed person that did not like you being there, and they made it known to you.’
small country roads with tight turns and larger exposed main roads. Simply put, a pure suffer fest.
Is it true that Belgians go watch bike races even if they don't have family or friends in them?
There is always a crowd for the races, usually in town by the start/finish area where families and spectators can sit and enjoy the race, as well as good food and beverages.
How was the beer?
Excellent, and very strong.
What's one aspect of Belgian racing you'd like to see adopted here?
The longer distance racing. You don't even need a large loop to do it on! You can have long races and still be spectator-friendly, which I think is key.
Looking at you I'd peg your weight around 90 pounds. Do you consider yourself a climber? How much does it drive you crazy to be in flat Illinois?
Good guess, but about 60 pounds off. I do consider climbing as my best discipline, but I strive to be as much as an all-around rider as I can. Not being able to do climbing races around here is a bit rough, but I was lucky to have a whole collegiate season in the Appalachian Mountains last spring. I always look forward to the hilly races.
What are your cycling plans in 2009?
Right now my plans for 2009 are to continue to ride for Vision Quest, with coaching from Jason Schisler
. I will also be looking for any openings available with teams in some bigger races in the U.S. to help build my resume.
What's your off-season training look like? How does cyclocross fit in?
I am working a full-time job and also training as much as I can full-time as well. Lots of running and trainer time, as well as strength training. Cyclocross for me is added fitness to mix up training in the off-season, so I don't put too much emphasis on it. I'm not very good at the technical stuff, but I love the races and the atmosphere.
What 2009 races are you looking forward to most?
Whichever races I can do over three hours with more than 10 feet of elevation gain!
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