Cyclocross

Above Average Joe: Kerry Werner on Course Tape, Namur, His Vlog and Coffee – Cyclocross Magazine

by Neil Schirmer

Anyone who watched the Elite Men’s National Championship race this year would understand if Kerry Werner had some strong feelings about how the race went down.

In 2019, no one has been hotter than the reigning Pan-Am Champion and 2019 Pro CX winner who was at the top of most people’s shortlist of favorites to win the Stars and Stripes.

Kerry Werner won Pan-Ams and entered U.S. Nationals as a favorite. 2019 Pan-American Cyclocross Championship. © Nick Iwanyshyn

Eventual winner Gage Hecht was part of the small group of US riders able to consistently challenge Werner this year, so while seeing him on the top step in the Championship race was no surprise, no one could have anticipated the unusual tape entanglement mishap that proved to be a critical moment on the biggest stage of the year in US men’s cyclocross.

We caught up with Werner a few days after the Namur World Cup event and covered a wide range of topics including Nationals, the revamped Namur track, Euro racing versus racing in America, a US national CX series, vlogging, and of course, coffee.

Cyclocross Magazine: I noticed your coffee game is strong—definitely stronger than mine. I grind my own beans and all of that, but I use an AeroPress. I noticed you’re more of a pour-over guy.

Kerry Werner: Yeah, there are definitely some AeroPress snobs out there, so I don’t think that’s the defining factor, but the way I look at it is like this: I like really good coffee, and that tends to be expensive, so when you buy expensive coffee, what’s the point in guessing whether or not you’re using the right amounts and ratios? So, if I’m going to spend money on good coffee, I’d rather just have a good cup every time, and if that means weighing on a gram scale then so be it.

CXM: Are you in there with a thermometer as well?

KW: No, on the road that’s a little too much. At home, I have a temperature regulated electric kettle. Now, none of that means I could tell you the difference between coffee made at 200 degrees and 205 degrees, but it was only 40 dollars to buy the kettle, so I figured, why not?

CXM: I could definitely see myself going that route because I’m definitely into good coffee. What sort of hand grinder do you use?

KW: I have a Porlex and that one’s sick because you can replace the ceramic burrs.

CXM: Awesome, thank you, I just wanted to get that out of the way. I know you’re into coffee because of your vlog. I’m curious about what the response to that has been like this year. Obviously, you know how many views and likes and subscriptions you get, but what has the in-person response been like at the races?

KW: Yeah, I started it last year, and this year is just a continuation. I was just talking to Becca (Fahringer) and I told her, I just posted by 74th vlog which seems like a lot. I can’t believe there’s already that many.

It’s been cool because I’ve only been marketing it through my own social media channels, so all of the people who are interested and watching are very organic, and because of that, everyone seems to be really interested and excited about it. I think I kinda hit the nail on the head when I started it because it was right after this time in cyclocross when Behind the Barriers kinda went away, and Bill (Schieken) was doing a bunch of stuff for race coverage, but there wasn’t any kind of personality in it, so I was able to fill the void, and it’s been fun.

I get a lot of Juniors that come up to me at races, and as you may know, little kids are super stoked on YouTube these days. Everyone wants to be a vlogger or an influencer or whatever, and so it’s cool to have people that are actually watching it express interest. When I go to a different race city like Cincinnati or something, there are all of these Juniors who are like, “Oh man, we watch all your vlogs, it’s really cool!”

This year I started asking some of the Juniors, because, again, little kids know how to use technology. So I started asking Juniors to help me film my vlog and they get a kick out of that, which is pretty cool.

CXM: And then the kids can get themselves in there too with their cheers for you.

KW: Some of the kids, I don’t even tell them what to do, I just ask them to get a few race clips or whatever, but some of the kids point the GoPro back on themselves and introduce themselves, and doing funny little things like that, so it’s been pretty fun.

