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Geoff Proctor interview
PHOTOS by Tom Robertson | INTERVIEW by Jeremy Dunn
Geoff Proctor has been doing this cyclocross thing for a long time. After racing a hand-full of World Cups in the mid-nineties and three World Championships he returned to Belgium with a new plan - Cyclocross Camp. EuroCrossCamp has been "Preparing America's best cyclocross riders to face the world's toughest competition," since 2003. We had the good fortune to work with one of his star riders this past season by way of Zach McDonald or the Nuke. At the Cyclocross Nationals in Bend, Oregon we caught up with Proctor before the start of the U23 race. Our man Zach would go on to ride one of the more spectacular races of the weekend only to suffer a crash on the last lap, hitting a spectator that had wandered onto the course. Even so, McDonald came back the next day to handily win the Collegiate race for the University of Washington. Then, it was off to Belgium where Proctor could work his magic.
Now you raced over in Belgium, right?
Um-hmm. I raced…
What did you take away from that and go, "We need to start bringing people to Belgium to do this."
Well, I raced in the early '90's, raced three World Championships and then continued to race domestically for fun late '90's, Super Cups all that, but, during those World Championship years it was painfully obvious that our National Championships were in mid-December and then there was nothing for 6 weeks. So that was when I said, "We've got to do something." The camp is development and preparation for the Worlds and today (National Championships) we had 35 Junior 17-18's in the field.
In every race we are about to do in Europe, there's going to be 100 Juniors. So it is the level, the conditions, the terrain, those 3 things, triple whammy, that's what you need to expose our guys to. A lot of people think the camp is just one way; like I take them over and that's that. But it's really uni-directional. I want these guys to come back and spread the love, spread the knowledge. I'm taking a kid from North Carolina this year. This is the first time I've ever had a kid from the southeast come.
And What is his name?
Jeremiah Dyer. He didn't do that well today but I think he might have been involved in the crash, but that kid will come to camp and he'll bring back so much for his region and I love that. That's really why I raced internationally. I wasn't anything great back then, but I really went with the conscious plan to build my knowledge base so that one day I could do what I'm doing now. Obviously Louisville [World Championship's 2013] is a big part of it, we need to be doing a lot more.
You are working as an English teacher as well, would you prefer to be doing this full-time? Is that part of the plan?
That has been part of the plan. First of all I love teaching, I love the classroom and I love my students. So for the last 10 years I've really invested in this but something's got to break for me pretty soon, because I can't keep doing both. It's pretty taxing to do these. I came back from the World Cup two weeks ago from Belgium. The train to Paris, Paris/Salt Lake direct, then back to Montana, then back in the classroom the next day at 5 in the morning, there is just no recovery. So, it's something, I need to sort of shift to if I can, but my dream was to really build the program and have a real national cyclocross program but it hasn't happened yet.
You're closer now than…
Yeah, but I'd love to maybe have a team too. Do a team. If you look at those European cross managers, that would probably be the dream job, to be Danny De Bie, telling the Fidea guys what to do, that would probably be the height of what this game is all about. But it's a hard thing. I try to bring my family whenever I can. I've got 2 boys and my wife and they come in the summer if I'm in Belgium. But it's also hard to do with all these things going on in my life. I really should be grading essays right now, so we'll see.
That's a testament to your commitment to just explore in general.
Exactly, it's a lot of work to put this camp together and to bring 20 guys over there, it's a lot of work here and there, fitting it in. I'm going to meet with all the parents tonight.
So at the core of it, why do you do it? There is no money there, there's no fame…
Not a whole lot of money, no. Well the commission work is playing a role in the development and the future of the sport, the camp, and going to World's and working with these guys and advising them is I think number 1 to give back, because I have gotten a lot out of cycling myself and then also I really, really enjoy working with young people in the classroom or at the camp. Take someone like Zach [McDonald], he's got a hell of a lot of talent, especially technically. He's a guy that's able to seemingly balance his school with his riding right now which is exceptional. He has a lot of things to work on, he's got to work on his tenacity especially over in Europe, so that when things aren't going quite perfectly that he can rebound and be resilient and come back up from that instead of just throwing in the towel or whatever, he needs to work on his tenacity. I like seeing those kinds of gains in young people when they can do that, because this is not a vacation, this is the hardest theatre, it's like war.
