Words: Amanda Nauman
Photos: Jake Orness
Cyclocross is a discipline of cycling that celebrates results, focuses on points, and rewards performance. It’s difficult to navigate a season that seemingly fails in all of those areas. While cyclocross focuses on the individual pursuits, it is also a team effort and the achievements are nothing without the support of those around you. It was a relentless struggle from my own perspective, but it was rewarding in so many ways for the SDG – Muscle Monster Team with the addition of Drew Dillman and the help of Aether Racing coming together to be the unrelenting support system that made the season a success.
I finished last season with the goal of wanting to make the American Cyclocross World Championship team in the following year. I had finished Nationals in Reno, NV in 5th place and was in the running for their discretionary selection process but not picked. I wanted to make the team and would set myself up for a schedule that allowed for results among the best women in the world later in 2018.
Fast-forward to September and following my first race weekend in Rochester, NY, I experienced a hellish travel day home and picked up some sort of sickness. I stopped riding my bike for the remainder of the week and quietly hoped I could pull together a good race in Reno the following Wednesday. During warm-up on the trainer in the parking lot at Cross Reno, Fred Dreier of Velonews found me with a camera and asked me what my goals were for the season. I expressed my desire to make the Worlds team this season and confidently looked to race well at the venue that had treated me well just eight months earlier.
I started so well that for half of the first lap at Reno Cross I was in second place, leading the chase to Maghalie Rochette who would eventually ride off the front and dominate the entire race. I would suffer in the later laps and slide so far backward, to 19th place, that I rode straight to the car at the end, sat in the dark and cried by myself. I am recounting this story because it essentially reflects how my entire season would ultimately play out. I started with high hopes and expectations and slowly slid backward. I got sick two more times in the coming months and never found my groove. From a results and points standpoint, it has undoubtedly been my worst season. From a completely different perspective, however, it has been the most fulfilling season of my career.
Fulfillment is difficult to define and means something different to everyone. I’ve recently discovered that being fulfilled means building a skill set that was incredibly hard to get that serves not only me but others as well.
I’ve had the privilege of being surrounded by adults in this sport who are extremely selfless. When I was asked to join the Women’s CX Project in 2015, which later became Aether Racing, I didn’t realize it would have such a profound impact on the way I viewed the sport. I learned there was so much value in contributing to the development of younger riders who had goals of success in this crazy discipline of cycling. Since building this relationship with the development team based out of Ohio and also completing two successful USAC Talent ID Camps in the past couple summers, I have had the opportunity to see quite a few juniors transform into confident young adults on and off the bike.
This season quickly became less about my results and more about how I could help the people around me in the sport that I cared about.
I was more nervous before the Mixed Team Relay at Cyclocross Nationals than I was before my Elite race because I didn’t want to let down my teammates, Coach David Sheek and the Stierwalt siblings of Aether Racing. We ended up medaling on the podium in 4th place and it launched the Stierwalts into excellent results later that week. I watched Alexa “Lexi” Stierwalt dig so deep in her 13-14 Championship race and claw her way to the podium through extreme mud. I watched Lucas Stierwalt execute such an incredible first year in the Junior UCI 17-18 category that he’s just recently been selected to represent USAC at World Championships in February. I was put in a position of mentoring these kids just a few years ago and what they don’t realize is that I probably look up to them more than they do me. The same goes for all the juniors who have been through the USAC Talent ID Camps. They all delivered amazing results and carried themselves in a way that made me so proud.
The icing on the cake to this season of helping other people be successful was the story of adding Drew Dillman to the SDG – Muscle Monster Team. We put him in a position to race for us after a year mostly away from the sport and he took the opportunity with complete gusto and 100% commitment. He delivered excellent results throughout the season, moral support to the juniors, representation for sponsors in a different area of the country, and an unbelievable 4th place finish at USAC Elite CX Nationals in his hometown of Louisville, KY.
While it might look like a failure of a season for me from a numbers standpoint, it still feels like a huge success. I had a hand in amazing results and multiple