Kerry Werner may be a relative newcomer to the elite ranks, but the North Carolinian already a familiar face on mountain bike podiums around the country. Werner is a former U23 and Collegiate National Champion, and he put in a career ride en route to a silver medal in the XC at the US National Championships last summer – in his first full season as a pro.
After a successful cyclocross campaign last fall, Werner is kicking off 2015 with new goals and a new team, Raleigh-Clement. He’s already off to a fast start, claiming 5th place in the Short Track at the recent US Cup round in Bonelli. Werner was kind enough to take some time to check in with MTBRacenews about his new bikes, his goals for the season, his collegiate career, and balancing full-time mountain bike and cyclocross racing.
MTBRacenews.com: For those folks that maybe don’t know you that well, can you tell us a little about where you’re from and how you got into mountain bike racing?
Kerry Werner: It started when I was 15. A really good friend of mine was into cycling and via him I gradually got involved. First road riding. Then we took his parents old rigid Treks, with toe cage pedals, out to French Creek State Park in Pennsylvania and got our butts kicked by the trails. However, something about the constant challenge during that ride hooked me. From then on I wanted nothing more than to get better at all the things I was struggling with during that ride. Not long after my friend convinced me to do an MTB race as a Junior and I did pretty well. A local team promoted by Shirks Bike Shop approached me and I got on the team, which was so cool to me. After that first year it was a steady progression into full MTB, cycling in general, immersion. Obviously, my parents were a huge part in my early success. Without their unwavering support I definitely would not be where I am today. I wish I would have taken a pic of my mom’s face when I told her I needed a bike that was $4000+… haha
MTBRacenews.com: Last season was your first year racing full-time as a pro. Did it feel like a big jump from your previous years racing in the Collegiate/U23 ranks?
Kerry Werner: Last season was my first year as an Elite racer. Honestly, it didn’t feel too much different aside from the pressure to progress and succeed. I had been with the U23 BMC Development MTB team since 2011 and that team offered ample support, aside from a salary, to make it feel like I was always racing full time pro. The biggest difference were the world cups, where I went from gunning for a top 20 to trying to finish on the lead lap. That was a big shock to the system and really highlighted the fact that I have a lot to learn.
MTBRacenews.com: Can you talk about your ride at Nationals last summer? What were your goals going into that race? Did you feel like you had the form to get on the podium?
Kerry Werner: Early in the season I was slow to getting my form to come around. I think managing, mostly driving the rig to races, the BMC Project Dirt team didn’t allow me to focus solely on racing. Also, coming off of a full cross season I was a little late to the training game for those early season MTB races. After the May World Cups with USAC I was able to put a solid training block in working with Jim Lehman from CTS and also with the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs I got some good interval work in at altitude, which fueled my later season success. I knew I was on form coming into nationals after a good weekend at the WORS Cup ProXCT. I knew Todd and Stephen had the top two spots pretty much on lock down so I was shooting for the third step. Everything was together on the first lap, then Stephen had a mechanical, and the podium opened up from there.
MTBRacenews.com: How did getting 2nd in the Pro field compare to your previous year’s win in the U23 race on the same course at Bear Creek?
Kerry Werner: To me, getting second was more meaningful. It showed that I was still progressing instead of remaining stagnant after a good U23 year. However, from an outside perspective I am not sure it held as much prestige as a national championship. I think it just looks a little better when you can say you won a national championship, especially in u23 where you battle with the pros ever other, regular race, weekend.
MTBRacenews.com: Correct me if I’m wrong, but last year was also your first year putting in a full cyclocross season with the Optum Program. What was the motivation to do that and what were your goals going into cross season?
Kerry Werner: Last year was my first fully supported season. I did a lot of racing for MOB cyclocross in 2013-2014 but the support wasn’t as involved as it was with Optum. My motivation stemmed from a good cross season the previous year. Over the last 3 years I have been progressively getting better at cross and doing a full program was definitely of interest to me. I was lucky enough to be put in contact with Jonas Carney, the Optum Manager, early last summer and he set the wheels in motion for what came to be my best cx season thus far.
MTBRacenews.com: Do you still see mountain biking as your primary focus for 2015?