I like that analogy. That is one that we use all the time is that you're going into battle in cyclocross.
Yeah, I don't like to overuse it because I don't want to be disingenuous or diminish what real soldiers are doing. I sat next to a Navy Seal last week on the plane and he was telling me how he got shot off the roof with a 50 pound pack on his back and fell 30 feet. We were talking about doping and stuff and I'm like, "Dude, I don't care if you're doping. If you're in Afghanistan and you've got to do whatever to hang in there, fine, do whatever performance enhancing that you need to do." But we segued back into cycling and anyway…
Speaking of Zach, he comes from a different skill set, a downhill mountain biker, when did you first meet him and how does this background hold up in a sport where, traditionally, cyclocross racers come from a road racing background?
I don't often know what background these guys have when I see them. He came to the camp as a Junior and just killed it. He had some amazing results, it must have two years ago at the camp, and he was doing well in World Cups and I'm just like "holy Toledo". I think it was the Zolder, the first World Cup and he was top 10th or so and then he went on to a third in Roubaix and podium. That was two years ago when, I don't know if you are aware of this, but we were talking to a big European cyclocross team about Zach.
Yeah. One of my dreams is to try to get some of these guys on European teams.
Yeah, so they can really live it.
We were that close. But then they realized he's going to need to come back home during the season so that's like $3000 in plane tickets or whatever, I think they started to put the logistics together and they said no. That was a bummer because we were really close. That would have been exciting. That's how it all started and I have some really good feelings about his upcoming races here. I just feel like he's going pretty good, just seeing his results, talking to him.
Yeah, just watching him develop over the course of this year alone has been amazing.
I think he's realized that cross really is his cup of tea and that hopefully he can dedicate himself to it. I mean look where he is finishing in some of these races as a U23, it's awesome.
I'm excited for the race today. It seems like just from talking to him that he likes these conditions (a bit sloppier) so he can drift through the corners and go for it.
I get excited about U.S. Nationals, a great scene, but when you go over there (Europe) and all of a sudden next weekend there's 60,000 people at the race and it's the best guys in the world and you're getting flicked at every corner, every lap, it's another world. It's not a gentleman's sport anymore and it's the real deal. I love seeing that, how kids react to that challenge and Zach especially has been a guy who has been able to adjust to that. He's able to give it right back to them and outride them or out-skill them.
Zach really is going to be a marquee name in this sport, not that much down the road. Well I think he's an investment, that's for sure.
At the beginning of the season we noticed he was getting into tussles but coming out on top and there was even a few spots where we had people come up to us and say, "He's kind of being rough with people on the course." Then later, three races later, the same guy came back and said, "He's still being rough with people, but he's racing his way and it's pretty cool to watch." So that was fun for us. You know he's got a bit of personality that he bring to it and I think all of those things combined, you need all of those things to make a marquee racer like you said.
I have to manage that, myself, in the camp, because he is a bit of personality and he has to realize that we've got a big group and he can't just do what he wants and that's all part of growing up and growing into the sport and becoming a professional. So I'm good with playing that role with him. I think a race like Louisville was a frustration for me when he just didn't kind of see it through. That's the aspect of tenacity I want to work with him at. Sometimes you've got to ride through things and stuff. I also think sometimes Zach 's a rider that will ride better in Europe than here, nine times out of ten. Zach and I talk all the time about what races he should do and where he should go. He's great, he asks me what I think and that's important especially for the younger guys because it's hard to sort of navigate through the labyrinths of cyclocross. You know, what races and which ones would be good for points and should I do this or should I do that.
Why is that?
Just because it's way more challenging over there.
Because it's a bigger stage?
The courses are way more challenging and especially the skills.
Yeah, and the crowds?
Super sketchy, off-camber stuff. Like right over here, I don't know if you've noticed, the course, but over there, [points into the distance of the Bend, Oregon racecourse] there's a gnarly drop they could have used.
They did last year.
But even farther over, I mean, yeah for instance, this is easier than last year, they could used that stuff. A European course would use that, that is where Zach will shine, he's just good technically on the bike.
