American Legend Scott Moninger Gets Pez’d!
Cycling is a damned difficult sport, where winning is a real rarity for even the best of riders. So what does it mean to have an almost incomprehensible 275 professional victories to your palmares? It means that your name is Scott Moninger, the climbing ace and terror of the North American peloton over a 17-year career. With stints in pretty much every big US team of the past twenty years, Scott can be counted on to have a few good stories about how the sport has progressed on this side of the ocean.
Pez: Tell us a bit about your own background in cycling please. How did you get started?
SM: Dad was a weekend warrior, and I did BMX from about 11-13. Looking back, BMX didn’t suit my strengths. I could ride hard all day but didn’t have the megawatts, plus my BMX bike got stolen about that time so it was a bit of fate telling me things. I remember being a first year junior and getting a lot of podium spots because I wasn’t really a sprinter. I probably got a dozen seconds that season!
There was a series of junior worlds selection races in different regions, and the top guys got selected for junior worlds camp in Colorado Springs. I made the long team but didn’t get picked at the end. That was 1984 and I ended up moving to Colorado the year after as a first year senior. That was a busy year with the LA Games, Coors Classics, and CO seemed like the place to be. There were so many races nearby and I took quickly to altitude – really thrived in it.
OK, who doesn’t have an embarrassing picture like this?
Pez: 275 pro victories – do you remember your first?
SM: I actually don’t. There are so many pro-am races that it’s hard to qualify exactly which one is a true “pro” race or not. I definitely remember my first UCI pro win though – that was at the Tour of West Virginia in 1992. I won the overall and I remember much of the race was in miserable conditions. I got third or so in the final day of the selection and took the GC with that ride.
Pez: Which wins stand out for you?
SM: Being a stage race specialist, victory is sometimes a bit anticlimactic because, while you get to stand on the podium at the end, the victory itself is a cumulative experience, built up over a number of days. So there’s not necessarily the same rush or thrill as you get from a single day race, where there’s no tomorrow and a big release of emotion if you do win.
So with a one day race, I’d have to say the revived Zinger race in 2000 was big. The race really was epic, with the huge distances, the altitude, and going over the big mountain passes and dirt roads. Plus being from Colorado, I had the big target on my back as a favorite. The weather the first year was also crazy – we started in the 90s in Boulder and it was freezing and raining, probably 40oF at the most in the mountains. That was probably the most suffering I’ve ever done on the bike. My legs on some of the descents were so cold and numb that I had to use my arms to push on them to get them unlocked. If I wasn’t in the lead I probably would have quit!
For a stage race, a really nice memory was the Sun Tour in Australia in 1996. I got the jersey early and we had to defend it the whole time, plus I had had a fairly up and down year that year in terms of results. The last day of the race was my 30th birthday, and so it was a great birthday present plus an affirmation that I could still keep going and that I was still getting better.
Pez: Not to be greedy, but tell us one that “got away” or that you would love to win but haven’t? Why?
SM: I never did win a national championship of any kind, probably got 4th in the TT one year, so it would be nice to have a stars and stripes jersey on my wall. And of course there was Philly, but that never really suited my strengths. The Wall was so far from the finish, and the race was basically flat except for it, so it suited more a really strong team with a strong rouleur/sprinter type. I think I never even placed in the top 20. My body’s what it is and you have to go with what you’re good at.
Pez: You’ve been on many of the top teams of the past twenty years domestically, from Coors Light, LA Sheriffs, Navigators, Mercury, HealthNet, BMC. Which team really stood out for you?
SM: I was probably a bit spoilt with Coors Light as my first team, as it was such a great and well-organized setup, with big riders coming back from Europe. Phinney, Kiefel, guys with so much experience and great mentors. Then there was a big sprint side too with Jonas Carney and Roberto Gaggioli. I was one of the last guys picked up by the team and was somewhat worried that I’d be the last one picked for races. So I made it a mission to really make the most of my chances. Being a rookie and somewhat an unknown, it was easy for me to be the one in the early breakaways that won because I wasn’t marked. That gave me and the team a lot of confidence.
