Manual for Speed spoke with Jamey Driscoll of Cannondale p/b Cyclocrossworld.com (now of Team Raleigh-Clement for 2013-2014) the night before the 2013 UCI Cylcocross World Championships—about anything and everything. What follows is in his own words.
I grew up in Jericho, VT. It’s the closest town to Burlington an hour from the Canadian border, three or four hours north of Boston. I’m an only child, which may have been one of the things that helped enable me to race bikes; once the racing started it involved a lot of travel down to southern New England, and with just me, my parents were willing to drive a lot of weekends in the summer. That helped me become a professional eventually, racing all the time.
It was a more rural upbringing. We didn’t have a ton of land, maybe an acre, but the town of Jericho was only 4,000 people when I was growing up. Not tiny, but pretty small. My high school served the five towns around me as well; I graduated with around 250 kids. There are more rural places out there, but it was small nonetheless. I did a lot of ball sports in grade school: baseball in the spring, soccer in the fall, and I’ve been skiing since I was two or three. I was on the school teams so I got my gym credit knocked out, and eventually I wrote an essay to get cycling counted as well. I had to prove that I was in a structured program. Not only was it structured, it was 10 months a year instead of 2, so I got that accepted pretty easily.
My first bike was a BMX bike, I got it when I was maybe four with training wheels. I think it was a Predator. My first 26” mountain bike was a Univega Rover 300, in 1994 or so. I rode on local trails, but no real singletrack or anything—every kid had a mountain bike back then.
My dad was a really enthusiastic cyclist, he commuted and rode a lot, and he got me into the local bicycle club, the Green Mountain Bicycle Club that has a weekly time trial and criterium series, plus a junior racing program. Instead of 15 kids on a baseball team with a coach or two, it was a handful of kids with 30 adult riders giving advice and support, which is a great feeling. I was 12 years old so it wasn't really social, but at the practice criteriums the guys would be mentoring you about the basics: riding in a pack, cornering, et cetera. And criteriums are tricky, so doing that every week with the club helped me develop my skills.
My first job, if you can even imagine, was working at a bike shop. It was a bit of a serendipitous disaster, actually. I was 11 or 12, out riding with my dad, and I spaced out and didn’t notice my dad stopping. Even though we were going really slow, I fell in a funny way and tacoed my rear wheel. My parents didn’t have money coming out of their ears so we decided to build a new wheel using as many of the old parts as we could. My dad wanted me to get some maintenance practice, so I took a couple of hours and eventually got it laced right before we took it back to the LBS to get it tensioned. It wasn’t tough love or anything, it was encouraging and anyway, he wanted to learn how as well. After I took it down to the LBS, the owner asked, “Does your son want a job?” I apprenticed under him for a day or two a week during a couple of summers before it turned into a real job through high school and college. I’m still good friends with him today.
It wasn’t exactly normal to be 13 years old wearing spandex every weekend.
The kids I went to school with were at least aware cyclists wore spandex, though I certainly wasn’t showing up to school in kit or anything. I didn’t have to hide it though, everyone knew I rode bikes. There anywhere from 4-8 of us in the area that were riding a lot at any given time. Back then, when I thought 'pro' I just thought of Lance Armstrong; I wasn’t aware of how many iterations of “pro” there are in cycling. In some sports you’re considered pro as soon as you start getting free stuff, but I got a free frame by the time I was 14 (the bike club was sponsored by Cannondale). You can be a pro earning zero dollars on a UCI-registered team. You’re "pro," but you have a day job.
While in high school I won a CX Junior National Championship along with some good results on the road, which is when I started getting emails from the U23 development programs saying, “Hey, we’ve selected you to come ride with us in Europe.” But the pitch was to fly yourself out to California for two weeks—to audition, see if you’re really good enough—and then you might get out to Europe. It would’ve complicated the end of high school too much, so I put it off. I knew there were plenty of successful cyclists that went to college. It was my plan to go to college, and my parents reinforced that. I didn’t ever plan on going pro instantly.
I was actually a ski bum for a year after high school. I was mentally done with school at that point, so I figured it was the best time in my life to go do that. I lived in Alta, UT and worked at a mid-mountain restaurant owned by the resort. We got lift passes, and the work wasn’t so bad, it was set up for ski bums. I lived in some dorm-style housing right below the restaurant; we had to ski down the mountain to get to our cars. I was fully planning on returning to cycling seriously after that year off, and thankfully the University of Vermont has a great cycling program. It’s not varsity or anything, but UVM always made good cyclists.
I wasn’t a jock at all really, though my GPA certainly precluded me from being a nerd.
Part way through college, in my third year I believe (that’s of five though, I stretched it out to continue racing bikes at a fairly high level) I got on the Cannondale team with Jeremy and Tim. I reazlied that those guys were real professionals, they didn’t have other jobs. I wasn’t making money on the side, but going to school at the same time was essentially an extra job they didn’t have. And that’s when I became really committed to becoming a full-time pro out of school. I was even able to avoid taking out any student loans for my last year, I paid for it by racing with Cannondale.
I live in Park City, and thankfully I’m still allowed to ski. My contract, well, implicit contract, says that if I hurt myself doing something other than riding my bike, they have the right to stop paying me. It’s all on my shoulders. I don’t go upside-down or anything, but I do go pretty fast while still on the ground. I was out in Utah during that gap year ski bumming so I knew that part was great, and then I was out there again a couple of years ago acclimating before the Tour of Utah (I race for Jamis on the road, sí I speak Spanish. Poco.), which is when I discovered that the road riding is also great out there.
I don’t know if any cross team in the US is really doing a lot of poking and prodding and science and super rigorous Excel sheets. We definitely aren’t. The Europeans might be, but then again the whole Belgian thing is weird. Really old school mentalities. Jeremy was telling me, and I guess I missed this, that Sven Nys’ coach claimed Sven could hold 180bpm for an hour and forty minutes without a HRM for the Olympic mountain bike race, and that’s why he’d dominate this year’s cross worlds.1 That’s… six months from now, and heart rate is important, but most people getting scientific realize that power meters are far more valuable.
Training is easy, I’m not super regimented or dialed. I have to balance it with my quality of life, and the sustainability of the program. I’m not winning the Tour de France, but the guys winning the Tour de France aren’t getting the powder days I am.2
I’m not at the point in my life or career where I’m worried about walking three blocks or how many peanuts I grab out of a bowl. Being pencil-thin and having every muscle in your body be at 0.5% body fat; that doesn’t happen overnight. And even if you try, I’d just crash and gain all of the weight back plus more. It’s been a slow process working over the last six or seven years to be where I am. If you put me seven years ago on the diet and training I’m doing now, I’d have a really hard time. But because I transitioned so gradually, it doesn’t seem extreme at all.
I’m gonna ride till it’s not fun any more. I love to do this, I love avoiding the real world. It is nice to know that because I have that degree, I don’t have to do this as long as possible and only then try to find something else inside of bike racing. I hope I can use my connections to find an engineering job in the cycling industry. I’m sure I could make more money in some other field, but getting my first real job in the cycling industry would be a lot better, I think, than going to Boeing and saying, “Hey, I got an engineering degree ten years ago and I haven’t had a job since then. Want to hire me?” I was thinking about seeing if some local SLC business would let me do an internship or something, something to keep the skills up a little bit. Everything is changing so quickly. A big part of my priorities in life is living in a place I enjoy. For example, SRAM is an awesome company, working with them as the sponsor of the team has been fantastic—but they’re in Chicago. There are no mountains there. That’s big for me.