Editor’s Note: Twenty-year-old Swiss cyclocross racer Valentin Scherz has been sending Pavé letters chronicling his season in the elite ranks. For the past two seasons, Scherz, has come to the US to compete in races as part of the Philadelphia Cyclocross School program. This season he was captain of their 2010 Cyfac-Champion Systems p/b Revolution Wheelworks Team. In 2010, Scherz successfully defended his Mid Atlantic Cyclocross Series titles (Elite & U23), while also competing in other events including Cross Vegas, Gloucester, Providence, and a few rounds of the USGP, winning five races and standing on the elite podium 11 times.
Scherz then returned to Switzerland to compete in World Cup and other major European events as preparation for the World Championships, where he hoped to improve on his 23rd-place from last year. Valentin graciously checked in with us throughout the the season, sharing his experiences and insights with us all from the perspective of someone who has competed at the top level both domestically and abroad. Pavé contributor Ciaran O’Grady chatted with him after his 7th place in the Under-23 World Championship race.
Valentin, you must be extremely happy with your 7th place at the World Championships in Germany. Did you approach the race in the same way as any other big race? Or did you use a special Worlds-Preparation training plan?
Certainly the biggest goal in my season was the World Championships, even more after my complicated month of December which prevented me from being really fit for the other big World Cup races. I placed a little less importance on the World Cup races, as well as the domestic Swiss races, and took time to train and to rest in preparation for the Worlds. I raced four times between the 26th of December and the 9th of January, as well as some hard training between the races. I kept this going until the week of Hoogerheide, and then I tried to rest to recover from those efforts. I decided to skip the World Cup race at Pont-Chateau, that way I could train less, as well as to avoid wasting time and energy traveling. It was all very logical, though nothing special; just good planning with my coach, and adapting to changing circumstances.
But that said, in one way I took the World Championships just like any other race; I had no change in my routine, just training and resting properly with the goal in mind. I was very relaxed, maybe even too much, which tends to be scary as I like a little bit of stress to race well, and I didn’t put any pressure on myself.
What did it feel like to be leading the World Championships race?
I had a pretty slow start; struggling with a brake stuck on a rim for half of the 2nd lap, as well as the difficulty of being in the middle of the pack. I made my way back to the front slowly and I was excited to be able to succeed in doing so. The race was really enjoyable, which is not all that common or evident during a cyclocross race, especially at the World Championships.
The lead group was about a dozen guys in the middle of the race when we hit the running track. I was in the middle of the group and decided to move to the front to go across the line first in order to have the best intermediate lap time. It wasn’t anything tactical; I just wanted to seize the opportunity to lead across the line at least once at the World Championships! Then I just ended up keeping the lead for a while. I was really happy to be able to do this, just this alone made the whole race a success!
You lead the World Championships’ race for several laps. Do you think that you showed riders such as Van der Haar, Hnik, Bosmans and Eising that you are a contender for podium positions in future races?
Whether they know me or not is not a big concern of mine. I guess they do now, but I would rather like it if they didn’t, because it would allow me attack and to not to be chased down seriously, but I suppose that tactic would only work once!
At least one spectator believed in my chance to be a contender because he tried to hurt me, by punching me on the leg during the race, and I believe he feared that I would beat the rider he supported. So I guess other people noticed me as well!
The course looked a bit dull on the television coverage, was the track more interesting in person?
When one of the people in the Swiss team asked me the evening before the race if I liked the course, I said “no”, but it really doesn’t matter at all – it is the World Championships, and I didn’t need to “like” the course in order to be 100% in it. The course wasn’t technical and I didn’t enjoy the half frozen conditions. However, during the race I had to change my mind as I loved the feeling that I was flying over it, especially on the uphill sections. It definitely wasn’t a fun or exciting cyclocross course, but being the World Championships, it provided a superb venue for a good show, at least in the U23 race, and that is what is important to the race organizer.
How did you prepare equipment-wise for the race? The conditions seemed to jump between being frozen and muddy.
During the week prior to the race, I changed all my cables, brake pads, and most of the bearings in order to ensure that everything was at it’s best condition, along with thoroughly checked my bikes myself to be sure that everything was right. When I was at the race, only the people whom I trusted were allowed to touch my bikes.
