BOULDER, Colo. (VN) — After riding above himself in California, and then to third place at the Volkswagen USA Cycling Professional Time Trial National Championship, Nathan Brown’s stock is clearly on the way up, and there’s no reason to see the price dropping any time soon.
So far this season, Brown (Bontrager) has finished second at the Liège-Bastogne-Liège espoirs and worn the most courageous jersey at the Amgen Tour of California, for his attacking style into Santa Barbara on stage 4. Recently at nationals in Chattanooga, Tenn., Brown finished 41 seconds behind winner Tom Zirbel (Optum-Kelly Benefit Strategies) and behind second-placed Brent Bookwalter (BMC Racing) by 17 seconds.
“He’s been improving year in and year out. Maybe not the level you guys can recognize and see, but over the years … those guys are improving because they’re getting stronger,” said Brown’s director at Bontrager, Axel Merckx. “He’s kind of that age where they keep developing. He’s been training lots on the climbs over the winter.
“He’s changed [his] coach also. He’s been more consistent. And I don’t want to use the word serious, because it’s not appropriate for that age, but he’s been more focused, for sure. About this chance and the opportunity that he has, and I think you can see it.”
Brown, 21, came to racing via his father, who raced in the 1980s and early ‘90s. “And then he stopped racing and become a pilot. He started riding masters again, and I just started riding with him. That’s how I got into it,” Brown told VeloNews.
As Merckx mentioned, Brown switched coaches, and focused on being more persistent. It’s paid off in spades.
“I think for me, the biggest thing was I changed coaches this year. And I started to be more consistent, and a better winner. And I think that definitely has paid off,” Brown said. “It’s just training consistently, staying healthy, and the results will come.”
Teammate Lawson Craddock, who was the best young rider in California, said Brown put in steady work during the offseason and now it is on display.
“He’s a hard worker. He had a rough first few years in U-23 — I trained with him a lot this last offseason in Austin, and we definitely put it to the pedals and you can tell his hard work is showing off,” Craddock told VeloNews. “He’s an incredible talent. He had amazing years in the junior ranks, and now he’s finally showing he’s here to win now.”
Brown’s success — and that of Craddock — shouldn’t really surprise anyone. The Bontrager program put riders Joe Dombrowski and Ian Boswell on one of the world’s top teams, Sky, after last season alone, and the peloton respects the team.
“We’re definitely getting a lot more respect in the peloton. People are starting to know the name, and know who we are,” Craddock said. “This team is having a lot of success in this race and has had a lot of success in the past. So we definitely get our name on the map, and it definitely shows. I think this year they come to realize that we are here to compete, and we can compete in big races.”
Brown, at this point, is obviously a strong time trialist, and his one-day prowess is on the rise, as evidenced by his Liège ride.
“I think he’s going to be a really good time trialist,” Merckx said. “Not sure about stage races, although he recovers well, but he maybe needs to improve on his climbing. But overall, he’s really talented rider all together. He can ride really long, really fast.”
The Bontrager program, for all its success, keeps the pressure on riders like Brown and Craddock low, Merckx said.
“We don’t expect results. We hope for the best and try to provide them with the best tools to perform,” he said. “And to be good. I don’t start a season by saying, ‘You have to do this, you have to do that.’ I tell them, ‘This is what the schedule is. This is the opportunity that you have, and use it as your best benefit … and then you’ll have the best tools to show yourself, to prove yourself.’”
Like last season, they’ve already proven plenty.