Pez: Any good stories about a teammate?
SM: Mike Jones from HealthNet was probably the funnest teammate to be around, and we spent a lot of time as roommates. He had a hard time getting to sleep so often he took Ambien. A couple of nights he ended up in my bed in the middle of the night!
Pez: Did you have a main rival or nemesis? Tell me about a particular battle or memory that stands out?
SM: It was probably more that I was the nemesis for riders because I carved out a career as a US pro, whereas a lot of other riders used the US as a stepping stone. Also, there was so much rotation in the domestic scene that it’s constantly shuffling the deck. One year you’re trying to figure out how the heck to beat Horner or Wherry, and the next year you’d be teammates.
Pez: What was your favourite bike that you had as a pro?
SM: I tend to be a bit finicky with equipment, but I realized that absolute light weight and stiffness wasn’t the be all and end all. For me comfort was always first, light weight maybe second. I do think that bikes can be too stiff – I liked the bikes that really sprang when you pushed. My first bike was a Columbus tubing steel bike, then it was aluminum, then titanium. Rode a Giant TCR in 2004-5 and loved that bike – don’t know if it was the fit or what.
Scott ended his pro career on the emerging BMC team.
Pez: This might be a touchy topic, but what’s your advice to athletes taking supplements? (Scott received a one-year ban despite proving that a supplement he took was the source of contamination)
SM: Supplements are probably a waste of time and money in general. But if you’re going to use it, then get it from a reputable company and really do your background research. Besides inadvertent contamination, the problem is that there’s probably companies that deliberately spike their products to give that “charge” or effect. The thing with supplements is that people want to feel that it’s doing something so that they’ll tell their buddies how good they suddenly feel.
A good solid diet should get you everything you need, but sometimes you have no choice if you’re in a strange country for weeks on end and not eating well. I can’t tell athletes not to take something like iron supplements or B vitamins, so I try to educate them about what they should look for. At the end, it’s a calculated risk you’re taking.
Pez: I’ve watched your descending at different camps now and have been amazed at your skill. Was that something you really worked on as a climber or did it come naturally?
SM: Being a climber, it didn’t make sense to use up all that effort to gain time on the uphills and then to lose it all going down the other side. Some people do have a natural advantage of weight or centre of gravity, but I got the mentality that, if these others guys could go down that fast, then there’s no reason I can’t also. Growing up with BMX also helps a lot with being confident on the bike.
If there’s a hill, you’d usually find Scott at the front putting the hurt to the peloton
Pez: Besides crushing sport scientists like me on the bike, how else do you spend your time nowadays?
SM: My main job now is as a coach with Peaks Coaching Group. I’m also the national “ambassador” for Speedplay in the US. It’s a bit of an undefined role that I can mould. For example, I might be visiting dealers in big cities, or manning the Kona expo booth. It’s not a tech position or a sales position, but more answering questions, getting feedback, talking to dealers and seeing what they need. It’s a good way to keep travelling, which I’ve been doing forever now. I’ve used Speedplays the last 10-12 years of my career, and it’s an easy job because I really believe in the product.
Scott is definitely not one of those ex-pros who go to seed after retiring – still lean and very fast.
Pez: Juniors – what should they be focusing on? Should they be training with power or just ride and work on their racing skills?
SM: Power isn’t a no no but it doesn’t have to be high up on the list. At that age, it has to be fun and about racing rather than the equipment. #2 is bike handling skills and learning how to read a race rather than just staring at a computer. Juniors need to go into races with a plan and figure out how to win.
Pez: What’s your one biggest piece of advice for our readers to improve their climbing?
SM: Move to a mountainous area! At the end of the day, it’s just so difficult and possibly impossible to replicate the body position and the way you ride your bike otherwise. Besides that, improving your overall fitness and aerobic capacity is the other main solution.
If only it was so easy to climb like Scott! Thanks to one of the humblest guys on two wheels for the great times chasing him around Pennsylvania and California, and check out Scott’s coaching or look for him at a Peaks Coaching Group camp.