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Interviews with Aaron Schooler and Mark McConnell after the Elite Men’s Cyclocross Worlds

by pedalmag.com

February 02, 2015 (Tabor, CZE) – Canada’s Aaron Schooler from Edmonton, AB, finished his season on a high note placing 36th as the top Canuck in the Elite Men’s 25.04km race at the 2015 UCI Cyclo-cross World Championships this past weekend in Tabor, Czech Republic. Fellow Albertan Mark McConnell from Calgary,who debuted at the Worlds, was 42nd as he suffered a nasty and bloody mishap smashing his face on his handlebars and nearly broke his nose. Reigning Canadian CX champ, Mike Garrigan, placed 49th – race report and results here. Pedal caught up with Schooler and McConnell for their take on the Tabor Worlds…

Aaron Schooler  ©  Michal Cerveny

Aaron Schooler (AB)

I am really happy with how today went for me.  I’ve never had a good ride at Worlds before this year even though it’s my 5th appearance at CX Worlds (and a few more years when I’ve made the team, but not been able to race due to injury or financial restrictions). It’s really great to be able to finish my season on a high note, and this is definitely a first for me.

The course this year was really interesting to ride on.  The majority of the course was completely frozen underneath a slick layer of butter like mud with lots of already frozen ruts and I don’t have much experience with conditions like that but I took the time ahead of the race to really dial in my lines and watch the faster Elite riders with how they would do it.  I’m a visual learner so if I see someone do something better, I’ll usually automatically know how to do it so it’s helps in situations like this.

The start was pretty fast and a bit chaotic with a couple of Americans crashing just after the first corner. I was able to do a good job of avoiding most of the crashes which was sometimes hard to do, but at least in the first half I rode a really flawless race and didn’t bobble or crash once. With about three laps to go I started noticing my rear tire was feeling a bit weird and as I rode by the pits on the lower side – which was the harder way to enter the pits – I realized that I should have pitted that time. But was hoping that it was a slow enough of a flat that I would be able to make it another half lap until the pits before I really needed to change.

It was a bad call because I think I lost at least 30 seconds on that half lap from having the rear flat. Then I pitted and got a new bike but having to ride the flat really took the juice out of my legs and for the remainder of the race I felt like I was struggling when applying the power down. By that time in the race my hands were pretty frozen and my control over the bike for braking and shifting were starting to suffer a bit, so I made a few more mistakes.  Ultimately I came about 5 seconds away from making it on the lead lap which I was pretty bummed about. But still happy with a 36th. It’s my best result in a World Cup or World Championships, so that calls for a beer or two!!!

Garrigan and Schooler  ©  Michal Cerveny

Tabor is really cool because the fans are really fans of the sport and not just fans of one rider in particular.  At some points after the barriers, it was so loud when I went through that I couldn’t hear anything, just noise. It’s fun when it’s like that because it’s so loud you don’t feel how bad your legs are hurting. You don’t get that sort of thing in Belgium because everyone just cheers for their rider and don’t pay attention to the other riders further back in the race.

I’m really pumped to hear about the Montreal CX World Cup coming home and not only for one year. I guess the contract is for two years, so it’s really cool and I’m going to try and plan a trip back for sure for that time.  It’s something I NEVER expected to happen in my racing time, so to know that it’s really happening puts a pretty big smile on my face.

I just have to say a big thanks to my wife Emily who’s supported me through some rough times in Germany while trying to sort out the new life that we have started over here. It’s been a rocky road and we’ve gone through a lot together.  The team that the national federation put together this year is also top notch and it really makes a big difference to my mind set as an athlete when you know things are being taken care of.

It’s not the first time I’ve felt this on a national team project, but it sure is the best I’ve experienced. Also, I’m at a point now where it’s been too many years of doing these projects, and funding these campaigns out of my own pocket, so things need to change in the way that Canadians think about CX.  If it’s not going to happen without me, then I’m going to jump on board and do it myself. I’ve really got some good ideas from people over here this winter about how to go about fundraising for something like this. I sure hope Jayson Gillespie stays in the loop with the CX projects, because when you have a guy who’s actually invested or cares about the riders opinions, it makes all the difference.

Mark McConnell  ©  Michal Cerveny

Mark McConnell (AB)

I’ve been watching Worlds from across the pond on my computer for years thinking, everyone looks incredibly nervous. To experience it for myself today was no different. But I’ve also been racing World Cups in Europe since November, so that helped to lessen my pre-race apprehensions.

I hopped the international pond just before the World Cup in Koksijde. For the past two months I’ve subjected myself to the Euro Pro School of Cyclocross — racing World Cups as well Superprestige & BPost series races in Belgium against the best riders in the World.

Mark McConnell  ©  Michal Cerveny

In Tabor the sun came out for the first time in days for the Elite men’s race and thawed much of the icy track. The mud was heavier and the ruts were more manageable — less dangerous compared to yesterday. I still managed to nearly break my nose just before the stairs though, slipping up and smashing my face on my own handlebars (see photo). With three laps to go and a top 45 confirmed, I wasn’t about to drop out, so I pushed on in a daze, blood running down my beard and over my top tube. As I hit the pits to change bikes, I calmly told the mechanics, “I think I broke my nose.” This hunch has yet to be confirmed but the swelling and bruising is telling me otherwise.

I’m ecstatic with the way things wrapped up and looking forward to returning next year. I’ve been holding down top 50s for most of the World Cups this season, so to come to the ‘Big Show’ and have the ride of my season finishing 42nd…

Mark McConnell  ©  Michal Cerveny

I often compare the idea of an amateur hockey player in Europe coming over to Canada to play in the NHL. I finished 7th at Canadian CX Nationals this year, but in Europe, I’m fighting just to finish the damn race without getting lapped. It’s a completely different World and style of racing over here — we just don’t get the sort of experience required to be competitive with the Euros without actually being on their turf to face them on their courses, week in and week out.

It couldn’t be a better time to be a Canadian ‘crosser. I am extremely pleased that we’ll have an opportunity to showcase World Cup Cyclocross racing on our home turf in Montreal. Plus, I think our Canadian Poutine could put the Belgian Frites to shame. Just sayin’…

Huge thanks to the sponsors for their help in getting me get here: Synergy Racing, SRI Importing, The Cyclepath Calgary, Cafe Roubaix, BioRacer Clothing, as well as the community of ‘crossers who supported Hot Sauce Cycling by purchasing a cap or t-shirt, which in turn went to fund my European campaign. Check out our FaceBook or Instagram: ‘Hot Sauce Cycling’ for more info!

Lastly, thanks to my wife, Aimee, who let me hijack an originally planned trip to Spain for three months that turned into two months of racing in the muddy fields of Belgium. But don’t worry, we’re about to finally catch that flight to Spain… one month is better than none, right?

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