Web Extra for Dirt Rag #144: Zach Adams Interview

zach adamsAs noted in the Dirt Rag #144 article “Massive Success,” I encountered Zach Adams at the recent VisitPA.com Festival and Rassin’ Weekend. Zach is at the center of a fiefdom of mountain biking in the area: he leads the Cyclesports/Fast Forward Racing junior development mountain bike team, runs the Pennsylvania Scholastic Cycling League for high schoolers, puts on mountain bike events, and also coaches young racers. Somewhere in there he also finds time to attend college and race himself.

I talked with Zach about his motivation for keeping all these plates spinning, and how it all fits together.

DR: How did you get involved…you started the team, right?

ZA: Started the team, and I’ve been running races and things for the last 3-4 years, and have been running a junior race series for the last four years. When I started racing, it was through Mike Kuhn’s series, Pennsylvania Scholastic Cycling League (PASCL). He moved away from the area, to State College and then Allentown, and the name changed, but I revived it this year as a legitimate, recognized school series. Trying to market it to schools, I guess. I raced on my own for the whole last season, I coach as well, and I started coaching a number of these kids, and it just seemed like something I wanted to do, have a team and run it.

DR: A natural pairing to have…

ZA: The coaching, the team, the events… it all kind of intertwines. I get the kids to help out with all the events and they get to see a little bit behind the scenes, what it actually takes to keep the sport alive…be a part of the sport instead of just taking from the sport.

DR: That’s a good thing to get kids into. So how old are you?

ZA: 19.

DR: And you’ve been putting on races since you were how old?

ZA: I ran the 2006 PA State Cyclocross championships as a 16-year-old. And uh…I had to take a short break after that. It wasn’t exactly kosher. You won’t find anywhere that there’s an age requirement for promoting races. They weren’t exactly excited about that… but, it was a good event, and that’s what I like to do, I like to make good events, not just run a race. I go to a lot of races, 30-40 times a year, go to a lot of different events, and they’re all different, and they’re not all “events.” I think there’s a big difference between just running a race and having a good event that people are going to come back to and talk about.

DR: How many years has the junior development team been going?

ZA: This is the first year for the team. It’s been a good year. I still have yet to put together my mid-year report…I was trying to put that together three weeks ago. But, we’ve been going since January/February with camps and weekends and stuff.

DR: Yeah, Loretta was telling me…it sounds very involved. How did you decide to start the team?

ZA: We started planning the team around May last year, looking for sponsors, laying out the framework and structure that we were going to base it on, and the big picture that I wanted to see.

DR: Whose idea was it? Was it your idea initially?

ZA: Yeah, it was my idea, and Jake Davidson, a friend of mine that is living around the same area right now, and we ride together a lot… He is helping out with it, and carrying out some of the stuff for me. You know, we sat down, talked it out, and it’s been going strong.

DR: How did you attract people to join the team?

ZA: At that point I was already coaching a couple kids in this area, and I was still a junior…it was my last year racing as a junior when I started it. So I’ve actually raced against a few of the kids…it’s actually funny to say that. I always keep my eye open and I run a development camp too, in the spring.

DR: That’s part of the team too, or is it a separate thing?

ZA: It’s a separate thing. That’s where I met a lot of the kids from last year.

DR: It’s open to anyone?

ZA: Yeah. I had 15 people show up last year, and they’re pretty much all on the team now. But it was only open to juniors last year. I actually lost a good bit of money on it. It’s a good thing though—I think that when you’re trying to make events like that, you have to look at it as a multi-year picture, and you have to establish ground somewhere. This year we had 61 riders come and spend the weekend with us, and walk away learning a little more and having a good weekend for it.

DR: So it’s one weekend?

ZA: It’s one weekend, the last weekend in March. That’s where I met a good bulk of the kids. I had seen them racing around.

DR: Did you advertise the camp through bike shops, handing out flyers, etc.?

ZA: Yeah. Bikereg.com—I’m a firm believer in Bikereg. I think it’s a great marketing tool, and it’s a great service for not only promoters but racers as well. Bike shops, flyers, word of mouth, email blasts…kids really help out with getting the word out to a lot of different areas. My riders are spread out across Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, and New Jersey as well now, so we’re a four-state team. That’s a lot of ground that gets covered, a lot of word of mouth. That’s really helpful.

