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Q&A: Todd Wells on cyclocross, mountain biking, and life

American Todd Wells is a cyclocross racer, an endurance racer, and everything in between. We catch up with him ahead of the Boulder Cup

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Todd Wells won the Leadville Trail 100 this year. Todd Wells is coming to Boulder, Colorado this weekend to race cyclocross. Todd Wells is using that 60 minutes of pain to tune up for La Ruta de Los Conquistadores. Crazy.

Wells, 38, of Durango, Colorado, and has carved out a unique path through pro cycling. Cyclocross. Mountain biking. World Cup. Endurance. In a sport of pick and choose, Wells is an enigma. VeloNews caught up with the Specialized racer this week.

VeloNews: We know you won Leadville. What have you been doing since?
Todd Wells: I did Leadville and then went over to Switzerland to do their version of Leadville, also about six hours of racing, then went and did world champs. Now I’m doing a bit of cyclocross before I do La Ruta [de los Conquistadores].

VN: You’re a madman. You’re out doing long endurance stuff and then doing cyclocross, why do you do that?
TW: That’s a good question. I enjoy all of those different disciplines. The stuff I do to get ready for Leadville is totally different than the stuff I do to get ready for cyclocross or cross-country. They all benefit each other. Obviously training for six or seven hours at 10,000 feet for Leadville doesn’t translate with racing flat-out for an hour with cyclocross at sea level, but it does help to grow my aerobic base. The races like XC world cup or cyclocross races give me such a painful anaerobic base that ends up helping grow my aerobic base as well. They all complement each other.

VN: You seem to be a bit of a physical enigma. Doesn’t common knowledge say that you can only do one thing at once?
TW: Yeah I guess. Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes when I just focus on cyclocross or just cross-country, or big endurance races, I might be able to gain a half of a percent and get more consistent at those races. I feel like I can be more competitive at cyclocross, but it takes me a little while.

VN: You’re one of the lucky ones with how you carved out a unique career. Looking back, are you happy with the way you’ve done it or do you wish that maybe you specialized a bit more?
TW: I think that I like the way things worked out. I think that if I ever was ever in the position to say, “Hey I just want to focus on the endurance,” or “I just want to do cyclocross,” but it’s fun to train and compete in those different events. Plus the people as well. I race with different guys when I’m doing cyclocross, or cross-country or doing races like Leadville or La Ruta. So it’s nice for not only the training, but meeting people in different parts of the sport as well.

VN: It’s a different scene, too. The crowds at a ’cross race are different than at a World Cup race.
TW: Of course. I’ve begun to move away from the World Cup this year, but the laps are getting shorter. In cyclocross you usually have 8-minute laps, while the World Cup laps are getting to be 12 or 13 minutes, so they’re becoming more similar. Definitely from a Leadville to a cyclocross race, they’re totally different.

VN: Because you don’t define yourself via ’cross, what would you consider to be a good campaign this season?
TW: I hope to race CX nats and have a good nationals. I’ve been doing so many mountain races, that nationals is the race that I’ll have the most time to prepare and do some good training for that and other late-season races.

VN: How’s life off the bike? What do you do to stay grounded?
TW: I usually play a lot of golf and hang out with my wife and my dog. Now that we’ve had a new baby this year, I find myself spending my off time with him. It’s a new perspective, when maybe I have a bad day at a race, it doesn’t seem so catastrophic.

VN: What’s left in your career? What would you still like to do? How many more years do think you’ll still be at it?
TW: Immediately, I have my targets set on La Ruta for this year, I’d like to win that again. I’d love to add another CX title to my resume, but lately it seems that it’s been getting harder as guys are getting better and I’m getting stretched thinner and thinner, but that is still something that I’m going to strive for. I always look to the next race, just because there are so many of them. If I lose one day, I just start looking to the next race or even to next year. There are rumors next year that there will be more HC races in the U.S. and having the chance to compete against a lot of the guys who get top-fives in World Cup races will be great. So I guess, it’s whatever the next race is; that’s what my target is.

VN: At CrossVegas, Lars Van der Haar complained of having beer thrown at him and fans maybe going too far. Is that something you’ve seen with fans and sort of the cultural aspect of the sport?
TW: I’ve gotten beer poured on me at CrossVegas and other races. It’s not something that’s gonna stop me from doing the race, but it’s defiantly something that I would prefer to not happen. We’re all out there trying to do the best we can and I don’t think its good for anybody.

VN: What goes through your mind as it happens?
TW: Initially, you’re mad, but a race like CrossVegas … It’s fast, it’s at night, all of the fastest guys in the world are there, so it’s something you think about in the moment, and then it’s gone.

VN: As someone who has been with Specialized for so long, do you think the one-man team is a trend? Or do you think the traditional team structure provides more security that some people just don’t have?
TW: I’ve been lucky to have been with Specialized for so long, and before that with GT and Mongoose, that I’ve always had that great support for mountain biking and it’s always been a cyclocross kind of combo with road. So in that sense, it’s been easy. I just have to show up and race and they take care of everything else.

When you do have your own team, you have a lot more say. Whether you don’t want to do a race or if you think things should be run differently, it’s up to you, you can make the changes. They both have their pros and cons. You look at Meredith [Miller] who won CrossVegas or Jeremy Powers who was right up there, it doesn’t seem like it’s hindering either of them, running their own programs.

VN: What’s the American vibe of mountain biking and cyclocross? When you look at the landscape, what do you see?
TW: Culturally, the cyclocross scene here in the U.S. is growing. Sure you don’t get the 15,000 or 30,000 people lining the course like you do in Belgium, but everyone who is out there watching the race are cyclists themselves. They raced earlier in the day or they’re enthusiasts, they view the sport, too. We’re lucky in that everyone over here has an intimate look into the sport, unlike over there. We do things different. It’s a big party, like mountain biking with a festival atmosphere for cyclocross and its producing results: Powers cracking top-10 at a World Cup, [Jonathan] Page getting on the podium at world champs, then you have Katie Compton, who is in a league of her own.

For mountain biking, it’s cool. We see a lot of diversity in the sport. We have the U.S. Cup, which is bringing a lot of the top-level international racers to the U.S. We have Leadville, that’s bringing World Cup marathon-caliber racers as well. Our cross-country scene is producing riders like Lea Davison and Howard Grotts, who both got bronze medals at the world champs. I think the whole future as well as the present here in the U.S. is looking really great.

VN: If you do well at nationals, does that mean you’ll do worlds as well?
TW: No, no … no.