CXM: I think you do a really good job with it, and you turn them around pretty fast as far as I’m concerned. Did you learn all of the video editing and production stuff as you’ve gone along, or did you already have some of those skills?

KW: I wouldn’t necessarily call myself much of an editor. I’m not bad with a computer, but I’ve never taken any video editing classes. I took some Photoshop stuff back in high school, but—and I tell everybody this—I’m literally just split clip deleting and then adding music and transitions, and that’s the reason I can turn them out so fast. I’m not doing anything super fancy.

It’s really interesting, during different races I have different visions for what I want different vlogs to look like or I’ll think of different transitions and things like that. I’d love to be more creative with it, but when I’m the only one holding the camera and dealing with the whole racing side as well, it gets a little hectic and that kind of stuff gets lost in the background, which is tough. I’d like to follow somebody around and record their vlog for them because I feel like I could do a good job with different perspectives and things.

CXM: The vlog seems like a concept that your sponsors would really get behind. What kind of response have you gotten from them?

KW: Maxxis has reached out for teaser videos, and has put them on their specific channel, which is cool because that draws traffic to me. I also just did a shoe give-away with Shimano which was really cool. It was the first time something like that happened. At Nationals I had a secret password and people could watch the vlog and at the end of the video, I tell them what the secret password is and they can go to a link on Shimano’s website for a chance to win a new S-Phyre shoes. That was pretty cool, that actually got them a lot of traffic and Shimano was pretty stoked about it.

CXM: I have to ask about Nats a little bit. I think it was Anthony Clark that came up to you in your Nats vlog while you were in cool down and said, “Hey, I’m glad you’re Pan-Am champ.” I thought your response was really measured, sort of in agreement in a way that leads me to think that you’re not going to let that race set you back too much. What is your feeling about that race now that a little time has passed?

KW: You pretty much hit the nail on the head. Obviously I would have been more than stoked to have been able to see that race play out the way that I think it should have, but I don’t hold anything against Gage about how all that went down.

I know that he just got shot out of the course. That compression at the bottom of that section was getting deeper and the rut was getting more gnarly every lap, and he probably no-braked from the top and just cooked it a little too hot, and shit happens—he got thrown out of the course. It’s nationals and it was second lap still, so all he was thinking about, I’m sure, is just getting back to the course.

It wasn’t like I was two feet off his wheel. He had two or three seconds on me and I know that he didn’t mean to do it. It was just an unfortunate outcome for me. I just looked up and saw tape and I was like “Oh, you know, I could probably break through that.” I didn’t really have much of an option anyway, the tape was pretty strong.

The funny story I have on that is, the night after the race, we went out to dinner at a brewery in town and I saw some of the guys associated with MFG and the course design. They were telling me how before the race, they were debating about whether to use 0.4mm thick course tape or 0.3mm thick course tape. Keegan, one of the course designers, he was the guy that decided on .4, so, I’m not saying it was his fault, but I’ve been working up an angry email to send them about it (laughs).

Gage Hecht and Kerry Werner engaged in a battle at the front. 2019 Cyclocross National Championships, Lakewood, WA. © D. Mable / Cyclocross Magazine

CXM: I don’t want to break it down like the Zapruder film or anything, but the way you describe it is that Gage was “launched.” At the bottom of that feature, there was a rut or something?

KW: You come off of that hill and it wasn’t a real gradual roll-out, so you go down and it would be a pretty hard compression, and just from the races prior that day, there were ruts forming, and once you start hitting the same rut over and over again, it just gets a little deeper and tires compress because we were running pretty low tire pressure, so all it took was a little bit of body weight lean to the wrong side or the wrong body position and Gage just got kinda worked over in that compression, and that’s what sent him out of the course.

CXM: Yeah, it definitely looked funny from that perspective at the bottom. It almost looked like he got bounced straight sideways.

KW: It was like a SuperCross moto seat bounce.

CXM: Did you immediately jump back up and get right back into it mentally, or did it take you a lap or two to get your head right after that?

