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Rider Interview with MTB Great Sue Haywood

Posted by: Shannon Boffeli |December 29, 2010 9:20 PM
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This week MTB Race News checked in with racing icon Sue Haywood. After retiring from racing Sue has stayed active in the mountain bike community - hitting various races and teaching skills clinics - all while enjoying life in her hometown of Harrisonburg, Virginia. 

After years of racing on the international stage and being one of mountain biking's elite female riders the former Trek athlete has gained a tremendous amount of insight into the sport. Read below as Sue shares her opinions on mountain biking, USA Cycling, and beer.

MTB Race News - How did you start riding and racing mountain bikes? 

Sue Haywood - In 1991 I begged my dad to buy me a mountain bike because some friends had them.  He did and I was lucky enough to cut my teeth on some of West Virginia finest riding in Morgantown and Davis.  I did a beginner race that year and got hooked on racing the West Virginia Mountain Bike Series(WMBA).  I wasn't good, but I was tough.

 MTB Race News - What have you been doing with yourself since retirement? 

Sue Haywood - Facebook!   No really, I work for Great Outdoors Landscaping.  Itís a small landscaping business here in Harrisonburg, VA.  I've always loved trees and plants, so that part is really great. My boss and co-workers make hard work fun.  I don't like slinging mulch on 100-degree days, though.  I also started coaching a couple of cross country racers, do Better Ride clinics and do skills clinics and tours on my own.  I'm also in the process of selling my homemade Salsa commercially.

MTB Race News - In recent years we have seen you racing ultra-endurance events like Shenandoah 100 and the Pisgah stage race. What motivated you to start doing long-distance events? 

Sue Haywood - I've always done those events.  I first did solo at Moab  and Shenandoah 100 in 1999.  Long and challenging bike events have always had my interest, but I wouldn't want to just do those.  I feel in love with stage racing at the 1999 Tour de Burg.  It was a 10-day affair that had both road and mountain bike stages.  It was epic and hard, but there is something so simple, beautiful and challenging about waking up every morning and having to just racing your bike.

MTB Race News - How does your preparation for these big endurance events differ from when you were racing on the World Cup and National Championship circuit? 

Sue Haywood - Being fit physically and mentally is best preparation for any event.  Speed never hurts, even in endurance racing.  In fact that is probably the biggest mistake that endurance racers make. For endurance racing you have to do LFD...long fast distance!

 MTB Race News - No one has been more adversely affected by the lack of UCI races in the United States than you. Why do you think there are so few UCI races in the States? 

Sue Haywood - Well, I don't know.  I mean who wants to try to figure out anything related to the UCI? They are very conservative, cryptic and unresponsive.    In the end, I'm sure itís a money and logistics issue for U.S. race promoters.    Its silly to think that a promoter can't put on a good race unless he/she jumps through the UCI hoops. 

 MTB Race News - Should USA Cycling be doing more to promote UCI conscripted races in the United States or should racers just head overseas? 

Sue Haywood - I'm sure that USA Cycling is doing all they can do.  Like I said before, the UCI are a tough bunch of shirts to work with.  USA Cycling cares, but there is a lot of bueracratic bullshit to wade through.  We need world cups points and Pan Am points.  Those trump all other small UCI points races and that is what the riders of today realize.

MTB Race News - In 2010 the U.S women were among the best in the world, often placing 3-4 riders in the top-10 of World Cup events. Why do you think the U.S. women have gotten so strong? 

Sue Haywood - Yes, they are so strong! I think its Experience and Confidence.  They have enough years of training and racing world cups in their legs and they know they can win...those are two very powerful elements.

MTB Race News - In the U.S. there are fewer women who race and they get less support than the men but they have achieved on the World Cup level in ways the men only dream of. Why? 

Sue Haywood - Well, one could argue with less numbers, the chances of success are better.  Or maybe, since mtbing is such a tough sport with so many obstacles to success, a woman who lasts is bound to be one of the best in the world.  Or maybe, right now we have a very special group of ladies racing who are great athletes and mentally have their shit together.  Also, the women who have succeeded have had good, stable support from their teams and sponsors.