DR: What did you guys do at the camp? Just a weekend, that’s pretty intense…

ZA: It’s Friday through Sunday. It’s not necessarily a training camp, it’s a development camp where participants come and learn. I try to pack a lot into it. We had maybe eight classes offered, some Q&A with local pros, some nice long rides and on-trail technique, learning to ride rock gardens, logs, cornering, braking… all the basics that we as elite riders kind of take for granted, that we think is just completely second nature…

DR: We’ve talked about that with some sports, even for adults, you start off taking lessons, and there’s clubs you can join…for mountain biking the tradition’s been that you go off on your own and you bleed.

ZA: Mountain biking’s a very…it’s a harsh learning curve. I took very well to that, because I think you learn your lesson better when you do that, but it’s nice to have a lot of help on the way, too. I was lucky enough to get a lot of help from Mike and the other VisitPA.com guys. I’ve been a part of a lot of good teams coming up through the ranks.

DR: In addition to your junior development camp, you also do some events for the team?

ZA: I have eight events a year (I think)…we started with the Michaux Mash, which is a 4-hour endurance race in the Michaux State Forest, one of the best places to ride in my backyard, I love it…super rocky, super awesome. We had a much better showing than I anticipated for that, which was good.

DR: When you say… you went to that event, or you put that event on?

ZA: I put that event on. Ran that, two weeks later, we ran the devo camp—that’s adults now as well as juniors. I opened it up to adults this year.

DR: That can be a good way to make some money.

ZA: Pretty much the bulk of the proceeds I make from events goes straight to the team.

DR: Loretta was amazed that you were able to pay for renting a house out on Colorado for the team to go to the Nationals. That’s great.

ZA: I contribute a good bit of money to the team. That’s why my company is a title sponsor. Fast Forward Racing Productions is me…that’s my events company.

DR: Have you had some people helping you figure out how to form corporations and all that?

ZA: The business is a sole proprietorship with a fictitious name, which is the easiest way now…when I get a little bit further down the road I’ll probably do a limited liability, but for now it just doesn’t make sense, cause I have positively nothing to lose. I barely eat. I’m a thing I like to call “bike poor”…everything I have goes to surviving and racing. It’s not a bad life…I enjoy it.

DR: So you’re in college now, right?

ZA: I’m in college, exercise science major.

DR: Have you found it hard to do both at once?

ZA: Not really. I was out at Slippery Rock for two semesters, and I raced around the Newark and Philly area most of the cyclocross season…I think I ended up driving about 15,000 miles. It was very hard. My racing suffered a lot. People wouldn’t think so, but it did. It was just very fatiguing to drive 12 hours alone every weekend.

DR: So are you at a different college now?

ZA: Yeah, I transferred in to Shippensburg. It’s around here. Little closer to Michaux and the people I like and closer to the scene out here.

DR: Who’s been a big influence on you? You mention Mike Kuhn…

ZA: I’ve had a lot…I’ve been really fortunate in the influences I’ve had. I mean, Mike’s been a really big influence. Mark Laser, one of the head promoters of the Iron Cross , he’s been a pretty big influence over the years. Runs the local club and I was pretty heavily involved in that for quite a while—Yellow Breeches Racing.

DR: This is the first year for the team…that’s pretty awesome that you’re able to collect everyone up and take them to the USA Cycling National races in Colorado. Are you and the team traveling anywhere else?

ZA: Well, we’re going to do the Valley Point-to-Point in Winter Park the weekend before. Kind of set up as a race to get adjusted, to, first of all, the altitude, which is a major change…it’s 9000ft. up there, it’s a big deal. And just the style of racing out there, because it’s way different. We’re used to slow, twisty, rocky, punchy stuff…ski resorts where you climb for 20 minutes. and descend for 8. it’s the NORBA-tized course. It’s all fast and flowy and smooth, with some big stuff, berms and…your west-coast riding style. I think that’ll be a big eye-opener. That race on the weekend before is definitely going to help out with that, kind of get the chills out of the kids, and take off that edge, and I think that’ll really help them out.

DR: And then the week after that is the Nationals.

ZA: Yeah. They’ll start racing Thursday. We’ll spend two weeks. We’ll leave the day after the Long Pine Classic, next weekend, which is also one of my races. It’s the next cross country race in the MASS series.

DR: That’s ambitious.

ZA: I’m gonna be hurtin’ on the drive out.

DR: But it sounds like you have it pretty well planned.

ZA: Yeah, uh…the pre-registration is 17 riders as of Thursday. I’m not sleeping too well right now. But I think it’ll all come together really well, and work out, and it’ll be a good race and a good platform to build on. This is the first year I’ve had a date in the MASS series. Kind of getting my foot in the door with them, establishing a solid date.

DR: That seems like a good series to get into.

ZA: It definitely is…it’s a very large pool of people. It’s a place where I think a good solid event will help the riders as much as the promoter.