I want to see those run-ups where they are just clawing at the dirt, it's not a run-up, it's a climb up.
It's like on-belay.
Yeah, there's that. I've had a few riders like that over the years where they do really well over there. I don't know if you were in Louisville, but that course is dry, fast, and it wasn't really a good course for Zach. You just don't see that many courses like that in Europe, it was kind of a road race.
Are the courses here too easy to develop any riders that are going over there? If Tim Johnson and Jeremy Powers had the toughest courses here then they could go over there and maybe thrive on it more?
It's hard to say. It's hard to make that correlation, it's just difficult, but I think there is something to be said for that. The term I use is "dramatic vertical", we have vertical, we have some vertical here but over there it's death drop, like elevator shaft vertical. You just see that a lot. Like in Roubaix, that is a good example from that World Cup, there are some drops in that, that our riders just don't see that very often. That's why I would have liked to have seen them go over that thing. Louisville will be a good course but it doesn't have anything really remotely gnarly or sketchy.
What about a guy like Jonathan Page, what's your take on how he has been doing? What is missing?
I like, Jonathan, I have a ton of respect for him, what he's done and how he's done it.
It seems like he's done it the hardest way possible and he's still doing it.
And that's maybe part of his character. He could have benefited in his career from more support if he'd found the right situation. Obviously a couple of years ago when he was on SunWebProjob, that might have been the ideal situation had the personalities worked out. I don't know if his personality allows for that, but if it did then I think he would really thrive. I think sometimes he just has to overcome so many different things to get to his best place. But, when he gets to his best place that dude is tough, he is so tough.
Yeah, I got to watch him when I was over there at the Middelkerke place, I think he flatted, he was in second and he flatted.
Each of our marquee riders, each of our top guys, they have their own skill sets, their own strengths and weaknesses, their own personalities and it fascinating to watch them. You know you get Ryan on certain kind of course and look out or in the right state of mind and you get a guy like Tim and Jeremy, it's really neat to see. But Jonathan is one of these, he's the only guy to me in the history of American cyclocross racing that's been able to truly dedicate himself to European cross. I was over there, but a lot of people have gone over and they've done a season, two seasons, no body has gotten to the level he's gotten over there.
What do you think is next for him?
I know he is really driving to try to duplicate something decent in the World's performance [this year]. I don't know what his team situation is going to be next year but I think he still wants to race. He's got a young family. I know him well. I've stayed at his house and spent a lot of time with him. I'd like to see him get in another good situation to where he can continue to race to the point where he feels like he's gotten the best out of himself over there. This is the first year he's not going to be here (The Nationals) which is another whole story.
Yeah, it feels a little weird.
It kind of compromises the result I think of whoever wins but that's bike racing and I think it was just the travel and he's got good contracts for these races and he's got to do what he's got to do. He got contracts for both big series, Superprestige and GA and you've got to honor that.
That's cool. Who else when you look at the pro scene that we have here, who…
You mean coming up or just the top guys? Well [Danny] Summerhill this last year is coming up, Zach [McDonald] and Luke Keough , I was predicting those three guys would ride away or maybe even Nick Keough if he is going well.
Have you worked with the Keoughs before?
No. I mean I have worked with Luke at World’s and Nick at World's but never at the camp and they just have a different plan for what happens after Nationals and I'm totally fine with that. I totally respect that, not everybody thinks the camp is the best thing for them and that's fine. The camp is there as an opportunity for riders if they want to take advantage of it. Let's see who else is coming up. Obviously Yannick Eckmann if we can be as fortunate to get him to become American here, he's German, so he'll be at the camp again, but he's German and he'll race the World Cups for Germany and he's a real podium threat this year at Junior Worlds. He's on one of these bikes [points to FOCUS cross bike]. Yannick is going to race for Garmin on the road, he's a really strong Junior. Jeff Bahnson is another. We've got a bunch of 15-16's that are going to be really good. Logan Owen who won the 15-16's yesterday is somebody I would seriously be looking at. He won the Seattle Metro in the other series and the State Championships in the Elites and he's 15. He is going to be a real terror.
I'm excited for this race today.
What time is it right now?
Yeah, speaking of which.
It starts at 1?
Ok, that's in like 30 minutes. I need to get geared up for this…