MTB Race News - Many race promoters think U.S. events need to adopt a more European/World Cup feel, incorporating shorter laps for instance.  Do you think this is the answer to making mountain bike racing more popular in the States? 

Sue Haywood - There are some things Europeans do very well like trains, cheese and buildings.  I wouldn't count European mountain bike racecourses in that list.  I think the U.S. has great mountain biking, great racers and many classic and new races and die hard fans.  Sometimes all those elements just don't synchronize. One reason is the size of this country.   Also, I don't know if mountain bike racing yet knows what it is and what it wants to be. Mountain bikers are an independent stubborn lot, that don't want a cookie cutter experience, Euros are fine with that.  The bike industry has also given us some great variety of equipment choices as well.  I mean if the industry only sold carbon race bikes life would be boring.  Or maybe we just have an unusually high number of complainers in our sport.  But looking at the popularity of NASCAR and cyclocross in this country, I tend to thing we like sports that go around in circles.

 MTB Race News - The fastest growth in MTB racing seems to be coming from the ultra-endurance and marathon events Ė basically the opposite of the European model I mentioned above. Why do you think this is happening? 

Sue Haywood - It would be good to see the numbers on that.  Europe has some very well attended marathons.   For some reason cyclocross and 100 mile races seem more doable to the average racer.  There is more beer and beer sponsors at these type events.  Could there be a correlation?

MTB Race News - You recently became a Gene Hamilton certified coach and started leading your own Better Ride clinics. Tell us about that. 

Sue Haywood - I was sick of crashing and I had a strong urge to "learn" how to mtb better.  Its weird, but I was craving a lesson. Other sports have lessons that you can take to improve skills.  My instinct was spot on with Gene's philosophy that you don't just get better at biking by riding your bike.  I took Gene's three day clinic and really learned a lot.  He gave us some drills to practice...dedicated practice to your sport is what will help you improve. This fall he had a coachs clinic and I took that.  I've only taught one clnic for Better Ride so far, but have more planned in the spring.

MTB Race News -  Last time I saw you you were riding a full-suspension 29er. Tell us about your bike and why you chose it. 

Sue Haywood - My boyfriend Tim was riding a Turner when my sponsorship ended with Trek.  I was ready to try another bike after so long riding the same brand.  I got a frame sponsorship from Dave Turner.    I've ridden the Flux (DW Link), the 5 Spot and this summer got the Sultan(29er Dualie).  They are all awesome bikes. Turners have the best  chassis.  I really like a frame that can hold a line and a suspension that is plush, but a great climber.  I rode the Sultan 29er for three straight months getting a feel for it.  People said to not go back and forth between 26 and 29 when you are first riding one.  The 29er did do some thing so easily.  It is so good at rolling over rough rock gardens and down drop offs and up step ups.  But the weight of my bike and the gearing that I had made it a tough race bike.  The other thing is how much slower on the downhills I was on a 29er.  Especially a downhill with turns, jumps and logs.  The wheel base is so long on a 29er its just awkward.  And I know that many small girls and people are riding 29ers with much success,  I found the bike to be a bit cumbersome.  I felt I wasn't "man" enough to really ride it the way I wanted to.  It did roll great, but there was a certain disconnect.  On my Flux, I felt like I was playing with my bike and making it respond the way that I like.  Now, I will still ride my Sultan, especially for races with lots of road and longer rides.  Currently, I'm riding my Flux with a 650b (I-9/Stans) wheel on the front.  Its a nice compromise.

MTB Race News - Where are the best trails east or west of the Mississippi? What makes one better than the other? 

Sue Haywood - I wish I was lucky to ride more of the trails in this country.  How cool would it be to ride sweet mtb trail in every state?  On the east the hot beds for mtbing are Pisgah, Harrisonburg area,  East-Central Pennsylvania, Potomac Highlands of West Virginia and Vermont.  That is what I know because I've ridden those places. I love Sedona and Moab, desert rocky riding is so fun.  And of course, summer riding in the Rocky Mountains!

MTB Race News - What is your favorite race of all time and why? 

Sue Haywood - I'll never say never and I'll never say what trail is my favorite.  Itís the experience that I have when I'm riding a trail that makes it great.  Like maybe the sun is just setting and I'm with my best buddies and I feel happy.

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