KW: Gage and I had about ten seconds on Curtis (White) and Stephen (Hyde) at that point, and when I got back up I was just off their wheel by four or five seconds. They were only one turn in front of me as we were approaching the finish straight once I got back on, so if it had happened somewhere else, I might have been able to dig a little bit, but something about that giant start/finish straight—it led right into a big run-up and so I didn’t want to burn all of my matches there and then explode.

I thought ‘if I can maintain this gap here on the road and then try to close it down in some of the more technical and punchy bits, I thought that maybe I could at least get back on to Stephen and Curtis. But with those guys on the road helping each other, that was the end of that for me.

It was just a matter of time before Lance and I got together. Then from Lap 4 on, I knew it was a battle for fourth place with Lance.

Gage Hecht and Kerry Werner get caught in the course tape on lap two at the 2019 Cyclocross Nationals. Photographer Mike Albright captured the sequence. © Mike Albright

CXM: Namur seemed like a bonkers race. Was that one as crazy as it seemed on the TV coverage?

KW: I raced it last year and it was the classic Namur World Cup track. To be honest I thought this year was pretty stupid. Erwin Vervecken, I’m sure he didn’t mean to cause any ill will with anybody, I’m sure he was just trying to switch up the course and do something a little different. What he landed on was just not the best, I don’t think.

He kind of compacted the course which I guess was really good for spectators, but at the same time he had us go down a flight of stairs in the woods that he simply threw a bunch of sand on, and at the bottom, there was a super hard left hand turn on to uphill cobbles and they were no joke, classic cobbles, they were very abrupt.

I like the idea of the cobbles, they were cool, but the way we got on to them was just dumb, and by the end of the race there was a river that was just washing that sand down into the cobbles. As you were going down the steps, you could feel every step on the way down. When you’re running low pressure, that’s not the best feeling in the world.

Other than that, the course was pretty standard—gnarly off-cambers at pretty high speeds and lots of climbing, probably the most climbing in any World Cup course I’ve ever done. Granted, I haven’t done a bunch, this is my second year doing Namur, but, it is quite an iconic race. I wish it would have stayed the way it was last year, honestly.

CXM: Those hills did not look fun, especially given the other conditions. It looked like a lot of people hit the deck at least a few times. I presume that was the same for you?

KW: I managed to avoid crashing, and maybe that’s because I wasn’t taking enough risks. I was trying to walk a fine line between going way too far in the red and having no choice and making those mistakes because I was so gassed, and not going hard enough. I think I walked the line pretty well. Whether or not I could have gone a little bit harder is something else. I didn’t crash so I was happy with that. I did flat twice which wasn’t the best.

Namur proved a challenging race for Werner and all competitors this year. 2019 Namur UCI Cyclocross World Cup. © B. Hazen / Cyclocross Magazine

CXM: What does the rest of your week look like?

KW: We have Zolder and Loenhout, then we have Saturday off, then we’ll do Diegem, then Bredna on Monday. Then instead of doing Baal, we’re going to head down to Luxembourg and poach a C2 down there on New Year’s Day.

CXM: Will you then head to Spain with the rest of the USAC crew for a bit of training and recovery before Worlds?

KW: Yep, we’re headed to Spain and the whole USAC National Team is going to be there, so that’ll be cool, we’ll have a pretty big contingent of Americans to ride with, which is sick. And Malaga is a pretty cool area, it has really great weather and pretty good roads for training, so that’ll be nice, a little recharge. Emily’s family is coming in and we’ll be getting an AirBnB, so that should be a good time.

CXM: How do you feel about your form right now and what are your goals for your time in Europe this season?

KW: Right now, there’s not too much that can be done in terms of training until we get to Spain. I’m happy with where my form is and where I was at Nationals. I didn’t have the best opener day on Saturday at Sint Niklaas Cross or Sunday at Namur. They were ok races but I woke up with a bit of a sinus problem on Friday morning, so that’s kind of gone away and I’m looking forward to this next group of races and getting into the swing of things, getting over jet lag and actually doing some racing with these guys.

