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Mass Ave Criterium: The Ryan Knapp interview

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Ryan Knapp poses beside Ann Dancing, a significant landmark along the racecourse. Photo by Stephen Simonetto
  • Ryan Knapp poses beside "Ann Dancing," a significant landmark along the racecourse. Photo by Stephen Simonetto


Ryan Knapp, Category 1 cyclist for Team Panther, was featured in this week's cover story. I could have filled the entire issue with all the interesting things he had to say in our interview; unfortunately space— like always— was at a premium. But here on the web, there's no such thing as a maximum word count.

Here is the complete (only slightly abridged) interview, in which he talks about the fiendish turns of the Mass Ave Criterium, crashing, the unwritten rules of the road and his personal mission to crush dreams.

It's a little lengthy, but whether you're new to cycling or have been racing as a Pro for thirty years, you will almost certainly find Knapp's inside perspective on life as a Cat 1 cyclist to be fascinating.

NUVO: What separates the Mass Ave Criterium from other crits?

Knapp: [Mass Ave] is roughly a triangle, and that’s very different. Those corners over 90 can be a little tougher to race on just because people have trouble with them—you seem to get a few more crashes because people aren’t used to it. And you get people who maybe aren’t as experienced or haven’t seen these corners before. As far as pavement goes—we race on pretty bad pavement in some of these races—so we’re pretty used to manhole covers.

NUVO: How does that affect the strategy of the race?

Knapp: Getting out in front can be really important, depending on the course—and in one like this with over-90-degree angles the field splits up, because you get this accordion affect—the people in the back have to slow way-way down, down to like 10 mph, and then explode up to 25-30, while the guys in front only slowed down to like 18. So if you’re in the back it’s way more work to sprint up to speed then slow down—over and over. If you’re up front you can see what’s happening—if anyone attacks or tries to get away from the field you can be right there and actually do something about it. If you’re in the back you’re pretty much just stuck there. If you’re lucky you can see what’s going on, but you won’t be able to do anything about it. You need to be at the front early to participate, rather than just look at it and watch it happen.

There are some courses where it doesn’t slow down as much—if the roads are wide—they’re like NASCAR races—you hardly have to hit the brakes you’re just flying around the turns. Our meeting before the race we’ll talk about how if you’re stuck at the back you’re not going to be able to participate, so we want to make sure we’re at the front so that we can keep an eye on everything.

NUVO: [Walking along the race course, at the intersection of Mass Ave and Michigan, outside the fire station] This turn looks like it could be problematic; what’s the strategy on such a difficult turn like this?

Knapp: It’s definitely quite the angle. Hopefully it’s going to be single file. What you would ideally do is be really close the curb, and then slide it really far out to the far curb—but you can see here there’s a ridge in the middle of the road—when you’re on the edge of your tire’s grip in the first place that little ridge can be the difference between going through it as fast as possible and going through it on your rear.

NUVO: How do you cope with that fear of crashing?

Knapp: The more races you do the more quickly you get over it—there are some people who have been racing for a long time and still aren’t comfortable with it. But I feel comfortable at the end of a race with like 150 guys in close quarters. You’ll get to a point where you just stick your fingers out from the handle bar and they go right into the hip of a guy who’s leaning into you.

You just have to get comfortable to a point where you know that most of the people you can trust to not do anything out of the ordinary—and you also talk. Like if you know you’re in a susceptible place—so that they don’t close the line you had planned on going. The more you realize that crashing is part of the gig, the quicker you’re going to get over it. But bad crashes happen, and they definitely can set people back a long way.

NUVO: It sounds like baseball in that way, where a guy can take one bean ball to the head, then be afraid to dig in at the plate for the rest of his career.

Knapp: One of my good friends last year on a group ride was on a sprint—he wasn’t even racing. And his chain slipped when he was under full load and sent him flying off the bike; the guy behind him hit him with a chain ring, and it ripped from the corner of his mouth up to his eye—a huge gash and it scarred him really badly. It messed with his mind, and it was the final straw—he just mentally didn’t have it any more in close quarters—he would just pull out of the race.

NUVO: What’s the worst crash you’ve ever been in?

Knapp: I’ve been lucky. I’ve broken my collar bone…I’ve had a couple of really bad crashes in a row where I just had really nasty road rash; road rash sucks. After something like that you want to give yourself a little more [room], but you’re probably going to be more likely to crash if you’re thinking about it—worrying about how much space you have around you.

NUVO: Does this race play into the strengths of anyone in particular on your team?

Knapp: We have one guy who’s a pretty good sprinter—I sprint every once in a while. I’m one of a few that could potentially be sprinting at the end of the race—Chris Uberti’s had a really good year and he’ll definitely be an option.

NUVO: Who is the best competition?

Knapp: Aaaron Hubbel from the NUVO team is one—but he’s not really boasting as much on his results; I think he’s trying to mentor one of their younger guys, Eric Young. He’s kind of an up-and-comer, he was a good Little-Fiver at IU, and he’s got a good sprint. I think they’re kind of trying to bring him around. Texas Roadhouse is another pretty good regional team—John Grant is who won the race last year, and he’s definitely one to watch out for.
But I’d say it’s going to be a crapshoot between someone from our team and probably one guy from Texas Roadhouse, one guy from Kenda, one guy from NUVO. It’ll probably have all those components, and sort out from there.

NUVO: You’ve called a couple of other cyclists douche bags on your blog. Has that ever come up in a race?

Knapp: Luckily my blog’s not too much of a public forum. I’ve called out a few riders that have stumbled onto it or been told what I’ve written about them. I’m not trying to cause trouble, but there have been a few instances where people have done stupid stuff and I felt like venting about it—and it’s my blog so I can write whatever I want. We’ve been doing a lot of pro races…and the pros like to make it a huge divide and treat anyone who’s not in a jersey of a professional team—they like to treat you like shit.

They have a sense of entitlement where they feel like they can push you around for no reason. I understand at the end of the race, if you’re riding like an idiot as an amateur and getting in their way—that’s their job. But at the same time we’re trying to get the same money they’re trying to get. We have just as much right to be up there, so if I dragged myself up there using my own legs, I have equal right to that space. I hate it when pros—and some stupid amateurs do it too—who will do stupid things like push you around.

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