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Rider Interview: Triple National Champion Todd Wells

Posted by: Shannon Boffeli |February 9, 2011 9:23 PM
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In 2010, Specialized rider Todd Wells did something no other cyclist in history has done. He won national titles in cross country, short track, and cyclocross. But all that success hasn’t gone to his head. The soft-spoken MTB icon still enjoys spending time at home with his wife and dog as much as shredding singletrack all around the globe.

Recently Todd spent some time with MTB Race News rider Bob Saffell to discuss the implications of his monumental 2010 season and where he will go from here. Read the entire interview below.

MTB Race News: 2010 was an amazing year for you, 3 national championships, in vastly different disciplines. Which one stands out as the most special and why?

Todd Wells: All my National Championship wins this year were special. If one stands out though it's the XC title. I had never won it until this year and I had so many 2nd places. I had won a STXC title in the past and 2 CX titles but never the XC. The event usually comes in the middle of some big block of races, with lots of travel and I don't really have a chance to train specifically for it.  This year I actually had time to prepare for it and I felt awesome there. It was the event I felt the strongest and most in control at. When I wanted to up the pace I would open a gap with out feeling like I was going over my limit. It was awesome! I wish I could feel like that at every race. I would say the CX title was 2nd and STXC third. I thought I was going to be out of contention for the CX title after crashing hard at the Fort Collins USGP in November and injuring my leg but was able to come back strong for Nationals. 

MTB Race News:  From Where I sit, I see the coverage of your spectacular year as lacking. Does this bother you personally or does it concern you in terms of the overall health and future of MTB racing specifically in the USA?

Todd Wells: I think as an athlete you would always like to get more media coverage for yourself and sponsors. I feel in the US Mountain Bike racing doesn't get that much press to begin with so I don't feel like I didn't enough coverage this year. I think people that really follow the sport know what a great year it was for me and the fact no one has ever held all three jerseys at once speaks for itself. 

I'm not too worried about the health of MTB racing in the US. If you remember back in the early 90s guys were switching from road racing to MTB because it was a bigger deal and they could make more money. Now you see the road is more prestigious in the general public's mind than MTB. I think everything runs in cycles so I'm sure MTB racing will come back around sooner or later. We have more races now then ever before, the bikes are better then they have ever been and the riders continue to push the boundaries of our sport in XC, DH and Freeride. 

MTB Race News:  What do you see as the future of MTB Racing in the USA ? Do you see USA Cycling as facilitating this or hampering it currently?

Todd Wells: This is a good question. I think USA Cycling is doing a good job of facilitating Olympic Mountain bike racing in the US. They have put together the PRO XCT series which is composed of all UCI races which help US athletes gain points and the US gain Olympic spots. The courses are Olympic style meaning they are 15-20 minute loops with short climbs and some technical descents. That's the direction Olympic MTB is going and they are on the right track. They are developing Juniors and U-23s with camps in Europe the same way they have done it for the road where they have developed some great talent. 

I don't know how they are stacking up for growing the amateur side of the sport. I think a lot of that is driven by the media. The media is focusing on road racing right now and I think that's why you see all these long dirt road MTB races popping up that you could probably do on a CX bike but are marketed as MTB races. I'm not sure what USA Cycling can do short of developing Olympic champions to grow the sport of Mountain Biking. 

MTB Race News:  What are the keys to success for a successful MTB Pro?

Todd Wells: There are a few things you need to be a successful MTB Pro. Everyone knows you have to be fast and win races, that goes without saying. I think our sport is relatively small and tight knit so you have to be a nice person or word gets out pretty quickly. I try to be very approachable and always take the time to talk people. You have to remember you are representing not just your self, but your sponsors and quite often your country. You have to act accordingly. 

The hardest part for me is all the travel. Two years ago I think I spent a total of 8 weeks at home for the entire year between travel and training for CX and MTB. When things are going well and I have good form it's easy to roll it from weekend to weekend. When my form starts to slip while I'm on the road and still have a lot of races to do that's when it gets hard. I feel like knowing your body and when to take time off is one of the most important things. Endurance sports in general tend to attract people that are more likely to do more training then less. Knowing when to take some down time is crucial. 

MTB Race News:  You travel a lot for International MTB Races, What are 5 things you do that make this easier? Can you also tell us the 5 things that make this hard?

Todd Wells: 1. Getting a frequent flyer card makes things easier. The more you travel the more bags you can travel with, the better seats you get and the more likely you are to get that open standby seat. It sounds silly but crisscrossing the globe sitting in a middle seat can get old.  

2. It use to be much harder to spend a lot of time in Europe when I first started racing because communication with friends and family was tough. I use to buy calling cards that required figuring out how to use the Euro pay phones and punch in a 20 digit sequence of numbers to talk for a few minutes. Now with computers and the internet it's so easy to stay in touch with everyone it makes life on the road much simpler 

3. I always bring my Noise Canceling headphones and Ipod. It's a good way to zone out when traveling and have some privacy. 

4. Lots of Clif bars. I always bring a large array of Clif products to the races but I make sure I have a good variety of Clif bars in my carry on bag. I've sat on the runway for 4 hours waiting to take off for an 8 hour flight. Being prepared with food is a good idea. Hope for the best and plan for the worst. 

