CYCLING: Jonathan Baker perseveres through rain and mud, claims another USA Cycling National Championship
Submitted to The Union
Having already captured a national championship in the Masters Road Race (45-49 age group) in August, Jonathan Baker was eager to race well in the Cyclocross National Championships in early December.
This year’s event took place at Fort Steilacoom Park in Lakewood, Washington where it was wet, cold, and quite challenging for both rider and machine. On Dec. 12, the day of the race, it rained 2 inches.
Several days earlier, Jonathan and Cyndi Baker traveled by train from their home in Nevada City to Lakewood for the race. Jonathan’s race would be on a Thursday, so arriving on a Sunday and getting settled would give him three days of pre-riding the course so he’d be ready for everything it had to dish up.
Little did he know that not only would it rain every day of the week, but Cyndi would come down with an illness early in their stay. Nervous that he too would catch the virus he fine tuned his last few days of training with pre-rides, trying out the different sprays for the undersurface of the bike to wick the mud from the bike, pedals and chain. He found that WD-40’s silicone spray was the answer to keeping the pedals and cleats on his shoes easier to shed the mud and a special chain lube, White Lightning’s wet lube worked well early in the week. So, with a day to go until his race all things were set and ready to go, but poor Cyndi was ill and Jonathan was getting more anxious by the day.
Race day was wet, cold and windy. Perfect cyclocross weather. Jonathan was excited about racing in these conditions as he remembered quite vividly how he had won his first cyclocross national championships in the 35-39 category in Bend, Oregon in December 2009 and again in a snowstorm in 2010.
“I actually like racing in the terrible weather and have won many times in crazy conditions,” he said. “I’m usually ready for it because I’m always very prepared for my races.”
Jonathan hasn’t trained with a coach and doesn’t use a power meter to dial in his training. These are two things that most top amateur and all pro cyclists use, coaches and a lot of data based on power, heart rate, speed and distance as measured with a cycling computer. Coaches will base training on these data points. They can see if a rider is overtraining and then scale back efforts to eliminate injury or burn out. One would think since Jonathan is a software engineer for California Community Colleges who works in cloud architecture would be all over the data when it comes to competitive cycling, but he explained how his “feel” for his efforts have been rather consistent with what the scientific data has given him.
Jonathan has been racing competitively since 2002. First in mountain biking, then road and cyclocross the following years has allowed him to study a lot of training plans. He has been able to try out training plans and has created his own workouts with his 17 years of racing at an elite level. His experience, trial and error and meticulous reading about training plans has enabled him to fine tune his training for his multiple disciplines in bike racing. Recently he has used a power meter and finds the new idea of using the data refreshing because his internal clock is quite spot on.
Jonathan is sponsored by Touchstone Climbing. They are an indoor climbing gym company with 12 locations throughout California.
The start of the 45-49 cat 1/2/3 race was 71 riders strong. It was raining and windy. Jonathan found himself in the front row as he got a call up giving him a great start position. When the gun went off, the field had about 400 yards on the road before a left curve onto the dirt. Jonathan hit the dirt in about 10th place. The first run-up of two (imagine a muddy hill about 50 yards long and a climb of 60-70 feet) Jonathan dismounted his bike, threw it over his shoulders and passed several riders to move into third place. By the second run-up, Jonathan had made his move and passed second and first place to put him in the lead. He attributes this strong move on an almost impossible hill to run in 6-inch-deep slick mud to his Nevada County training. He throws in several runs of 45 minutes within three months of his race and then fine tunes the running portion of his training with intense short and fast run-ups while carrying his bike. Jonathan knew the course at Fort Steilacoom Park was going to have several of the long and steep run-ups, so these running workouts were so important to master.
“I hate those work-outs because they hurt so much, but a few weeks before the race I knew I was ready, and the training was spot on because they were much easier with faster times.” Jonathan said with a chuckle.
With a lead of a few seconds on lap one of what was a five-lap race, 45-minute race, Jonathan put in a blistering pace on lap two, his fastest lap of the day by 20 seconds. It proved to be a decisive move. He created a 10-15 second gap on his chasers. On lap three, Jonathan tossed his clear glasses that were now covered in mud to Cyndi in the pits. Cyndi stated that the rest of the pit crew for the other riders complimented Jonathan on his aim at throwing his glasses while being so far away to her with such precision.
Cyndi is used to being Jonathan’s pit crew with the spare bike ready to go should he have any mechanical problems with the bike. She and Jonathan’s dad, William Baker, pitted for him several years ago when He took his talents to Belgium for a series of races. William passed away in May 2017 and was a big part of Jonathan’s support team at most of his races. All cyclocross bike races have a pit with the riders choosing to have someone man their extra bikes or they set their bikes, wheels or anything else they might need in a designated spot for each rider.
With the rain still coming down in buckets, Jonathan kept the pressure on for the last two laps creating a bigger gap. He felt his front brakes failing on the last lap and knew if he could keep the rubber side down on the technical muddy and slick downhills, he could have a victory.
He did just that and crossed the finish line in first place with a 53 second gap to second place. Once the race was over and he was getting interviewed the rain stopped and the sun peeked through the clouds for a celebratory few moments. Jonathan had just accomplished a feat that only a few people in the world have done, won a national championship in their respective age category. Not only did he do that, but he did it twice in the same year in two very different disciplines, road and cyclocross.
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As far as experts go, The Union’s “experts” have not exactly lived up to the billing so far this season.