DR: What do you hope to accomplish this year? At the Nationals, do you hope to dominate, or…?

ZA: For the team? I’d like to see some kids on the podium. Last year most of the kids I was involved with at the time had jumped up to the next level, and it showed, but they took it for what it was, and they’ll come back stronger. With the kids this year, I’ve seen such a vast improvement over last year. It’s been mentioned to me on more than one occasion, it’s night and day with where these kids were last year and where they are this year. Part of that’s just them being a year older, part of that’s just the attitude they’re bringing to it, and I think part of that’s also been the program. We did four weekend camps throughout February and March, lot of skills stuff, learning to take the next step. I think the kids have really taken to it, and I’m very proud of them all. It’s awesome to see all your kids clean up and sweep the podium. Second-to-last MASS race we were at, we cleaned the podium. One of my kids is leading the expert senior men’s series as well, at 16 years old. We’ve been working pretty closely for two years now.

DR: You probably give advice on nutrition, and…?

ZA: They get the whole nine yards. I coached three of the seven kids on the team right now, and I’ve taken a short stint with a few others, and they get it all. I really preach recovery, and more or less the attitude you go into things with. Racing is a highly mental game, and you have to have the legs for it, but if you’re legs are there and your head’s not, you’re still not going to have a good race. I think the biggest thing is just realizing, and letting them realize in their own ways, that they’re juniors, and that I want to see them when they’re 26, being the pros out there, just completely housing it up every weekend.

DR: So you don’t want them burning out, in other words?

ZA: No. That’s actually why I started coaching the kids. I see a lot of pressures from parents, I see a lot of pressures from teammates that mean well, but aren’t necessarily… they don’t quite have the grasp on it. I want to see these kids being lifelong members of the cycling community.

DR: That’s awesome.

ZA: One of the kids, him and his dad are already stepping up to start a race, a local race on their own.

DR: Gunnar and Randy Bergey?

ZA: Yeah. Gunnar’s been helping me a lot out with the team as well. He stepped up and took control of the team website, and he’s been handling all the race reports since about April.

DR: Who gets your race reports? The sponsors, and do you have a newsletter signup?

ZA: I plan to have a newsletter…it hasn’t quite worked out. It’s something I want to see be resurrected, and actually enacted as a decent way to do it. I mentioned my year-end report and I plan on sending that out to all the sponsors, all the parents that are involved but didn’t have the budget last year. People like to see these kinds of programs.

I like to work with companies that I can wholeheartedly endorse, not just companies that are names. When I was getting the kids to race for me, I told them my philosophy: Anybody can give you product…you can get money from people, you can get product, you can get a jersey, but it doesn’t mean you’re on a team. Somebody gives you a bike, still doesn’t mean you’re on a team. A team is the network and the infrastructure that you’re racing with, the guys that you’re spending time with, racing and training with…it’s so much more than about what you’re getting out of it.

DR: I think that’s a great concept, and that’s something that cycling really needs. We said there’s no real instructional structure. It’s great to see kids getting some structure and support, and not just “maybe you can get a name on your jersey, and go to it.”

ZA: And understand that there’s a bigger picture to it as well. There’s more to cycling than racing. Racing’s not the end of the world. I fully encourage the kids to do other sports as well, enjoy them while they do them…I kind of base most of what I do with them off of my mistakes. I’ve made just about every mistake out there.

DR: Do you feel you got too serious too soon?

ZA: I got real serious probably when I shouldn’t have…I’ve gone through a lot of really harsh burnout cycles.

DR: Already? At 19?

ZA: I’ve been racing for 6 or 7 years. The first year I raced, I started with 30 events, and I’ve been racing full seasons since I started.

DR: Wow.

ZA: When I started I was a 195lb. 6th-grader. It’s been a “180” turn in my life.

DR: How did you get involved in the first place? What drew you to cycling?

ZA: Mark Laser was actually a teacher at our school, and he ran the Yellow Breeches Racing, and Iron Cross…and there was actually a lot of juniors at my school that raced. I’m the last one that actually races still. Very recently one of them got back into it, but… they’re all burnt out, and don’t ride. Not only do they not race, they don’t ride.

DR: A shame.

ZA: I’ve seen a lot of burnout. It’s not a good thing.

DR: You mentioned your personal goals. What do you hope to do this year?

ZA: I’m playing around with this Cat.1 category and this USAC mountain bike stuff. I don’t know…I want to see where I’m at. I’ve been doing pretty well, I won the Maryland state championships by a lot, did the second-to-last Kenda Cup at Massanutten, got fifth after cramping really bad, I think I was in second most of the race without really knowing it. So I’m kind of waiting to go out there, I think short track will go really well for me.