5. I always bring my racing shoes and 1 kit in my carry on bag as well if I don't already have the stuff on the trailer. There is nothing worst then arriving at the race and not having my riding gear. I usually have bikes on the trailer in the US and Europe but if I don't have my riding clothes it makes training tough. 

There are plenty of things that make international travel hard. First off, the competition is incredibly tough. All the best guys in the world are at the World Cup races, not just the best guys from a particular nation.  

Jet lag has to be the thing I hate the most. There is nothing worse then not being able to sleep at night because it's daytime in the US, then having to go ride gnarlier stuff then we have at any race course here when it's daytime in Europe and I'm half asleep. 

It's hard being away from my wife and dog for extended periods of time. 

Not speaking the language and being immersed in a foreign culture are cool when I'm on vacation but add stress when trying to compete at the highest level in the world. 

All that being said, I don't want to give up competing in the World Cup for anything. It is the absolute pinnacle of our sport and I feel that if you want to be the best, that's where it happens. There is a big difference winning a National race and winning a World Cup. The World Cup is what I strive for. 

MTB Race News:  I am a big fan of the early season 10 day trip to the beach, you are a big fan of heading to the beach immediately following CX nationals, Do you plan on delaying that trip for CX Worlds when they are in Louisville?

Todd Wells: I hope so. I love going to the beach and I feel like after CX season it's the perfect time to get some sunshine and warm up. I will be aiming to make the US CX Worlds team to compete at the CX World Championships in Louisville. It will be a very long season with Olympics happening in the summer for Mountain Bike and Worlds coming in the winter for Cross. There is no guarantee of making either team but it is definitely my goal to represent the U.S. for a third time at the Olympics and second time at CX Worlds. 

MTB Race News:  Speaking of the Beach, did you bring armed guards this year?

Todd Wells: No, the media has blown the whole Mexico thing way out of proportion. Unless you're vacationing in a border town I don't think there is much more to worry about then visiting any city in the US. We have driven to Puerto Vallarta Mexico for the past 6 years, this year we flew though because we were only there for a few weeks. We usually drive so we can bring our dog, Winston. Winston doesn't really like the beach though so we figured he could stay with a friend this year. We go to a small town called San Pancho where we walk a mile to dinner each night though the jungle in the dark and no one has ever bothered us. This year we had Willow and Myles Rockwell with us for a week and we had a blast. 

MTB Race News:  You did Leadville this year, besides your well documented blown wheel issue, what was the worst part of that race for you? The best Part? Will you go back?

Todd Wells: The worst part of the race was racing with out having trained for it. I race 1:45 minute World Cup mountain bike races mostly. The laps are short and we never climb for more then 5 minutes at a time. Most of the races are at sea level with the US National series racing being around 6-8,000 ft. 

Going to Leadville where the race is 6 + hours at 10-13,000 ft was tough. The hardest part was the long climbs and being banged up for them because of Levi crashing me early in the race. 

I didn't have the fueling down either and had the wrong type of food for the race and ran out of water at the end because it was so hot this year. I learned a lot about the race this year and am confident I can do much better if I have time to train for it and fuel properly. And if I don't get crashed out in the first 20 miles too. 

MTB Race News:  What do you think about Lifetime Fitness' plan to have multiple qualifier races for Leadville?

Todd Wells: I think it's a great idea. People in the U.S. have become infatuated with doing the Leadville race and this is a great way for good riders to get into the event. I think 2 years ago they wouldn't even let Jay Henry into the race. He is a top 5 guy, grew up in Eagle county 20 miles down the road from Leadville and wasn't allowed to compete. I like anything that bases participation on quality rather then luck or who you know. 

MTB Race News:  Who are your top 3 all time MTB Racers and Why?

Todd Wells: 1. Ned because the guy won the World Champs when he was theoretically past his prime. He is a great friend and will take the time to talk to every person at the race. I think that's why he's so well liked. 

2. John Tomac did it all. He was a great BMXer, he won in the XC and the downhill and he raced in Europe on the road. I think he has to be the best all around cyclist ever. It's hard to excel in any one of those sports and did it in all of them. 

3. Julian Absalon is the most dominate XC racer ever. He has the most World Cup wins ever, somewhere around twenty, he has two gold medals from the Olympics and a whole closet full of World Championship jerseys. No one in our sport has ever come close to accomplishing what he has and he still has many years left. 

MTB Race News:  What is your favorite all time MTB XC course and why?

Todd Wells: Houffalize Belgium is my favorite XC race course. The race takes place in a tiny old European village in the middle of the Ardennes. The course starts up the famous road climb that is always photographed in Leige-Bastogne-Leige. We race right through the center of town. There are short punchy climbs, a few steep descents and the most fans we get at any venue. It is World Cup racing.  

MTB Race News:  Here is the set up; cage match no holds barred ‘wrestle off’ between Boulder and Durango Pro MTB Racers. Which town wins? Why? Who is the MVP? Who wears the cone of shame?

Todd Wells: Haha. Durango wins hands down. We have people that created the sport in town. We have current World Championship contenders. We have Fort Lewis College which is the winningest MTB collegiate program ever and we have an awesome junior development program. I don't think there is one trail in Boulder city limits that even allows mountain biking. We have hundreds of miles of single track accessible right from down town. 

I'm not sure who is the MVP or who wears the cone of shame but I don't know of a town that has deeper MTB talent then Durango. 

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