Marty Nothstein says crit racing is fun, but he’s not just happy to be here.
By Jason Sumner, VeloNews Associate Editor
Marty Nothstein was just about to roll down the wooden start ramp for the time trial at the First Charter Criterium.
“Hang on!” yelled a Mercury-Viatel staff support person. “Won’t need these.” The staff member quickly removed a pair of water bottles from the two cages on Nothstein’s team issue LeMond race bike.
It was a no-brainer that refreshments could wait until after Nothstein made his less-than-two-minute trip around the 1.4km TT course, but cut the guy some slack for not shedding the unnecessary weight. He’s used to racing bikes that don’t have water bottles — or gears for that matter. Nothstein is a trackman by trade, one of the best in the world. And that makes you wonder: What is Nothstein, whose Olympic gold at Sydney was the first by an American cyclist in a non-boycotted Olympics in a hundred years, doing here?
“After I won at the Olympics I figured
it was time to give something else a shot,” Nothstein explained of his decision to take on a slate of domestic criteriums as a member of the Mercury squad. “I had done what I set out to do on the track. I needed a new challenge.”
And so far, a challenge is just what Nothstein has gotten. In the two races he competed in during a swing through the southeast in late April, the 30-year-old could do no better than a 30th place at the race in Shelby. A day later, at the Twilight Criterium in Athens, he was 31st. But this year is just the beginning for a man who has never lacked in confidence. Just like on the track, where he’s won three world titles and seven world championships medals, Nothstein has little doubt about his abilities on the road.
“We’re looking at this as a learning year,” he said. “The more races I do the better I’ll get.” How good could he get? “I’d like to dominate the criterium scene and I think I can do it,” Nothstein predicted. “Simple as that.”
The Trexlertown, Pennsylvania resident adds that the change in training hasn’t been a problem — actually it’s been more like a break. “Training for the Olympics is 10 times harder than training for criteriums,” he said. “It’s almost a step down for me. I mean I’m not saying this is easy. But comparing what I’ve done in the past to what I’m doing now, the past was a lot harder.”
Still, despite the allure of carving another notch in his already impressive belt, one has to wonder if Nothstein is moving away from the track because of the sagging national support for his sport. EDS, a longtime sponsor of track cycling in the U.S., backed away in 1998. At the same time many of the athletes Nothstein must compete against are getting greater assistance.
“Look at the support they have in Britain and what they’ve done,” Nothstein lamented. “They’ve done one thing; they’ve given their riders money. It’s simple and it’s worked. Our federation and our Olympic committee need to come up with more support for us.”
That has led some to speculate that Nothstein’s sojourn into road racing might be based on personal economics. But he says that that is far from the case. “I’m definitely not doing this because it’s the only way I can make a paycheck,” he said. “This is refreshing to me to come and race domestically and get to see a lot of the U.S. instead of spending so much time abroad at the big track races. For me it’s kind of a reward for all the hard work I’ve put in over the last couple years.”
Chris Carmichael, one of Nothstein’s longtime coaches, says he can see a starry future for his pupil but doesn’t think it will be as easy as Nothstein may think. “Marty’s personality is that he doesn’t want to go out there and just have a good race here or there,” Carmichael said. “He’s the kind of person who always wants to dominate. But this is going to be a big challenge for him. It’s kind of like Michael Jordan trying to play baseball. He was good, but it was a different discipline and it showed. It’s going to be the same thing with Marty. He’s doing well when you consider the number of criteriums he’s done in the last few years. But he’s got a ways to go before he can dominate.”
Nothstein’s new competitors share Carmichael’s sentiment. “I think eventually he can be a factor out here,” said Saturn rider Eric Wohlberg. “But it’s not an easy switch to make. I think it will take awhile for him to get accustomed to this kind of racing.”
And while Nothstein is getting accustomed to his new surroundings, Carmichael says his track skills are likely to suffer.
“In the 200 meters he’s already a second slower than he was at the Olympics,” Carmichael said. “When you figure a race lasts 10 or 10.5 seconds, that’s the difference between first and fifth in qualifying.”
The loss of explosive speed has already showed up, too. At the second stop of the American Velodrome Challenge on April 20 in San Jose, California, Nothstein suffered a rare loss when Josiah Ng beat him in the sprint final. But Carmichael isn’t worried about a loss now and then if it benefits his rider in the long run. “I think putting some new challenges in front of Marty and having him face a little adversity will be good for him,” the coach said. “There is a tendency once you’ve achieved something at the highest level to start taking things for granted, taking the short way home or cutting corners…. I think this change will help reinvigorate Marty when he gets back to sprinting.”
In the meantime, Nothstein has embraced his new world. “Living the life of a sprinter is not as glamorous as everyone thinks,” he said. “The training is extremely tough, you only get to shine three or four times a year… This is a lot more casual.”