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
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
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!
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.
Race News - Should USA Cycling be doing more
to promote UCI conscripted races in the United States or should racers just
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.
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
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
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
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.