Once in Sankt Wendel, I tried out every type of tire on the course, with all the possible tyre pressures, in order to ensure I made the right choice. On Tuesday we built my bikes the Dugast Rhino mud tires, as the course conditions were really muddy. I rode the course again on Friday, this time with standard tires on aluminum rims for easier handling on the icy ruts and then on Saturday morning I rode file-treads. In the end, I raced on Rhino tires on my Revolution Wheelworks wheels because the ice was melting. We put more air pressure than usual because a lot of juniors had flat tires in the morning, and that worked very well.
However, I flatted twice: the first time was during the morning of the race, and the second time was on the way to the start line. I went to my dad, who is my race mechanic, and I took my second bike for the start.
Do you have any superstitious actions before or during the race? Do you have any objects that you feel bring you luck?
I did wear my Grizzly fancy wool socks; they’re grey with a white snowman on them. I had raced with them for the last two World Championships, but a friend told me that it was not “Pro” to race in them because they aren’t serious, to which I answered that it was because they bring me luck…
But in reality I don’t think they are; I only said this to provide an answer. They are not a totem, I just wear them because they are the only wool socks I have and they are so comfortable! However, I do like to wear things that are considered “un Pro”, just to keep in mind that this is a sport and it’s about fun and pleasure! It is really key to have things that are funny and personal.
In light of this recent superb result, have your plans changed for next cyclocross season?
Prior to the World Championships, I had decided that it would be my last race at this level because I planned to go to medical school next summer. But with such a great result, after experiencing so many setbacks in the months prior to the race, riding a race which was so much fun and having the satisfaction of everything coming together at the right time, I began to change my mind…
Even during the race, I knew that I could have done better with a little bit more confidence and focusing on the win. I previously mentioned that I was happy just to be at the front and that the race was already a success for me, I realize that this is not the way you win a race. But my way of thinking and racing was logical as I approached the race without knowing my exact capabilities.
I wasted too much energy to get to the front of the race from the back, along with having some minor issues and also making a few small mistakes that made me expend some of the energy that I was missing on the last lap. I had just needed to go 13 seconds faster… I know that I could do better, and that I can improve my preparation, my tactics, and my technical abilities to enable me to keep riding at the top level. But I still simply love racing cross; day after day, training session after training session, race after race.
As a junior I was 5th at the European championships and had some good results in the past, both in Europe and the US. My recent result in the World Championships showed me something that I tend to forget: that I have a good mix of talent and capacity for hard work in order to reach the best. It also confirmed to me and my entourage that I was really close to the level of the Professional riders.
Do you personally feel that racing in the US gives a top-level racer as good a preparation for racing in top European events such as the World Championships or World Cups?
The US has a strong scene and represents a good opportunity for building form. Racing in the US was great fun, and provided me with a good base level of fitness, as well as a platform to build and keep motivation to train and to improve myself.
In terms of them being good preparation for world class races, I believe that the issue is less of quality of races and more of logistics and making the transition. The first races were tough as I was suffering from jet lag and the stress of having to rebuild my bikes myself. You need time and a good crew to help with this, and to manage both the logistical and health issues brought by overseas travel. It can be good but you need to take your time and have good support.
The 2013 World Championships will be in Louisville, USA. Would I be correct in assuming that this would be an extremely large goal for you being well known in the States?
Assuming I am able to race there, it would certainly provide some extra motivation to race in front of my second family and country. It would be my first year in the Elite Men’s category, which is not that easy for most of the riders. But if I had the chance to be there, my prior experience in the US would certainly make things easier for me to get more organized than the other Europeans.
What do you feel would be an ideal path for your racing career over the next 2 seasons?
I have managed up until now with “the means on board” as we say in French, in other words, with what I had. Saying that, I get some great support from my US and Swiss Teams, but as an amateur I have paid for most of my expenses and much of my equipment myself, which I have used for a number of years now. Because of this, I have some mismatched equipment, and have always traveled the most economical way. I have been my own mechanic, and have never had massages.
But in order to be a Professional rider, and to get world class results, you need much better support to avoid these losses in efficiency, consistency, energy, reliability, and so on. For the future I’d really like to find an infrastructure with which I could have the support and environment to enable me to focus on improving and getting faster.
Congratulations on your superb ride at the World Championships Valentin. I wish you the best of success for the future!
Thanks for following me. I appreciated the support, and hope to see everyone again soon.