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Champ chat: Hyde on Euro ‘cross, nationals after-party, start-line dogs

U.S. cyclocross champion Stephen Hyde talks Hoogerheide and worlds goals, CX Nats after-party hijinks, and the European racers' love of dogs.

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Cyclocross racing will reach its crescendo in a little over a week at UCI World Championships in Biele, Luxembourg, January 28-29. So we got in touch with newly minted U.S. champion Stephen Hyde, who is already in Europe for Sunday’s Hoogerheide World Cup, to talk about his expectations, the CX Nats after-party, his friendship with world champ Wout Van Aert, and more.

VeloNews: Were you bummed to miss that super slippery World Cup race in Italy?

Stephen Hyde: No absolutely not. I was so comfortable here. I was sitting down with a nice cup of coffee. I was watching the race, texting friends who also weren’t there saying, “Man, how stoked are you that you’re not there? I’m really stoked, this is great!” It looked crazy. Kerry Werner is here, Sittard, at the USAC house in Netherlands. Before Toon Aerts hit that tree, he was on the other side of the barrier also laying underneath that tree, bruised some ribs. Everybody got hurt that went there. It was pretty crazy. I’m not saying they shouldn’t have had it, but it was a pretty crazy cyclocross race.

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VN: What are your expectations for Hoogerheide and worlds?

SH: I’ve been pretty consistent with my top-20 to 10th placings, and I didn’t necessarily get any fitter over nationals break. I did a lot of traveling, came back over. I hope to be consistent with that, I hope to be somewhere around that 15th to 10th place would be ideal. Outside of Iowa I haven’t landed a 10th or better at any of the World Cups. Depending on the weather. It’s pretty cold right now here. Normally it’s pretty wet and muddy. It’s been sunny and cold, 24, 22 degrees every day. All the mud is kind of solid. It could be a different Hoogerheide than I’ve ever raced. Which might play out to my advantage … Maybe it’ll be faster for everybody, and I’ll be in the same place, you never know.

In the U.S. I can be like, “OK, this race is going to be great for me, or this person is going to be good here.” You don’t necessarily have that luxury here. You can’t just be like, “I’m really good at slippery icy conditions … Oh wait, no, everybody else here is here, too, they’re all super good at this. Crap.”

VN: Give us a quick assessment of your performance at nationals. What letter grade would you give yourself?

SH: I would say like an A-minus. I did win, I’m happy about that. That was a passing grade. I was really happy about my preparation. I’ve never ridden in those conditions. I’ve never raced on ice like that. You’ve got guys like [Jon] Page, Todd Wells, Jamie [Driscoll]. I called Jamie as being the favorite outside of hopefully myself. I was like “Oh god, he’s going to be good.” Skier, the guy’s grown up on this stuff, from Vermont.

I’ve seen him race to good placings in conditions that required a similar effort. A lot of not using your brakes, a lot of easy accelerating and just really steady. I’m a punchy rider so for me, it was like, OK I need to focus 100 percent on not falling. You couldn’t open up. There wasn’t anywhere to pedal. It was all just not falling down. We all fell down, everybody fell down. I give it an A-minus for my probably four times falling and still winning [laughs].

VN: Jeremy Powers said that it’s customary for the winner to buy some beers at the nationals after-party. Did you do that in Hartford? Any good stories from the bar?

SH: David from CCAP put on a pretty cool little after-party at one of the breweries there … And no one would let me buy any drinks! We ended up going to a couple of bars that night and partied. Luckily a lot of people came out. It was really nice to see everybody. You look forward to that. Nationals is like, okay win or lose, bad race, good race, everyone’s going to go out and we’re all going to go celebrate the season, look forward to a new beginning. Some of us are going to continue to race but for a lot of people, it’s the end of their season. It’s always a good time.

But no I didn’t buy any drinks, no one would let me. I turned down some drinks! I had a couple of people come up, “Dude, congratulations, you gotta do some shots with us.” I was nursing this cold, my voice went out. I was like, I’m sorry I can’t I still have to travel and race. I feel bad. Dudes that offered that: I’ll take you up on it some other time, I promise.

VN: Worlds will be at a relatively new venue this year. Do you have any beta on this Luxembourg course?

SH: There’s a UCI teaser video — it’s always hard to tell from a GoPro. Everybody looks at every nationals course and we’re like “That looks really lame,” and it turns out it’s the hardest thing ever. The difference here is that through the GoPro video it actually looks really hard. I’m gonna assume it’s going to be another hour in hell, hour and 15 minutes in hell. It looks really really punchy, a lot of up and down on the side of this big hill, goes through a construction site. I don’t know what the weather is going to be like. I’m not a guy that flips through the weather channel constantly. I kind of leave it up to the day and send it. I don’t know if it’s a talent or a curse.

VN: You like punchy courses — is that your strength, when it comes to Euro ‘cross races specifically?

SH: If you look at courses like Iowa or Spa or Overjise. All of them I’ve had decent results in. They’re all kind of an old-school mountain bike course. Uphill, pretty steep climb, and then some pretty tricky downhill stuff. If I can just get a half lap of doing efforts, half a lap of descending, then I can do some damage.

VN: And your weakness in those races?

SH: There’s so many of them! There’s so many holes in the armor there. These guys, their thresholds are higher, they race in these conditions, they’re different, the soil texture is a lot different; RPM changes are different. I struggle with finding traction, on a lot of these courses where it’s real slick on top. I struggle on the low RPM work. I’ve come a long way on my running. It’s super high-speed, stuff we don’t see in the U.S. It’s generally faster every lap than I’m used to. I’m not going to say the courses are harder. I think that’s kind of a misconception. … Granted they’re harder than most of the courses [in the U.S.]; you get most of your challenge out of doing the same thing at higher speed, at more exhaustion. Just kind of having to close your eyes and go for it.

VN: Jeremy Powers said you Snapchat Wout Van Aert — what’s the best snap he’s sent you?

SH: Who’s Jeremy? [laughs] He half-lied. I don’t have a Snapchat. But I haven’t been afraid to just Facebook message or Instagram message any of these guys over here. Whatever, they’re no different to anyone at home to me. Wout’s been really cool. Ever since I met him last year. I’m a racer, but I’m also a fan too. The ones that you can reach out to, the ones that kind of show some humanity, I love those guys. Wout’s been great. There’s a number of Euro riders over here that I really enjoy their company, I look up to. Wout’s like I don’t know how many years younger than me. … He’s a baby! You’re a little bit of a nerd a little bit of fan.

VN: His Instagrams of his dog are so funny.

SH: All these guys over here have dogs! Van der Poels have that Dalmatian. Michael Vanthourenhout has this little poodle or Chihuahua thing or something. Their girlfriends come to the start line with their dogs. It’s something you don’t see on the camera. They all have their little dog on the start line or the finish line — I wish they would show that!

No, Jeremy’s the one running around with Snapchat glasses. He’s got the glasses, have you seen those? He is full nerd! [laughs]

VN: I gave you a nickname on the VeloNews Show the other week. Some people didn’t like it, so it’s only fair for you to give me a nickname. Don’t hold back, fire away.

SH: I couldn’t come up with one. I really couldn’t. I feel like if you get a nickname out of me it can’t be spoken in public anyways. That’s the only way my brain works! That’s when we’re cool, is if I give you a nickname, and it’s mildly offensive.

VN: So my nickname is redacted?

SH: Yeah, sorry. [laughs].