It’s always interesting, you go from racing all season for first place, then over here you trying to fight for top 30 in a World Cup or a top 20 in a C1 race. The depth over here is just incredible and there are no pedal strokes taken off. It’s a fight from whistle to line. It’s just a different style of racing that takes a little bit of getting used to.

All season, Curtis and I, Gage and Stephen, we were all fighting each other, but there’s only 4 or 5 of us at the front, so eventually, if someone just keeps hitting it hard, they’re going to fade, then everyone is going to capitalize on that. What happens in the U.S. is that everyone races hard for the first two or three laps, then the middle of the race kind of settles down, then the race kicks for the last two or three laps.

Over here, there is no settling, so it takes time to get used to how to not explode, not blow up too early. Just getting used to that before the World Championships is kind of the idea.

CXM: What row are you gridding in at the World Cups?

KW: I don’t know, I think it was the fourth row this past weekend. It’s all based on World Cup points now, not UCI points, so I did the first two in Iowa and Waterloo, but I haven’t done once since, so I’m back in the fourth row, which isn’t really that big of a deal. Saturday at Sint-Niklaas, I started in the front row and it’s an honor to start up there, but at the same time, I’m a bit over my head with those guys.

It is fun when I have a good start that I sit up there in the top 15 and learn a bunch, and it’s always an experience to ride at that level even for a short amount of time, it’s always beneficial, but starting back in the third or fourth row is probably more my speed. I can have a more consistent race from that position.

CXM: What are your thoughts on reviving a national series with the new rules making C1 events more difficult to organize?

KW: In terms of what would be good for the sport, I think a national series is really kind of necessary. I’ve been in talks with some of the people who are trying to make that come to fruition, and I agree with a lot of what’s being said and what they want to do. I think it’s tough because, as UCI racers we want C1s so we can get more points, then when we go to Europe we can have good starting spots, but I think it’s a double-edged sword.

For me, I’ve done that side of the racing and I have a bunch of points. I think I’m in the top 25 in the world so start spots really aren’t an issue for me. The problem is, in America, we just don’t have what it takes to race with these guys over here, and it’s not for a lack of trying.

Like I said earlier, the density and the depth of the fields over here is so much higher than it is in America, and it’s because everybody is going to the same races every weekend, and so the fastest guys, they start when they’re under 15, but the fastest guys are racing the fastest guys.

Look at Wout and Van der Poel, they’ve been racing from when they were 15 or 16 all the way up until now, so when you have that kind of development and you’re racing the top talent from such an early age and at every race weekend—not just at Nationals—you only get better.

For us in America, we have great racing opportunities and the promoters do a really good job, but it does suck when there are two races on a given weekend and it stretches out the talent from one coast to the other. It’s nice that people get points when they don’t normally get points, at the same time it takes me away from Stephen or me away from Curtis when we could be battling each other and pushing each other.

If we do get a series, and it becomes a long term thing, which I hope it does and is what they’re pushing for, it would only encourage people to have these races that everyone is going to. It would be like six Nationals races where everyone is going to push each other at a high level and be peaking for because they want to do well in the series overall.

Werner views a national series as a way to get the best riders racing against each other more often. 2019 Rochester Cyclocross Day 2. © Z. Schuster / Cyclocross Magazine

CXM: It sounds like you’d be more than happy to travel longer distances for the deeper fields.

KW: I would love for the Tacoma Nationals course to be part of a series or even a UCI C1 or something next year that everyone gets jazzed about. It’d be sick if that was Pan Ams. That course is really awesome, and those guys did a really good job laying it out. If there was a series, and there was a reason to go over there instead of a stand-alone C2 that didn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things, I’d be all for it.

CXM: Thanks for the time, and good luck with the rest of your time racing in Europe.

KW: No problem, thank you.