Kerry Werner: That is hard to say. With the Olympics coming up next year I obviously want to continue progressing and aim for a spot on the team. Also, this is Raleigh’s first year on the MTB circuit, adding Fernando Riveros Paez and myself to the team, so I am very motivated to push their efforts in the right direction. I really want Raleigh to see this MTB support as a lucrative program for them and continue it further down the road.
On the other hand I have never been on a team for an entire calendar year. I have always had to rush around and scrape together resources for a cx program after MTB season. So going into this season knowing I already have both programs, MTB then seamlessly flow into CX, lined up has me very excited for cross as well. I have been racing the ProXCT series for the past 5 years, but last year was my first full cx program and I had a good season. Since cx is newer, to me, and I am progressing I am excited to see what lies ahead this season.
MTBRacenews.com: What are your big goals for this season?
Kerry Werner: With a late start to training, I am very interested to see what kind of form I can come into these first few races with. I am banking on the altitude from my new home in Colorado Springs lending a helping hand, hopefully, offsetting a small fitness gap. However, I am confident I will come around later in the season with a main focus being the two European World cups, which I hope to do with USAC, Nationals and then the two North American World cups. I have been working with Jim Lehman at CTS for about a year and a half, which isn’t that long, but we see eye to eye a lot and he is a very smart coach. He really understands the balance between racing, travel, and training, which is a huge when I don’t have the luxury of taking a full month or so as down time in between seasons.
MTBRacenews.com: Congratulations on the new team. What brought about the change? What are you most looking forward to with the new squad this season?
Kerry Werner: Thanks! I think my late season CX results, from Cincy through Nationals, really helped solidify my spot on the team. Those results paired with my past MTB season. Like I said, I am most looking forward to working with the same team for the entire calendar year. I like the idea of building a reputation with a brand. That was hard to do when I was switching seasons and subsequently bikes, components, etc. in years past. hand, hopefully, offsetting a small fitness gap. However, I am confident I will come around later in the season with a main focus being the two European World cups, which I hope to do with USAC, Nationals and then the two North American World cups. I have been working with Jim Lehman at CTS for about a year and a half, which isn’t that long, but we see eye to eye a lot and he is a very smart coach. He really understands the balance between racing, travel, and training, which is a huge when I don’t have the luxury of taking a full month or so as down time in between seasons.
MTBRacenews.com: What bike will you be racing on primarily this season?
Kerry Werner: I really like the feel of the a dual suspension 29er. That is my training bike of choice. However, that will mostly likely be a little over kill for most of the races on the circuit. With that said I will probably race the hardtail, Tekoa, the most. Though, I will have the dualie, Skarn, in my quiver if need be.
MTBRacenews.com: You won a number of mountain bike and cyclocross national titles as a collegiate rider for Lees-McRae College. What role, if any, do you think collegiate cycling played in your development as a rider?
Kerry Werner: Oh man, I could go on and on about this subject… Collegiate cycling has been the next biggest influence on my life, second only to my parents and families support. I started college with Lees McRae in the fall of 2009. I had some very different views on how to train, etc then than I do now. It has shaped me into the cyclist I am today. Plus, I don’t know too many other Colleges or Universities I could have gone to that would have allowed me to travel and train as much as I did without kicking me out! Now I have my B.S. in Nutrition and I have that to fall back on when my focus doesn’t lie solely in professional cycling.
MTBRacenews.com: Do you listen to music when you train? What’s on your favorite playlist for interval training?
Kerry Werner: I do. I have a very keen interest in trance, electronic, and house music. The rhythms and melodies throughout those records really get me into a good groove during interval work. Maybe I focus a little less on the pain in my legs and a little more on a bass line or cool lyric. Also, there isn’t much else like flowing down a fun descent while listening to something that makes you happy. It enhances the experience for me. My favorite artists are Above and Beyond and their podcast “Group Therapy”, Gareth Emery and his podcast “Electric For Life”, and Morgan Page with his podcast “In the Air”. All of these podcasts are 1-2 hrs long and feature the latest and greatest tracks in the realms of electronic, trance and house music. Plus, the length is good for just putting on during an interval set and not having to touch your iPhone for a while.