Q&A: Inside Kerry Werner’s year of U.S. cyclocross success
Kerry Werner eats eggs and rice in the back of the Kona-Maxxis-Shimano team. Flower-print lycra covers his legs, and mud from a recent practice lap hardens on his shoes. Knobbed tires buzz on rollers in the background, as the women of the Kona and Team S&M squads warm up for their fast-approaching race. A pressure washer roars intermittently.
Werner, 28, is here at the 2019 U.S. Cyclocross National Championships fresh off one of his most successful cyclocross seasons to date. He scored six victories this fall on the U.S. circuit, and in November, he won the Pan-American Championship race. Along the way, he has steadily amassed an enthusiastic following among cyclocross fans, thanks to his entertaining video series on Youtube.
Unfortunately for Werner, a freakish incident ended his hopes of a winning the national title this year. On one of the track’s steep descents, Hecht momentarily lost control and rode through the course tape. The loose length of tape entangled Werner and inevitably, he crashed. Werner eventually finished the day in fourth. With what seems like characteristic equanimity, Werner described the setback as “a bit of unfortunate luck.”
We caught up with Werner before the race to find out more about the origins of his vlog, his successful season, and his hopes for the future.
VeloNews: How did the vlog start? How did that become your thing?
Kerry Werner: It actually wasn’t my decision. Barry Wicks is our team manager for the Kona cross and adventure team and we signed on with Maxxis and Shimano for the next two years. With that, he sent a sponsorship proposal to the sponsors and in it, he decided that I was going to do a vlog.
He’s like, ‘hey man, here’s some examples, you’re going to do this.’ And I was like, ‘uh…’ I don’t know. It seems weird to talk to a camera and whenever I see people doing selfie type stuff, it really turns me off.
VN: So you basically figured it out on the fly?
KW: I started it in April, because it was for this upcoming cross season. I was like, ‘I’m going to start now and iron out the kinks.’ I did a couple mountain bike stage races and the first couple of videos — they were okay. And it was pretty easy. It just took time to sit down and cut everything together.
And it just kind of eventually grew. We hit cross season and people were just kind of, about it. There was a vacuum left when [Jeremy Powers] left with Behind The Barriers. There wasn’t a ton of video coverage. CXHairs is doing a lot of post race footage, but there wasn’t the pro interaction, and I think people were hungry for that.
People ask me how I have time to do this. Sometimes it is frustrating, because it takes a while. But it’s also kind of therapeutic, at least for me. You go back and look at the weekend. It’s fun to see and remember what was funny.
VN: The videos are legit funny. What’s an example of something especially cool that’s come out of it for you?
KW: This year I’ve started asking juniors to film races — so many kids are into Youtube and doing their own stuff. And, oh man, it’s great! In each local community I have three or four different juniors, asking if I need someone to film. Usually on Saturday I have somebody and on Sunday I have someone else, so it’s pretty sweet. And then I always give them a shout-out.
VN: You’ve scored some bigger results this season than in past years. Did you make any changes to how you prepared for the season this year?
KW: I didn’t travel as much during the summer and I focused on a few, key mountain bike events to ramp up. I like to do the fun races, no UCI stuff. One of the best things the US has going for it is the Epic Rides events.
I’ve traditionally started with Pisgah Stage Race in April, which is great. It’s like the East Coast version of BC Bike Race. That’s always my first race. Then I did Transylvania Epic, a five-day stage race in Pennsylvania.
And I’ve been fortunate enough to do BC Bike Race the last two years. Emily and I did it two years ago for our honeymoon. Instead of dishes and stuff, we asked for money so we could go do something cool and that’s what we did. This past year I got in with clothing sponsor 7Mesh.
It’s a great race, for one thing, but in terms of building for cross, it’s perfect. It’s two, to two-and-a-half hour days of lot of threshold efforts. It’s seven days, so it’s pretty full on, but it’s not super, super sharp. It’s also right in the middle of July. Then I can take a little break, and just kind of sharpen the ax for cross season.
VN: So you feel the mountain bike races give you a good foundation for the season, but you have to be smart about it.
KW: It keeps me fit and mentally happy. And I don’t know, I’ve been pretty fortunate in that every year, I’ve been able to build from last year. I’ve been running a pretty consistent couple seasons of progression. I think I mostly try not to take things too seriously. I try to just let things happen. It’s just, kind of the way the cards fall with that attitude.
VN: I was talking to a sports psychologist earlier this week about the role optimism plays in athletes’ successes. Whatever happens on race day, things are still good. Things are still okay.
KW: It gets hard when you have a few bad races in a row. Last year, I struggled. I peaked a bit too early and started to fizzle toward the end of the season. I was already committed to going to Europe and I went straight after nationals.
It was straight into the Christmas block, which is seven races in ten days. And it was like, ‘I don’t really want to do this right now.’ But then we went to Spain and it was sunny and we got to have fun and that brought my spirits back up for World Champs.
VN: What do you feel you’ve learned from European racing?
KW: For one, the only way to get as good as them is to be over there. America is just too big and the races are too spread out. Over there, it’s like, you can do two different races on the same day and they’re both two hours max from your house. So every night you’re in your bed.
That’s what I’ve learned, I guess. It’s easier to be fast, when you’re racing the fastest people every freakin’ weekend. There’s such a density of people interested and passionate about the sport over there. It’s cool to see.
VN: Do you eventually want to race in Europe full-time?
KW: I don’t think so. I mean, it’d be one thing if I was over there competing in the top ten. If I was doing that, I think, that’s the progression of where I’d want to be.
But I also love working with Kona. They’re a great company — and not just for cross. Their mission just totally melds with how I like to do bikes. If you know Barry and Kris Sneddon, those guys are so cool and laid back — it’s the same mentality that I take toward bike racing.
Their focus is the US market and I’m happy here. I’m at this point where people are starting to recognize me and people are having fun with bikes and following me. It’s kind of cool. Over there, it’s like a job, it’s like a business. Here it can be a bit more fun and laid back.
VN: And you can make it about more than just the racing and the results sheet.
VN: Long-term, what would you like to accomplish in the sport?
KW: I like to go over to Europe and race, for sure. But really, just battling in the US, and hopefully helping other kids here as they come up in the sport. And just being able to push other US riders and to really develop the sport over here.
The internet is for sure helping with that — kids are getting stoked on bikes when they see my vlog and the CXHairs content. All that stuff is great. It’s also cool, I hear from masters racers, ‘I haven’t raced cross in a couple of years, but I’ve been watching your vlog and I figured I’d give it a try again.’
So I think just continuing to do that and continuing to build the sport in the US and riding it out. The 2022 World Championship in Fayetteville is a big goal for me. I really want to make that. I’ll put in a really strong effort there. Then we’ll see what happens.