DR: So that’s your event?

ZA: I’m a cyclocross racer. I’m actually not really racing right now. I might race this weekend, short-track tomorrow, but I’m kind of in my off-season-ish.

DR: Your focus is later in the fall?

ZA: I plan on racing through January.

DR: Is that partly because that’s what you like, or is that because of the schedule with the team?

ZA: It’s been nice to be able to focus on supporting the team and the program and doing my events this year. My goal for the mountain bike season was a 24-hour solo race, which I did in Wilkes-Barre, North Carolina, in May…I will never do another one again.

DR: Really?

ZA: I wasn’t having a lot of fun…except for the last lap when I rode with one of the kids .

DR: Has it been hard in general to do both, to support these kids and also do your own thing? Since you’ve got the different schedules, that helps a lot…

ZA: It works out really well. They help each other, the parents help a lot. Most of our structures are in the off-season, and there’s a lot of race-day support. I’ve had the pleasure of racing with the kids a couple of times. I raced the weekend after the 24-hour race and Gunnar caught me, and I ended up racing with him for the rest of his race. I think my legs were fine but I was mentally…didn’t want to race. So when he caught up to me, it was like…I kinda want to see how he’s doing. To be a coach it really helps to be able to see your athletes.

DR: I don’t know of another sport where you could potentially be out there with your athletes competing—that’s pretty great.

ZA: It worked out really well. Massanutten Hoo-Ha was a mass start with all the Cat.1 categories, so I got to race with Jeff Bonson as well, another one of my athletes, he’s a two-time cyclocross national champion. I got to see him ride to third, and I was riding to fifth…we rode the whole lap together in the top 3, 4 places. It was a rough race, but an amazing course.

DR: What are your plans for the future?

ZA: I’d like to live the dream. Race as a pro for a while, take this team a little further. Keep this grassroots development thing going for a while, but I’d also like to have a nationally represented squad as well. Probably a much smaller program…that’s actually in the works for next year, as far as the team, Junior Cat.1—kids that are going to be on the national team, kids that are going to represent at Worlds. And helping them, the more serious ones, take the right steps to get in on the national pipeline, which is a pretty big deal. It’s hard to get into.

DR: At every level there’s a big jump…something that American racers have struggled with is the final jump to the world level.

ZA: Got a lot of really good guys…Aaron Snyder just went with the national U23 team to Germany for two weeks, for the training camp. There’s a lot of good directions that the local guys can go in. The talent’s here, the depth’s here.

DR: Are you familiar with the NorCal Cycling League?

ZA: That’s actually what Mike based the PASCL series off of when he started it. The money’s not quite here to do what they’re doing…I think a lot of their success has been the sponsorship that they’ve been able to get for it. When you have that sponsorship, you can have somebody dedicated to it…I mean, we’re all trying to fit it in to our lives—the teams we run, the events we run, our own education – jobs – careers – families. It takes a lot of time and energy and it’s hard to do it because you have to coordinate with a bunch of schools, and that’s a lot of maybe paperwork, but a lot of high-energy communication to get it settled out and structured with schools. I think it’s great though, and I’d like to see something like that in PA.

DR: Like an officially-sanctioned school sport sort of thing?

ZA: I’m planning on having it USA Cycling-sanctioned next year, working with some officials and hopefully we can do it. When Mike did it, they were USAC-sanctioned, and he ended up paying a lot out of pocket for the series.

DR: The USAC thing…it sounds like recently they’re trying to change some things and do some better things, but traditionally if you want to get involved, you have to pay quite a bit of money.

ZA: I think with some of this restructuring that we’re on an upswing with this sport, but there’s a lot of other things that have to happen to see what we might have seen in the past, and see that kind of energy and involvement again. It’s a cycle and we’ll see a high side again relatively soon.

DR: What you’re doing I think is the most important thing, getting kids involved, and not in such a way that they’re slaves to the sport, they can enjoy it.

ZA: They’re going to be around for a while. I think how much fun they’ve had is just because they’re around kids their age, racing, riding and training. We would spend weekends together, away from their parents, away from adult teammates. It was me, Jake and them, maybe another adult or two, but adults they don’t necessarily know, maybe hipster types…people they look up to. They can have fun and be kids while on their bikes, they don’t have to make the separation. And I don’t think you have to make that separation. It’s about having fun riding your bike. I have no problem dropping out of races if I’m not having fun…I’ve been known to do it.

DR: It sounds terrible, but that’s a great attitude to have—don’t kill yourself.


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